How many billboards?
Photo: Gerard Smulevich

Kori Newkirk

Folding double-entendres into his formal investigations, Kori Newkirk's semiotics of material play on literal and implied meaning. In his billboard image, the artist executes for the camera a bold gesture of ambiguous intent, distinguishing between what viewers see and what they can "read." Playing on the notion of self-portraiture at large, Newkirk's figure is captured at the center of the frame. A hint of shoulder muscle bulges with effort; his face is caught in a grimace. All the while an enormous snowball is stuck in his mouth. On the one hand, the viewer is called upon to play with the various implications of the image, with the caveat that to literalize the associations evoked by the colors, the materials, and the implications of their proper names would be to choke the artwork-pun intended. On the other hand, the denotation of the image oscillates between what may be pleasure, pain, or both-rendering unclear whether the object has been forced into the artist's mouth, or whether it represents an act of consent. Tension is thus set up between the two ways in which this image makes meaning, between reading it through its various symbolic implication or through the actions of its main protagonist. Its refusal of one single mode of interpretation connects directly to the artist's corporeal presence. His predicament here resists being over-determined. Still, a symbolic act of silencing exists, a sly play on the figure of speech "tongue-in-cheek," a form self-censorship that nevertheless speaks volumes. Ball-in-cheek-the artist is subjugating his own image to the desire/violence of the viewer's gaze. This gesture is amplified by the format of the billboard, in which the enormity of the image splays for public display the vulnerability of the moment in which the picture was taken. The gesture of extreme personal revelation, or literally exposure, is softened by the formal quality of the overall image. Originally recorded on a negative; the scanned and then enlarged photographic grain becomes as sensual as the body recorded.
By Nizan Shaked

LOCATION: Wilshire Blvd, west of Hoover St, on the south side of the street, facing west
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Kori Newkirk (b. 1970)
Kori Newkirk lives and works in Los Angeles and received his MFA from the University of California, Irvine, in 1997. Newkirk makes multimedia paintings, sculptural installations, and photographs that explore the formal properties of materials, the politics of identity, and the artist's personal history. Newkirk has had solo exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2008); Pasadena Museum of California Art (2008); LA><Art, Los Angeles (2008); Project, New York (2006); MC, Los Angeles (2006); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2005); and Locust Projects, Miami (2005).

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