Surreal Encounters in the Chelsea Art District: Simen Johan’s Until the Kingdom Comes

I visited the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea yesterday to check out photographer Simen Johan’s newest additions to his growing body of work, “Until the Kingdom Comes.” In the series, Johan composes digital masterpieces by combining images of animals – taken both in zoos and in the wild – with ill-fitting yet extremely striking landscapes, creating images that are at once confusing, beautiful, and haunting. They call into question what exactly is real, but also, beyond that, the reality of our skewed perception of animals and the environment. When walking through the gallery, I didn’t know whether to feel sad, disgusted, or hopeful when thinking this through – an instigated confusion I totally love in contemporary art  – and the absurdity of the pictures, and their inherent tension between the real and the artificial, only served to highlight the question.

Ultimately, however, Johan’s images illustrate a reality that is just as tense. The reality in which his work lives is something simultaneously ugly and beautiful, something to both embrace and be weary of, something whose faults inevitably become perfections which inevitably become faults…and that doesn’t seem too far off from the truth.

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“Until the Kingdom Comes” will be at the Yossi Milo Gallery at 245 Tenth Ave. in New York until December 7, 2013.

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