Review by David Brickman
Have you ever tried to describe a crazy dream you had, or tried to follow someone describing such a dream? Then you will have some idea what it’s like to experience the large exhibition “Entertaining Doubts” by California artist Jim Shaw at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams. Shaw draws a great deal from his dreams and attempts to manifest them physically through sculpture, painting and installation.
Alas, it is not an entirely successful effort, just as none of us has ever really adequately articulated our own dream or understood another’s, but a lot of compelling and enjoyable art is created along the way, so it’s also not a failure. Shaw has great skills in drawing and painting, and a good understanding of the theatrics that go into effective installations, and MASS MoCA gives him plenty of space to spread out in.
A signature of the show is Shaw’s re-use of discarded painted theatrical backdrops. The worn texture of these huge curtains of muslin, and their time-softened colors, are very appealing, and Shaw makes the most of this appeal by limiting his interventions to partial overpainting or, in some cases, simple reinterpretation by the placement of flat figures in front. Shaw also takes smaller cuts of the backdrops and paints on them like stretched canvases. These are some of the best works in the show, perhaps because it is easier to digest them, or because smaller works can concentrate the idea better. (Mind you, in this context, small is relative: say, six feet rather than forty.)