Nabe’s Apocalyptic Visionary Stages Retrospective

NYT Photo: Joe ColemanNew York Times: Joe Coleman Gets a Retrospective at the Tilton Gallery in Manhattan:  If P. T. Barnum had hired Breughel or Bosch to paint sideshow banners, they might have resembled the art of Joe Coleman. Obsessively depicting a grim moral universe of transgression and retribution, Mr. Coleman paints grotesque images of murderers and victims, freaks and monsters, disease, depravity and perversities of every kind.

In his painstakingly detailed paintings, Charles Manson leers, JonBenet Ramsey pouts, pinheads dance, drunkards lie with poxied whores, and corpses display their wounds like obscene stigmata. Drug addicts loll in ruined cityscapes under boiling H-bomb skies, 1930’s gangsters grin on their way to the gallows, and Mr. Coleman and his wife, Whitney Ward, reign over the apocalypse, enthroned on the head of a giant Satan. In a startlingly prophetic vision of his from 2000, the twin towers burn…

Through the 1980’s Mr. Coleman acted out his shocking and violent cosmology in infamous performances at performing arts spaces and galleries. He revived the sideshow geek act of biting the heads off live mice, outraging animal rights advocates. He set fires onstage, once threatened an arty crowd with a loaded shotgun, and often concluded his act by igniting a chest-pack of dynamite, an explosive stunt for which he was arrested in Boston in 1989 on charges of operating an “infernal machine.” He framed the arrest warrant.

Now 50, his Mephistophelean beard streaked with gray, Mr. Coleman mostly confines his provocations to his paintings and expresses his sideshow interests through the Odditorium, his name for the small Brooklyn Heights apartment he and Ms. Ward share with a dime museum’s worth of curiosities.


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