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The Artless Dodger: Jim Shaw and His Endless Compendium

A pack of younger artists have been responding tentatively to modernist icons recently, throwing themselves at their feet while chopping off their legs. In contrast, Jim Shaw’s bold and unfiltered take on the history of art – along with that of religion and the American West – is always frankly irreverent in its use of these subjects. For some, his voice may be a little too frank. Unlike much of today’s art, which is cool and detached, primly following a Conceptual and Minimalist track, Shaw’s work is garish, messy, confessional and indulgent. Perhaps its most striking difference, though, is in its relation to time. Though he is wildly prolific, Shaw takes years to complete his projects, which encompass such a range of media and formal styles that they are almost impossible to comprehend fully. Arguments against a hyperactive contemporary art market may be overblown, but there is a case to be made for the diminishing effects of the pressure to produce, and produce quickly. Shaw is hardly immune to this heat, but his idiosyncratic, omnivorous approach results in work that more or less operates in a manner antithetical to a market that likes to eat its prey whole.