Mark Kelner is a visual artist and filmmaker based in Washington, DC and Brooklyn. He has studied with the esteemed novelist Vasily Aksyonov during his time at George Mason University and, prior to the art world, worked alongside filmmaker Steven Spielberg coordinating the production of video testimonies of Holocaust survivors in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for the USC Shoah Foundation Institute. His work has appeared in Artenol, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and The Times among an extensive list of other media outlets. We are happy to introduce the artist, Mark Kelner, as his newest solo show entitled “Dollar City” unveiled this weekend at Beacon Gallery.
At first introduction, Kelner states that he was “conceived in Russia, born in Ohio, and raised by television.” Kelner is the son of Russian immigrants who fled the Soviet Union just before his birth. The artwork that he now creates is merely a look into his upbringing, as well as the cultural signifiers – brands, logos, advertisements, slogans, and signs – he came to know intimately growing up in a modern-day America. His newest exhibition, “Dollar City”, is said to function as a trick mirror, reflecting a slightly distorted version of reality that allows the viewer to parse out the invisible socio-economic and cultural elements of control embedded within today’s urban landscape and the built environment. Additionally, though Kelner’s art often features Russian symbology (see example below in his work “400 Years of American Sloganism”, a piece now on show at Beacon Gallery), his works seek primarily to shed light on his experience of growing up in America as a first-generation child of immigrants.
Kelner promotes the fact that the ubiquity of everyday signage – empty words that serve a higher purpose in promoting commerce and salesmanship – ring true as markers of how we Americans see ourselves. Paintings that proclaim “Going Out of Business”, “Fast Cash Loans”, “Last 3 Days”, and “Everything Must Go” function as both reimagined real-to-life signs and as fine art designed to induce desire, while commenting on contemporary capitalist jargon. In Kelner’s highly textured and archival canvases, deeply saturated hues capture an authentic take on 21st century American society. The relationship between text and its visual expression is both intentional and measured. The artist explains that, “in the crude wake of a reality TV presidency, claims masquerading as objective truth have so saturated daily life as to be little more than white noise. In protest, [he] attempts to expose their hollowness, exaggerations, misrepresentations, and limits. The result is a jarring absurdity that inspires viewers to think differently about their world, and to embrace satire, kitsch, and cliché as tools of personal expression,”. In all, Kelner presents a unique take on sloganeering and Americanization.
Kelner’s artwork allows us to take a closer, more discriminatory look at the images we see on a daily basis, but likely rarely process at a conscious-level. “The nature of propaganda is a familiar theme in my practice, one that often documents and distorts imagery ranging from art history to pop culture to reveal their inherent contradictions as familiar symbols of contemporary life: their false representation of ideas, and as false idols propping up a system of consumerism where things and people are commodities,” says the artist. By turning ubiquitous mass and signage into the main focus, Kelner puts forth an opportunity for realization and awareness of systematic workings ‘behind the curtain’ of what we view and understand to be “America”. He offers a deconstructed view of our world in its most plain, glaring, diminished form via the lens of an everyday consumer of life in the U.S.
Furthermore, by recognizing the propaganda that exists as an oppressive daily reality within our country, we can question what it really means to be an ‘American’ in current society. As a directional hint, Kelner’s foremost personal statement on his own website shares that his work is “often rooted in the refraction of overlapping, if not competing, personal identities…”.
Special thanks to Mark for sharing his work, experience, and thoughts with us. His solo show, “Dollar City” will be on view through October 31st at Beacon Gallery. To keep up with the artist, visit his website markkelner.com and on instagram @markkelnerstudio
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