David Lynch: Big Bongo Night
New YorkPace Gallery
David Lynch: Big Bongo Night
November 4 – December 17, 2022
You are invited to enter David Lynch's exhibition through its title, Big Bongo Night. Its effect is something like an incantation—sibylline, alliterative, and more potent when repeated aloud. Lynch uses language as deftly as his other tools; he wields it playfully to attract and disarm you.
Big Bongo Night, Lynch’s first exhibition with Pace, features several of his storyboard-like, mixed-media compositions on wood panel (and one on paper). Most of these works are arranged with floating sentence fragments or dialogue sketched around fractured, cartoonish figures and biomorphic forms. The function of these bits of language is mysterious—as soon as things start making sense the meaning begins to unravel. In Dream 9B: Where is the Alligator? (2022), the question "Where is the ALLIGATOR?" hovers in a word bubble drifting from the mouth of a detached head. Beside him, “I can smell a sheep a mile away!!!” is scribbled in cursive across the torso of a stick figure whose neck stems out like a spigot, a smiling head resting to one side, and a crying head cradled by detached arms on the other, like Thalia and Melpomene masks.
Each one of Lynch’s tableaus presents the possibility of a narrative, and how we go about constructing it reveals more about us as a collective than it does about Lynch as its creator. A sinister, ransom note emerges in-between blotted out words in He Went and He Did Do That Thing (not dated). The disjointed sentences float alongside a neckless man in a blue shirt with a Michael Myers Halloween mask for a face. The spacing, line breaks and structure here assume a poetic formation and foreboding rhythm:
and he did do that
for him to
it was going
to Be in
An arrow points from the red lettered “house” to a black, monopoly house silhouette. Again, his words direct us to a meaning, but can we trust it? There is a knowing wink embedded within his creations, allowing us to exhale, and maybe even break into a smile, before diving back in. Lynch has never shied away from the sinister, grotesque, or horrifying, but it is our culpability in receiving and contextualizing these images, sounds and words that reveals something grander. They are unsettling, and still, somehow, relatable—a signpost present within all of Lynch’s bodies of work. This interaction between viewer and painting perhaps most plainly captures the source from which Lynch finds his material: a deep, dark spiritus mundi.
His mixed-media light sculptures are fully developed characters, too. Constructed with combinations of plaster, cold-rolled steel, plexiglass, wood and resin, the mixture of materials and shapes invites a disconcerting sensation of relatability. They are biomorphic, alien and angular; fleshy and grid-like. The light fixture component renders them all the more alive, as they stare, alert, back at you from their lineup on the low pedestal in the center of the gallery. Most of the sculptures stand at about human height, enticing you to reach over and flip the switch poking out of the body of White Table Top Lamp (2022).
His textless paintings draw attention to the opposing formal qualities in his compositions; the flatness, his rejection of verisimilitude in rendering bodies, contrasted with the thick layering of paint and materials, which achieve a tactile corporeality. In Head on Hill with Cloud and Airplane (2021), a decaying, head-shaped form rests on a grey mound, with a de Chirico shadow splayed flatly beneath it. A thick, flesh toned shape is mirrored in the clouded sky above it, and a small black plane heads towards the edge of the painting above a muddied blue stain. This scene is framed within the painting’s imposing metallic frame, by an organic, tombstone shaped window, as though we are looking down upon the scene from our own airplane.
Ultimately, Lynch articulates with a language all his own. Contrasts and contradictions are made whole through his assembly: absurd and sincere, humorous and uncomfortable, familiar and alien. Big Bongo Night presents you with the sum of these parts; each work is a meditation on the enigmatic subject matter Lynch has explored throughout his career as a visual artist and filmmaker. You can enter his framework with or without fluency, and still find yourself catching his drift.