At NADA Art Fair, Paul Yore's Shocking Tapestries Dare You to Look Away

Osama Bin Laden’s erect genitalia covers the nose of a cut-out of President-elect Donald Trump’s head. Trump’s mouth spews  glittery brown droplets of waste. A neon-green speech bubble sprouts from Bin Laden’s mouth, declaring in all caps, “THE SPECTACLE LIKE MODERN SOCIETY ITSELF IS AT ONCE UNITED AND DIVIDED."

Surrounding the central figure is a mélange of colorful buttons, glitter, and flowers, a crying snowman with a swastika on his hat, and a smiling KKK figure. Bin Laden’s figure is framed by twinkling fairy lights. The border of the rectangular work is hand-woven text saying, “Hungry 4 blood,” “Kill the infidel,” White fantasy,” and “Jesus Saves.”

When you see Spectacular Spectacular by Australian artist Paul Yore, all you can think is, Wow.
Yore, 29, represented by Melbourne-based gallery Neon Parc, is exhibiting his work at NADA for Art Basel week. Spectacular Spectacular is a lurid sensory overload. But once you see it, you can’t look away. It forces the viewer into a dialectic. It is both childlike, and pornographic; harmless and offensive; beautiful and grotesque. You are repulsed, but simultaneously desire it. The work sells for $25,000.

Yore uses found and recycled materials in his work, including junk, things he finds in the street, thrift items, t-shirts, and printed materials. “I see myself as an archaeologist of pop culture. We drown in information and so many images. It’s like therapy to take all this stuff and make sense of it,” says Yore. The artist lives two and a half hours outside of Melbourne in the countryside on the coast. He spends on average of 10 hours a day sewing and stitching, as all his pieces are hand-stitched. Contrary to his work, Yore is subtle and soft-spoken. He says, “I don’t socialize a lot. I don’t drink or go out. I’m a bit of an introvert.”

Spectacular Spectacular has received mixed reviews. “I think the work can be divisive. I’m that kind of artist. You either love it or hate it. The aesthetic is queer and the work takes on material qualities of drag: sequins, sparkles, feathers. The work mimics attention seeking by being camp, flamboyant, and up front. But it also seeks to criticize it,” says Yore.”

Trump spews glittery sh*t in Spectacular Spectacular, but Yore says he completed the work before Trump was elected president. “I had this feeling of impending doom. The cultural milieu that we live in is a debased spectacle-driven sociopolitical environment where the louder and more belligerent you are, the more attention you receive.”
While Yore’s work seems overtly political, Yore says there are less obvious political implications, too. “Being a man and working with textiles, or being a queer artist and having my work so visible, that’s a political act. It’s the more important politic than some of the more overt elements in the work.”

Yore has had issues with censorship of his work. In 2014, he was accused of using child pornography in his work Everything is Fucked, in which boys’ heads were pasted over naked men’s bodies. The charges were dismissed. “I’ve had issues with my work being censored. I was taken to court. The work has been labeled as obscene and pornographic. But the work is such that I use collage and found materials and I put all of them together to create a reading that’s sinister. It’s a reflection of our cultural environment,” says Yore.

Yore, who spoke to New Times via phone, was unable to fly into Miami this year because he was denied a visa after being arrested at a protest several years ago. But the artist says he's still excited to share his unique aesthetic with Miami. NADA marks his North American debut.

“If art has any social agency, it helps to contextualize some of the more inexplicable elements of our cultural environment. It’s a crazy world we’re living in. Art is the one way people can digest and mull over these things.”
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth