The best: David Shrigley and Chris Sheppard, “Who I Am And What I Want”, 2005. (Not on view at YBCA.)



There are just under two weeks left of David Shrigley’s “Brain Activity” exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). I procrastinated seeing the show as long as possible, but gave in today out of guilt and a general fear of regret. In my salad days I loved Shrigley’s books and animated short film collaboration with Chris Sheppard, “Who I Am And What I Want” (2005). His art was funny, laid bare profound truths about society, and encouraged personal freedom. However, YBCA’s press release image of a stiff, stuffed dog with a sign that reads “I’M DEAD” obviously photographed through its vitrine made me question my teenage taste. Maybe Shrigley is the contemporary art equivalent of liking Dali: they are good artists but, past the age of sixteen, over-enthusiasm is a sign of poor taste.


The offending image. David Shrigley, "I'm Dead", 2010.


Though Shrigley’s dog appeared in press releases to be simply a tacky gag—similar to the work of my favorite squirrel taxidermist (gifts accepted)—in person the terrier is more engaging. The piece fits in well with the rest of the show, where Shrigley offers quick clear eyed views on death that seem absurd in contrast to Western societies’ denial and concealment. Taxidermy is the art of death concealment made physical. Though well-executed as a work of taxidermy, the upright stance and sign doesn’t let the viewer engage in the same concealment. The exhibit is full of dispassionate statements about death, life, and power that are easy to read and easy to agree with. “Brain Activity” will make you laugh and feel validated. It is a great reminder that going to a museum doesn’t always have to be in search of a transcendent experience before a painting, because that shit is exhausting.


Ultimately, viewing Shrigley’s art is a lesson in working methods: don’t take yourself too seriously, and make as much work as you can. Trying for greatness often stymies people or yields embarrassing work, so Shrigley draws as though he is “not making art work, that it’s an elaborate form of doodling” (Close, 2003). His oft-cited production is based on editing, showing approximately 7,000 drawings of 25,000, and throwing the rest away (Shrigley, 2003). Relax. Viewing art and making it doesn’t have to bring you to tears. And don’t get too attached to your ideas or what you produce.


David Shrigley’s “Brain Activity” is on view at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through September 23.


-Kendall George

Close, Ajay. “Article,” The Scotsman. 2003.


Shrigley, David. “Untitled.” 2003.