Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide
by Christie Robb
With the cancellation of 2021’s Columbus Arts Festival and ComFest happening only virtually, this summer you might be feeling the sweet ache of longing for community-building kooky pop art. Never fear—a Kenny Scharf documentary is here!
Scharf, an LA valley native and young baby boomer, was drawn to New York by Andy Warhol and the Factory—folks having an extravagantly good time making art fun. He became part of a group of young artists who merged the club and art scenes. Along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Scharf was also part of the 1980s NYC graffiti subculture and became renowned for blurring the lines between the rarified walls of the art gallery and the gritty surfaces of public spaces.
Scharf’s style is maximalist, bright, chaotic, with amoebic-like organic forms. Heavily influenced by mascot-like pop-cultural memes from advertising, cartoons, and B-movies, there’s often something sinister lurking behind a smile. He calls attention to the nuclear in nuclear family.
The documentary, by Scharf’s daughter Malia Scharf and Max Basch, is a mix of interviews with Kenny, archival footage, and commentary from collaborators, critics, artists, and collectors. It situates Kenny in art history by tracing the evolution of art style from post-WWII abstract expressionism through to pop art/appropriation art, to graffiti art and cartoon realism.
Although some personal and historical background is presented, the focus is on the art itself and the evolution of the artist’s style, motivation, and use of media over the course of his decades-long career. While Basquiat and Haring died young (taken by overdose and AIDS, respectively), Scharf was privileged to witness his embrace by the art establishment, his fall into obscurity, and his perseverance as a creator. He’s an inspiration.