Upon entering the New Museum, the lobby is adorned with large-scale ink drawings of baseball players and what looks like deranged sketchings of a hyperactive child. At the top right corner, scribbled with dejected wonder, someone painted
Ah, there’s a word to paint purple.”
As concise and curious as the man himself, this quote provides a preview of the mad genius that is Raymond Pettibon. The exhibition, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” is the first major New York museum survey of the beloved artist’s work and is on view from February 8th through April 9th. New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni, who arranged the exhibition thematically, recommends that visitors begin this retrospective on the fourth floor.
When stepping out of the elevator, Pettibon’s frustration with politicians over his lifetime is immediate, visceral, and biting. The fury of his pen produced works critical of everyone from Reagan to the current Cheeto-in-Chief, but Pettibon extends extra vitriol for George W. Bush and his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. As controversial as this floor may seem, just to the left of the elevators are snarky interpretations of Batman and Superman with chaotic and cheeky captions.
The third floor of this retrospective showcases some of Pettibon’s most well-known works: the album covers and show posters for the iconic punk band Black Flag, signed to his brother Greg Ginn’s record label SST. (Pettibon also designed the album cover and inspired Sonic Youth’s sixth studio album Goo, also on display at this exhibit.) These familiar works are encased in the center of the gallery while Pettibon’s other drawings exploring and commenting on counterculture –– from hippies to Charles Manson –– surround the walls.
In the ‘80s, Pettibon printed and distributed his zines for free to spread the word about his work. Through the prolific production of these zines, his signature style and vicious wit were refined, an evolution that can be tracked around the floors of this museum.
A native Californian and all-American boy, Pettibon revisits surfing motifs, American iconography, and his obsession with baseball throughout his career and crudely analyzes and reinterprets them on large canvas as well as ink on paper sketches.
Though his handwriting is that of a child, his prose is as sharp as it is profound, critical yet full of awe. The exhibition makes viewers chuckle and think, and though his work may come off as unpolished to the untrained eye, Pettibon’s passion and point of view are clear, even if it may take a while to fully read and take in his work. Few artists’ work truly embody the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” quite like Raymond Pettibon.
If planning to check out this extensive retrospective, be sure to block out plenty of time to decipher Pettibon’s clever writing as well as admire his signature ink drawings. The New Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm with pay-what-you-wish admission on Thursday nights from 7pm to 9pm.