This erasure isn't really successful; you can still very clearly see the original drawing. However, the smearing lends his paintings an energy that seems a little evil. In "Piano Man," Bosko's open mouth seems frozen in the middle of a disturbed laugh, his beady eyes melting away, the last image you see before being gulped down an animated, drug-fueled rabbit hole. Is anyone else hearing spooky piano music?
The entire show is based around Bosko and his crew, a character created by white animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, and grew out of the very American mediums of minstrel shows and blackface. Though some of the explicit anti-Black mannerisms in the first iteration of the cartoon were pared down in later versions, Bosko is still deeply intertwined with racism and minstrelsy.
And while I strangely like the unsettling nature of Simmons's show and his "examination" of racial stereotypes, I wonder about who exactly is buying his work and how it's being displayed. In a gallery setting, this ~*~*exploration~***~* seems almost academic in how it radicalizes the context and representation of a popular character like Bosko. But in a (white) collector's home? How does "Piano Man" read? I like thinking about where Black art ends up (and who ends up with it).
Gary Simmons's Screaming into the Ether is currently hanging at Metro Pictures—don't miss it.