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Jim Shaw

Cloud Chamber, Utopian Landscape 4

1988

Cloud Chamber, Utopian Landscape 4 belongs to Jim Shaw’s My Mirage series (1986–91), approximately 120 paintings and drawings centered on Billy, a character whose coming of age during the 1950s and ’60s is rendered in a variety of artistic styles that incorporate a range of cultural references. A sub-series of My Mirage, the Utopian Landscape drawings supplement Billy’s story, but without the use of text or the explicit narrative of characters in action. Instead, they feature single subjects rendered over and over, such that they seem to multiply beyond the edges of the composition. Shaw stated that their rigid and repetitious compositions are meant to portray utopias as inherently fascist. However, these works’ imagery also adds a more discursive layer to My Mirage’s storyline, as with the mushroom clouds of Cloud Chamber, a ubiquitous symbol during the Cold War.

Jim Shaw (b. 1952, Midland, Michigan; lives and works in Los Angeles)
Cloud Chamber, Utopian Landscape 4, 1988
Pencil on paper
16 3/4 x 13 7/8 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Gift of Lannan Foundation

Those were based on the idea that utopias are more or less fascistic. The “Utopian Landscapes” series was a fairly simple idea: to create a perspective of repetition of the same thing in a field. They were generally based on already existing stereotypical images.... And Plain of Jars—well, in the early days of the Vietnam War they referred to fighting on the Plain of Jars in Laos, and in my mind I literally envisioned all these jars on a plain. I transmuted that delusion into that Alfred Hitchcock Presents version of the Ray Bradbury story about the head in the jar at the carnival which the hillbillies sit around and try to understand the meaning of. —Jim Shaw