From Warhol to Wahlstrom: the dark side of social media

Do social media make us be more connected or disconnected? Why are they so addicting? It’s likely that it responds to basic human needs of communication and recognition. Didn’t humans start to share with others by drawing in caves? The evolution of communication multiply the possibilities of connecting with hundreds of people which can create this amazing feeling of being connected and liked… but is this just all an illusion?

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 9.30.32 AMTo reflect on these questions, check out the exhibition From Warhol to Wahlstrom: From 60s Celebrity to Today’s Social Media at Ethan Cohen Gallery presenting the work of Johan Wahlstrom, New York based Swedish artist with select works by Andy Warhol, opening on September 6th and on view until September 29th.

The show, curated by Paco Barragán, coincide with Whitney’s Warhol retrospective. “We constantly see large retrospective exhibitions of Warhol but Warhol’s work and philosophy comes out much stronger when juxtaposed in dialogue with the work of an artist like Johan Wahlstrom, whose series Social Life is not only an answer to Warhol’s, but they fascinatingly convey the road from 60s exclusive celebrity to today’s massive social media. In Warhol’s time only a small group of celebrities could “star in a movie”. Today we can all star in our own movies ” states curator Paco Barragán.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 9.30.07 AMIn his recent ironic series Social Life, Swedish artist Johan Wahlstrom portrays today’s society with an acute sense of observation. His dark paintings reflect on the addiction to social media and our own celebrity. “You can turn into a celebrity with no reason or effort, wanted or unwanted”—claims Johan Wahlstrom—“and have an instant social life. Now the question is: what kind of social life has brought this democratization of celebrity that works like Big Brother where people don’t communicate with each other anymore?”

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 9.29.34 AMWahlstrom has sufficient personal experience of celebrity to have that dialogue: he was a rock and roll keyboardist renowned in Sweden from age 20 and toured for years with major Western rock stars. Warhol prophesied a future where all would share fame briefly. That future has arrived. Wahlstrom’s work shows us the impoverished outcome, the multiplied isolation of illusory validation via the Internet: everyone is famous in a vacuum bubble on social media. “We have thousands of friends”—continues Wahlstrom—“we are globally interconnected, but the truth is that our social life is an illusion. This all-time-availability is turning us into zombies. Just look at the subway, the restaurants, in the elevator: everyone is possessed looking at their smart-phones and their likes!”

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 9.29.59 AMThe exhibition is displayed with mirrors intermixed with the paintings to multiply the images… seems like a great location to take selfies and post them on your timeline. Or maybe simply forget about your phone, enjoy the art and tell your friends about the exhibition face to face :-).

From Warhol to Wahlstrom: From 60s Celebrity to Today’s Social Media will be on view at Ethan Cohen Fine Arts until September 29th, with an opening reception on September 6th at 6:00 pm.  

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