An artist’s untimely death and a rebirth at Gonzo Gallery in Aspen
IF YOU GO …
What: Brendan Missett exhibition
Where: The Gonzo Gallery, 601 E. Hyman Ave.
When: Receptions Friday, Sept. 13 and 14, 6-9 p.m.; exhibition runs through Sept. 25
The Los Angeles-based artist Brendan Missett didn’t show or sell his work in galleries. The mixed-media artist — known to fans and friends as @trenchvvave on Instagram — exhibited his fierce, politically and sexually charged collages online.
That was set to change this year, when the Aspen-based gallerist Daniel Joseph Watkins bought a Missett painting and convinced him to rattle some capitalist cages with a solo exhibition timed to the Fourth of July holiday here in Aspen.
The pair met in February and began planning the show, which would play off of Missett’s interest in patriotism and extremism.
Soon after, the artist — who had long struggled with substance abuse — died of a drug overdose. He was 36.
With the support of Missett’s parents, Watkins has followed through with the exhibition, which opens Friday at the Gonzo Gallery’s temporary home at 601 E. Hyman Ave.
“They’re obviously devastated but they’ve also been saying, ‘Let’s turn this into something good,’” Watkins said this week while hanging the show.
Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Brendan Project, founded in Missett’s honor to support artists suffering from addiction.
This weekend’s opening is expected to draw Missett’s friends, his family (his mother is Judi Sheppard Missett, founder of the Jazzercize fitness franchise) and the fans he found nationwide through Instagram.
“He lived online and he had all these people from there who were like a family,” Watkins said.
Watkins, who didn’t know of Missett’s struggles with drugs until the overdose, also heard from Missett’s friends from recovery programs and who the artist mentored.
“He had this powerful impact on all these people who loved him,” Watkins said.
Missett’s incendiary works — all made since 2017 — take a fierce and fearless look at America in the early Trump era, with pieces themed around fetishized violence, commercialized sex, militarism, cults and political hypocrisy. The charged imagery here includes President Trump kissing a baby bordered by the phrase “Attrition and Terror,” surrounded by pornographic images and a cutout of a sex doll.
The centerpiece is a large-format collage of hundreds of images crowded around the title “AMERICA NEEDS A FAITH LIFT.” A viewer could spend hours studying it and discovering new things in its sea of guns, fashion models, trucks, status symbols (including a napkin from Mezzaluna in Aspen) and hidden texts (“dress to suppress”).
“There are just enough words and just enough of a message to let people come up with their own ideas, too,” said Watkins.
Some of the work takes on a new poignancy in the wake of the artist’s death, like a small collage featuring the phrase “ELEGY FOR A REBEL.” It was the last image Missett posted online before he died.
Works featuring more graphic pornographic imagery will hang in the bathroom rather than the gallery proper.
The gallery is exhibiting Missett’s original pieces, but isn’t selling them. Instead, the benefit show will have prints of the originals, made in editions of 25 by Missett himself in anticipation of his Gonzo Gallery show, for sale.
Watkins recalled how excited Missett was to show with the Gonzo, which has showcased work by and about counterculture icons like Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs, Tom Benton and Ralph Steadman.
“He was honored to be aligned with Hunter and Burroughs and Steadman and all these people,” Watkins said.
The exhibition is the second of three benefit shows that Watkins has planned for his itinerant gallery. The first, exhibiting works by the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev last month in Watkins’ Cooper Avenue apartment, sold out and raised $39,000 for the nonprofit Afghanistan Libre.
Missett’s work will hang in the gallery for two weeks, followed by an exhibition of works by the Aspen-based sculptor Ajax Axe benefiting the Nomadic Library.
The gallery, through the end of this month, is taking over the prime corner space of the Hecht family’s commercial building adjacent to the Aspen Art Museum.
In the space next door, the artist Richard Carter’s summer-long pop-up gallery is hosting its third and final show, “The Imagined Still Life.”
Carter’s gallery, the Gonzo and artist Merrill Steiger’s summer pop-up will all close at the end of September as the Hechts sign tenants with long-term leases for the building.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.