“Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” is an early contender for Gallery Group Show of the Year. It has 22 artists — or 25, if you count those on view in reproduction. But really it has no artists at all. The show centers on a collaboration by the two impresario-organizers, gallerist Gavin Brown and artist Urs Fischer. It is all about memory, morals, redemption, tribal loyalty and railing against cozy cliché. One of its causes can be traced to February 28, 1974, the infamous day when Tony Shafrazi, a 30-year-old Iranian-born artist, entered the Museum of Modern Art, yelled, “Call the curator. I am an artist,” and spray-painted KILL LIES ALL in red letters across Picasso’s Guernica. I’d always assumed Shafrazi meant to paint “All Lies Kill.” However, he recently told me he wrote exactly what he wanted to write, and that it was meant to be read in “a Finnegans Wake way” so that it said something whichever way you read it. (It’s still gibberish to me. Whatever.) Asked about it later, Shafrazi stated he wanted to bring Guernica “absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life.” Regardless, the painting had a protective coating, was cleaned soon after, and now hangs at the Reina Sofía in Madrid. Shafrazi was arrested, charged with “criminal mischief,” and released on $1,000 bail.
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