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Jose Dávila at Sean Kelly, Los Angeles

Jose Dávila, Untitled (Cowboy), 2023, archival pigment print, diptych, framed: 80 x 60 11/16 x 3 1/8 inches each, overall: 80 x 122 5/8 x 3 1/8 inches © Jose Dávila Courtesy: the artist and Sean Kelly, New York/Los Angeles.

Jose Dávila’s debut exhibition at Sean Kelly Gallery is titled Photographic Memory. It is comprised of a series of Dávila’s signature cut-out works, which reference Richard Prince’s solo exhibition at LACMA in 2018. The exhibition features large-scale photographic works in which Dávila has removed the main figure of Prince’s influential Untitled (cowboy) series. Challenging conventional connotations and limitations of photography in today’s image driven society, Dávila’s cut-outs interrogate originality, appropriation, and the truth behind an image. The exhibition runs January 20 through March 9, 2024 and there will be an opening reception on Saturday, January 20, from 5-7pm. The artist will be present.

Dávila began making cut-outs in 2008, an ongoing series in which he simultaneously pays homage to and critiques icons of 20th century art and architecture through acts of excision, physically removing the central subject from photographic reproductions of original works of art. With these works, Dávila investigates whether an artwork can be produced through a reductive rather than additive process. This technique is inspired by the Mexican folk-art tradition of papel picado or Cut-Paper, which Dávila applies to contemporary art to explore the importance of negative space.

Dávila revisits Richard Prince’s series in which he photographed and enlarged widely recognized advertisements for Marlboro cigarettes featuring imagery of cowboys on horseback in iconographic American Western landscapes. Prince cropped the advertisements to remove any text and left the torn edges and tape as a reminder of their original context in mass-market magazines. This controversial practice raises questions about what constitutes an original work of art. Dávila’s photographs, similarly scaled at up to six feet high by eight feet wide, include the uneven edges and tape to pay homage to, and keep the conceptual and theoretical congruency of, the works referenced. Dávila takes the conversation a step further by removing the focal point of the image, transforming the scenes into a poetic discourse about the power of negative space. “By subtracting the main subject, I intend to compel the viewer to perform a creative act, because they have to somehow fill in that central image from their memory and imagination,” states Dávila. “Even if it’s an image you’ve seen many times, whatever you might recall might not be the same thing that I recall.”

In Photographic Memory, Jose Dávila explores the boundaries of artistic influence, skillfully intertwining homage and critique. He simultaneously challenges authorship through the alteration of iconic images to create new artworks and a distinctive oeuvre all his own.

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