Time Out New York / September 7, 2010

David LaChapelle

Even after the pointedly rude assaults of Dada, Pop Art, Arte Povera et al., a mistaken assumption that the production of great art necessitates a clearly signaled concentration on “great” themes—epically scaled, self-consciously serious, spuriously spiritual—remains incongruously extant. David LaChapelle, a celebrity shutterbug with pretensions to intellectual worth, dubbed his 2008 exhibition at Tony Shafrazi “Auguries of Innocence,” filling the gallery with quasibiblical scenes that tackled nothing less than “human family amidst catastrophe and loss in search of salvation and divinity.” Unfortunately, this virtuous-sounding project took the form of clodhopping three-dimensional tableaux rendered in LaChapelle’s signature ultragaudy, supersaturated style. If this was supposed to be the eternal, I thought, give me the disposable anytime.

For his first New York solo show since “Auguries,” LaChapelle has shifted galleries, but retained his predilection for the grating fusion of topical content with faux-iconic symbolism and kitschy Hollywoodesque (actually more Bollywoodesque) production. And would you believe Michael Jackson as modern-day martyr? Not only does the idea feel distinctly warmed-over, it looks, well, exactly how you’d expect it to look: In one shot, Jacko sprouts angelic wings; in another, he’s cradled by a beatific Christ.

Also on display is The Rape of Africa, which was inspired by—but does no favors to—Botticelli’s Venus and Mars. (Another dysfunctional shortcut to greatness: quoting liberally.) LaChapelle, like aesthetic forebear Jeff Koons, makes no claims to irony, but while the creator of "Made in Heaven" still gets away with murder, his brash inferior entirely lacks the wit to do so.

Image: David LaChapelle, Archangel, 2010.