"To paraphrase Mike Kelley, “an adolescent is a dysfunctional adult and art is dysfunctional reality”: an equation that might explain something of our culture’s ongoing fascination with things teenage. There is a certain appeal to the heightened emotions of youth; it certainly makes for good melodrama; though, having spent the last couple years working with living, breathing young folk, the reality is nowhere near as entertaining as the finely crafted version we are exposed to in films and on television. This Platonic Ideal of adolescence sets the standard even in its carefully scripted failures. For those of us realists, however, who can’t abide by such groundless conceptions, our only recourse is to the material truths of our own past. The trials and tribulations (and sometimes triumphs, but mostly trials and tribulations) of our high school years feed the pool in which we reflect, looking for some clue to our adult selves."
"Kirsten Johnson’s series of prom-themed paintings at KWT Contemporary are rooted in such a return. The short video that accompanies the exhibition is essential viewing for those of us who didn’t peak at graduation. Her refusal to succumb to nostalgia is the first step in a critical, rather than celebratory take on that fraught party at the precipice of adulthood. Intercut with footage of Johnson from the past and a present-day soliloquy on that past are scenes from the photo-shoot that resulted in the paintings. The models she chose to play the part of the revelers seem a tad old to me, but they manage to get the moves of a dancing mass down pat, and the artist does a swell job of capturing those gestures and expressions on canvas. The puzzle is completed with the background newspaper images of storm damage. Without the video, this conflation of two forms of disaster is too simplistic, so even though she distances herself from the autobiographical elements of the project (having the models read her diaries, instead of revisiting them herself), the specific circumstances of Johnson’s past are the real story here."