Toomey Tourell Project's inaugural exhibition, Clinton Fein: Recap will draw selections from a decade of the artist's prismatic political output, reinvigorating his (seemingly) temporally bound bodies of work by a pointed recontextualization. Included in the exhibition will be a selection of new works and a sneak preview to his long-awaited, upcoming show, Full Disclosure: a nightmarish multimedia journey into the extent to which the rise of social media has obliterated our understanding and sense of privacy, catering to the most shallow, insecure and narcissistic instincts of our nature.
In 1994, Clinton Fein's CD-ROM Conduct Unbecoming, based on the book by renowned investigative reporter Randy Shilts that examined the issue of gays in the military, pioneered the use of digital technology as an art form, and was dubbed "evolutionary" by Rolling Stone Magazine. The U.S. Navy tried unsuccessfully to stop the release.
Due to the nature of his work, the artist has come under considerable legal fire. Fein's most notable legal victories were his Supreme Court suit against the Attorney General of the United States, where he challenged the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act in 1997, where Fein's right to disseminate his art was upheld in a landmark victory for First Amendment rights; and a federal privacy case, where he refused a government order to reveal the name of the users of Annoy.com.
Clinton Fein's Annoy.com was a visceral response; nothing more than an in-your-face, bitterly ironic and unapologetically wry interpretation of the events, politicians, consumer brands and media onslaught that are packaged to relentlessly permeate our consciousness and intoxicate our senses. This solo exhibition took place in January 2002 at Toomey Tourell Gallery in San Francisco.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called it obscene and illegal, corporate trademark attorneys bristle over it, renowned artist Lynda Benglis dubbed it "Press Art," and SF Chronicle's Kenneth Baker wote: "Contemporary art gets no more incendiary. [Fein's] digital fabrications, at their best, have few rivals."
Numb & Number, Fein's second solo show at Toomey Tourell in 2004, featured digital collages and photo-based work reflecting on the first term of the Bush Administration. Two pieces from the show were deliberately destroyed prior to the opening, igniting a dialog about censorship in the United States that extended from South Africa to Saudi Arabia and beyond.
In a lengthy profile of the artist in the SF Chronicle, Kenneth Baker observed that "one of the least scabrous but hardest to take pieces in his show lays the words "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" over a grid of photographs from various sources documenting Iraqi war casualties. Each image represents 1, 000 victims, according to credible independent estimates of the Iraq war's human cost to those it was meant to liberate."
In his 2007 show with Toomey Tourell, his widely acclaimed Torture series included large scale staged and digitally manipulated photographic images that recreated the infamous torture scenes from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, transforming the diffuse, muted and low-resolution images into large-scale, vivid, powerful and frightening reproductions. As controversial as any of his previous work, Torture was featured twice in Art in America, inspired rigorous dialogue from Harvard University to the De Young museum and were exhibited in both London and Beijing.
Art in America commented: "Fein seized upon despicable amateur images, which unexpectedly had acquired public notoriety and probative value, and re-presented them in enhanced, painterly terms. His invocation of old mater painting, far from summoning up Christian martyrdom as do the Abu Ghraib canvases of Fernando Botero, delivers us to the dark threshold of inhumanity conjured by Goya."
Opening his review of Torture, Kenneth Baker wrote: " Several contemporary artists have tried to evoke the grotesqueries of war...But no one else has reached the peculiar extremes to which Fein goes... Encountering them in an art gallery provokes tangled responses: outrage that someone would advance his own ambitions through the degradations the Abu Ghraib photos record; perverse temptation by the opportunity to study the mise-en-scene of the original pictures, safe in the knowledge of seeing simulations; despair that history has again diverted the resources of art away from pleasure and contemplation to bleak and urgent critical functions; and, finally, the recognition that, after all the barriers between art and life come down, nothing insulates our enjoyment of the arts against toxic pollution from our knowledge of real events."
In a review in the December 2007 issue of Art in America magazine, renowned art historian Peter Selz summed up the impact of Fein's Torture series, stating: "Torture of detainees or their rendition to countries with even more abusive torture regimens has become semi-legal under the Bush administration. Fein reminds us, however, that these practices can never be anything less than intolerable."
While much of Fein's work captures a moment in our political lives, from energy policy to Abu Ghraib, Recap demonstrates that even more than ten years since he first introduced his works of "press art", they continue ring out loudly, resonating in continually more complex and surprising ways. The exhibition runs June 4 through August 7.