At Boston's Childs Gallery, The 20/20 Shell Games is an investigation into identity, absurdity, and idiocy, through the lens of narrative painting, under a near-constant onslaught of media culture.
Paul Endres Jr. is back with the latest installment of his ongoing series The American Burden. This monumental – and entertaining – series depicts the sprawling narrative of a post-apocalyptic world in which all of history is lost. Endres’ paintings recount the pivotal events and figures of this fictional history, while offering a satirical take on our own.
In The 20/20 Shell Games, Endres’ headless dictator Hadrian holds an Olympics style competition in an attempt to distract his subjects from his lack of leadership and ill-fated reelection. Meanwhile, a recent archaeological discovery has uncovered a trove of rectangular plastic “shells,” and the strange “VCR” contraption that projects their contents, unleashing a slew of long forgotten pop culture references on Burden America.
In The 20/20 Shell Games, twenty paintings are dedicated to documenting the Games, which include events like boxing, polo, baseball, pole-vault, and synchronized swimming, while twenty golden VHS tapes, decorated with paintings of Hadrian, serve as the victors’ medals. Both sets of works revel in the trademark absurdity of Endres’ alternative future-history. The Shell Games paintings lean heavily into nostalgic pop culture of the past forty years, pairing various sporting events with imagery from Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Jaws, and more to an amusingly madcap effect. Their bold colors and playful folly contrast with the no-less preposterous yet decidedly-more-restrained images on Hadrian’s VHS-cum-medals.
Endres deliberately juxtaposes the energy in the two sets of works, ultimately amplifying the baser feeling of lunacy in the former and loneliness in the later. With The 20/20 Shell Games, he has essentially created two shows in one: twenty vibrant and energetic paintings of the Games themselves, paired with twenty sad and lonesome glimpses at the life of a miserable tyrant in the twilight of his rule - intimate moments memorialized into keepsake-sized oil paintings on VHS tapes.
If the outright absurdity of The 20/20 Shell Games and the entire Burden series feels alarmingly real these days, Endres agrees. His paintings have always merged the historical and contemporary in creating bizarre, satirical scenarios that mimic and mock both narrative history and our modern world. However, his pairing of the real and the ludicrous feels especially pertinent in our new, ever changing reality. Endres notes of The 20/20 Shell Games:
“Lately it seems as though the real world has caught up to the post-apocalyptic and post-historical world of the Burden, dominated by the idea of polar binaries in all things. With this in mind this body of work is, as with all my work, about bringing opposite things together in hopes of finding some form of catharsis in their pairings. The results are often absurd, silly, and funny, and this is especially true of the Shell Games, but I was once told there is nothing more serious than a good joke, and that is something I believe. Each individual piece should stand on its own, each a perfectly formed joke.”
Endres’ continued epic mythmaking in The 20/20 Shell Games plays out much like the sporting events depicted – theatrically escapist. But each of Endres’ “perfectly formed joke[s]” is equal parts entertaining and serious, a polarity masterfully explored through his particular style of pseudo-history painting. While the forty works in the exhibition chronicle the events of the Shell Games within Endres’ larger Burden narrative, they also reflect upon our own society, using engrained pop culture references to offer critiques in pithy, absurd, painted vignettes.
Endres further describes the narrative:
Hadrian the Bold, The Burden’s preeminent headless ruler, is facing reelection. The past several years of his arrogant wartime bravado have grown tiresome to the people of New Boston. Hadrian has squandered his subjects’ resources and trust. Worst still, if the calls for revolution materialize, they will surely claim Hadrian’s remaining body parts. Poor Hadrian, this just isn’t your day!
But it’s not all bad news, Hadrian’s team of archeologists recently discovered a priceless treasure: a library of rectangular plastic ‘shells’ and a machine that projects the contents therein! Jurassic Park! Return of the Jedi! This bizarre ‘VCR’ contraption provides the people of Burden America a whiplash connection to a culture long forgotten. And somewhere between bingeing Chariots of Fire with multiple seasons of The Bachelor, inspiration strikes our poor despot Hadrian, and the 20/20 Shell Games are born! 20 nostalgia fueled competitions designed to provide the ultimate widespread distraction. And to the 20 champions of Hadrian’s absurd whims go the Golden Shells, valuable relics adorned with his unique and royal likeness!
Good luck and see you at the Games!
More info: https://childsgallery.com/