Thursday night’s opening of Alex Gross’s “Future Tense” at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district greeted viewers with a heavy dose of consumer culture. The exhibition initially comes off as accessible and playfully reflective of modern addictions, yet the works as a group are rather grim and much harder to swallow than their glossy, candy-colored exteriors would suggest.
At first, “Future Tense” normalizes the initial viewing experience with subjects that are all too familiar — like selfies and sugary beverages. Gross references the branded industries that beguile much of the modern world now, and, as the paintings would suggest, will continue to sedate humans to an impending, ever-anxious future of the living dead. Commenting on the modern condition by taking images and meanings from mass media has become common practice. But Gross’s dreamlike style clashes harshly with his vivid distaste for popular culture.
The works feel intensely critical and abruptly challenging but without resolution. All of his characters have the blankest, prettiest eyes, and his frequent use of twins emphasizes his weariness of the homogenization caused by advertising and propaganda. Even in Distractions, where each member of the crowd is distinguished by a different item (a cigarette, burger, phone, etc.), they become uniform through their identical addictions to what extends out of their hands like permanent limbs.
Is Gross addressing the same desensitized audience that he depicts? Or a certain type of human who is supposedly above this? At first, walking into Gross’s show felt like a warm welcome of my own modern malaise, a refreshing forthrightness amidst the elevated abstraction of Chelsea’s high brow galleries. Then I looked around to see lit smartphones floating in the crowd, wine and beer being knocked back. The accessible visuals of Gross’s work quickly dissolved, and intentionally so, and his subject matter became much more unnerving.
“Future Tense” is on view at Jonathan Levine through November 8.