Urethane on linen
182.9 x 304.8cm
Jules de Balincourt
2006, Two panels, acrylic, oil and spray paint on panel
220 x 300 cm
Schlock and awe
After Iraq, Katrina and Abu Ghraib, what should we expect from US artists? More than Saatchi's show delivers, says Adrian Searle
Thursday October 5, 2006
It has a sense of anxiety and self-loathing; amid this are angry protests, displays of mock insouciance, and tragicomic buffoonery. Ryan Tracartin's sculptures made me laugh out loud. At 25, he is as much a film-maker as a sculptor, and his sculptures look like props. Until Hurricane Katrina, he was based in New Orleans. World Wall is a kind of childish grotto, with bits of bodies poking out of the walls, a huge, cave-like open mouth where a living room once stood, mad bulging eyes, a house whose roof is painted over with waves. An unnaturally skinny naked mother stalks the floor, head aloof. The unattractive but game Vicky Veterinarian has a cat burrowing in her shirt. Mango Lady's skin is made from mango peel. The characters are all in search of a plot, but there isn't one.
In Fuck the Police, Dash Snow presents 45 framed press clippings: Cops Busted in Sex Abuse, Cops Who Killed For Mafia, Cop in Coke Ring. The catalogue tells us Snow "started taking photos when he was a yobbish teenager", and that the headlines are all "splattered with jism". Well, that changes everything.
Perhaps the most telling sculpture is an anonymous figure, either cowering or in prayer. The body is a black bin-liner. Brown clay hands reach forward, palms flat on the floor. Behind the figure is a trail of crumbled clay. Huma Bhabha's sculpture has an odd vulnerability, however curtailed an image of a human it presents.
After 9/11, after Hurricane Katrina, after Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, what should one expect from American culture, apart from rage and crawl-into- a-hole-in-the-ground-and-die abjection?
Perhaps that is what LA-based Jon Pylypchuk intends: his miserable little figures, touchingly dressed in remnants of fabric, stagger about on the floor, gather helplessly around the wounded, vomit in shock on the ground and upon each other. It is a horrible roundelay. All this goes on at ankle height. "Hopefully, I will live through this with a little bit of dignity," the title reads. Dignity is in short supply here. How about 222 plaster, wax and charcoal heads, each damaged in some way, each set inside a grubby little vitrine, in Beijing-born Terence Koh's Crackhead? Koh can't be accused of subtlety, any more than Banks Violette and her sculptural tableaux.
Violette's work is sculpture that wishes it was as edgy as a death-cult heavy metal band, but is about as dangerous as Spinal Tap. His casts of electric guitars, mock amplifiers and drifts of salt and sugar faking cocaine have schlock value, but little else.
In Barnaby Furnas's paintings, men in suits are being turned to mincemeat in a shoot-out on Hamburger Hill, and a flood of urethane red, like a bloody response to the poured and stained 1960s colour field paintings of Morris Louis, roars through a blue sky in another mammoth canvas. I can just see this sanguinous deluge displayed with pride in some American corporate lobby somewhere. That is one of the problems with art that attempts to make statements: it gets assimilated.
Paint becomes snot in a painted sneeze by Dana Schutz; she paints feelings as though they were regurgitated food. In one canvas, a head eats its own face, as well it might.
Schutz's paintings are at least funny and intelligently made. There are some silly paintings in this exhibition: a self-consciously badly painted decapitated horse with a huge penis, bluntly crass paintings of bits of bodies, Gerald Davis's deeply unpleasant paintings of adolescent sexuality.
Davis paints pubescent Monica giving head, and an x-ray view of teen Linsey's full colon, accompanied by a painted diary entry about her exquisite bathroom experience in the shopping mall. Where do we go with images like these? Am I meant to admire their more abstract qualities, or feel all smug at their sophisticated ironies?
USA Today is neither as good as I wanted it to be, nor as bad. When I say bad, I mean angry, lacerating, bitter, disillusioned, pained and powerful. In New York's Whitney Biennial, Richard Serra showed a rough little drawing of a now familiar image: a figure hooded in black, standing with outstretched arms on a box, waiting, so he thinks, to be electrocuted. "STOP BUSH," Serra scrawled on the drawing.
It may not be great art, but it doesn't need to be. That's the problem. I want an art more powerful - not just loud, not just blunt. Most of art's audience already know what they think about the state of America and the war on terror. The job of artists, novelists, film-makers, musicians and playwrights demands that they go further than stating the obvious. USA Today is an expression, more than anything, of impotence.
· USA Today is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, from tomorrow until November 4. Details 020-7300 8000.