Which brings us to the gritty, intergenerational group show at Gagosian. “Beneath the Underdog” features 53 artists who seem to be railing against the type of hype Murakami represents. Of course, a number of “Underdog” participants are very hot, overtouted artists themselves. The curators claim the show is about “the individual’s relationship to the towering vertical landscape of late capitalism.” Perhaps. But it’s disingenuous not to address the fact that this show’s being at Gagosian means “Underdog” is about as deep in this landscape as it’s possible to get.
There are a number of excellent pieces in the show, among them Jessica Diamond’s hand-painted buy a condo or die sign (in re-creation, originally from 1987), Michael Joaquin Grey’s orange 1992 rendition of Rodin’s Balzac hanging upside down from the ceiling, and Barry Le Va’s 1968 shattered-glass sculpture (also re-created). Best of all, in this context, is Monica Bonvicini’s smashed-to-smithereens Sheetrock floor. This piece runs throughout the entire show, and infuses everything with a subtext of raucous anger, destruction, and vulnerability. It also saves the show from itself, offsetting the irksome impression that too much work in “Underdog” is either beholden to a predictable list of au courant males (e.g., Warhol, Richter, Smithson, Matta-Clark, and Kippenberger) or just trying to signify radicalism and resistance. By now the messiness, appropriation, and abstraction of “Underdog” are so common and system-approved that they’re beginning to signal emptiness and cliquishness instead.
In some ways, “Underdog” is simply what frustration and ambition look like now. The show is so up-front about its in-groupness and back-scratching, however, that you begin to understand that these conditions are effective ways to draw polemical lines in the curatorial sand, to circle the wagons against dubious tendencies. “Underdog” will seem dated in a year, but right here, right now, its polemics, tribalism, and gang tactics—as cynical and annoying as they threaten to become—are what it may take to move beyond the pranksterism of artists like Murakami.