JACK EARLY, “WWJD” AND “GALLERY PEACE”
Southfirst, 60 N. 6th St.; McCaffrey Fine Art, 23 E. 67th St., through 10/27
Jack Early gets super-duper hippie-dippy in these two stupendous shows. Pop psychedelia from the late 1960s and early 70s permeates everything—and even gets inside our ears. The exhibition at McCaffrey, called “Gallery Peace,” centers on Yoko Ono, with 13 life-size Yokos, one in each color of the rainbow, filling a room. Each is a plywood standee bearing a picture of her face seamlessly attached to the body of a classically posed French woman—stark naked except for a pearl necklace—culled from an old photograph. This repeating image brings to mind Botticelli’s 1496 masterpiece “The Birth of Venus,” but instead of emerging from a clamshell, Yoko bursts forth from various trippy American and Japanese iconography: shooting stars, a rainbow, a rising sun, Hokusai’s great wave.
The vibrant standees surround the sculpture “Bed Peace,” a bare mattress imprinted with a large black-and-white photo of John Lennon and Yoko at the height of their hippie phase, which is meant to evoke the Shroud of Turin. Elsewhere, Yoko’s visage peeks out from a tie-dyed American flag and says in a speech bubble, “Jesus had 2 dads,” as campy comedian Rip Taylor exclaims, “Oh Mary!”
If “Gallery Peace” emphasizes the corporeal, the show at Southfirst, “WWJD,” is about transfiguration. The whole space has been painted sky blue, with pillowlike clouds attached to the walls, as if we’re floating in the stratosphere. A set of footsteps, made of muslin and filled with lentils, traverses the room and leads to a glowing cross, where an image of the main character from the 1970s play “Godspell” is crucified. If you’ve ever seen the play, you know that this isn’t your usual bearded and bedraggled Jesus in a loincloth. Rather, he wears a Superman shirt, striped pants, and suspenders, with big hair and sad-clown makeup—a sensitive, triumphant, and groovy savior. The installation is hippie culture gone to heaven, sacrificed for society’s greater good.
As with much of his recent work, Early has written soothing soundtracks to accompany the shows. This time, the songs, performed by Early and Britta Phillips of Dean and Britta, have a psychedelic tinge to the lyrics and instrumentation. (There’s a sitar and a flute!) These subtle and beautiful tracks demonstrate that the artist is just as formidable at crafting music as he is at making installations. Whatever the medium, Early’s creations have the power to transport.