Rosson Crow on the Seductive Destruction of America at Miles McEnery Gallery

Tower of Babel, 2024. Acrylic, spray paint, photo transfer, and oil on canvas, 110 x 90 inches, 279.4 x 228.6 cm

When I was in graduate school, I read Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion." In this 400-page book, Haidt discusses the complexities of human behavior driven by instinct, political views, and religious beliefs, which I interpreted as the great divide. Looking back, it feels even more relevant today.

Similarly, in his 2022 essay for The Atlantic, "Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid," Haidt examines the increasing disconnection among Americans. He attributes this growing divide to advanced technology and our diminishing attention spans; pointing out that we are not able to speak the same language or recognize the same truth, at best. He compares this phenomenon at the start of the 2010s to the story of Babel, expressing “It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community.”

Naturally, I was drawn to the new acid-hued paintings by Los Angeles based Rosson Crow currently on view at the Miles McEnery Gallery; the artist’s inaugural solo show with the gallery titled “Babel”; taking its name from Haidt’s 2022 essay. Already familiar with his writing, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards Crow’s new body of work that screamed “this is the great divide of America”. It was as if I actually understood what Haidt was referring to–and not so distant from Crow’s ongoing exploration of American history–of how America is in fact, on the brink of dissociation not just by beliefs and morality, but through language and reality.

Currently on view through July 3, just before Independence Day—a timing steeped in irony—are twelve new large-scale paintings by Crow. These works include imagined political rallies with written messages like "Save America" embedded within chaotic scenes, as well as depictions of looting, or fruit stands spilling over, it seems.

The standout pieces are three arc-shaped canvases that capture different stages in the construction, zenith, and collapse of the biblical Tower of Babel. Challenging viewers to recognize the parallels between her art and the contentious, polarized reality we live in, Crow explains: “I’ve always been interested in creating history paintings except in my version, the history is how we would receive this information today–it’s heightened. It’s fragmented. It’s chaotic. It’s psychedelic, it's overwhelming. It’s completely enveloping for the viewer, which is how I want people to experience my paintings. I want them to get sucked in and kicked around like we all are every day when you’re inundated with information constantly whether it’s from the news, online, social media–it’s like a fire hose of shit!

Other iconography like Christie’s auction house, are seen throughout her paintings - some that are distinct, others that are hard to see. Her psychedelic paintings sometimes look at if there is gibberish written across them; with the accompanying canvases demonstrating different aspects that contribute to the disorientation of society, today.

The exhibition’s fully illustrated catalogue includes an essay by arts writer Julia Halperin, where she writes: “Crow has always been a student of history—political history, pop-cultural history, art-and-design history. Critics have described many of her large-scale, epic compositions as contemporary history paintings. But she does not depict history as it unfolded or even as we wish it had unfolded. Instead, she shows history as we might actually receive it today: distorted, manipulated, heightened, blurred, and out of context.”

In line with her continued study of utopia and dystopia, this new solo presentation takes viewers on a journey of desperation and heightened self awareness, and deconstruction of current America.

Babel Relics, 2024, Acrylic, spray paint, photo transfer, and oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, 152.4 x 121.9 cm
Monster Jam Sponsored By, 2024, Acrylic, spray paint, photo transfer, and, oil on canvas, 78 x 96 inches 198.1 x 243.8 cm