Surfers don’t have the best reputation for follow-through. But perhaps we’ve been judging them too harshly. The sheer volume of work contained in “Swell,” a new show of art by and about surfers, is such that it had to be spread across three Manhattan venues — the Metro Pictures Gallery, the Friedrich Petzel Gallery and the Nyehaus space — a hint that riding the waves isn’t all beach bums do.
Despite what Frankie and Annette would have us think, “surfing is not all utopia and, you know, beach parties and stuff,” says Jacqueline Miro, who curated the exhibit with Nyehaus owner Tim Nye. The show will include works inspired by, as Miro puts it, “sunsets, waves, drugs, acid, you name it,” in materials like foam, Plexiglas, resin and plastic. However, there are also more brooding pieces, such as Craig Stecyk’s grainy black-and-white photos of amateur wave riders. Catherine Opie, best known for her images of self-mutilation, has several portraits of surfers in the installation. “Her vision is purely about the image of the surfer as an antihero, in a way. She has a very crisp eye.” says Miro. “She’s not photographing huge waves. She’s photographing people waiting for a swell.”
Artists’ surfboards designed by the likes of Raymond Pettibon and Herbie Fletcher, a charcoal drawing of a wave by Robert Longo and photographs of Venice Beach surfers by Dennis Hopper round out the extensive collection, which the curators hope will attract the surf-and-skate crowd as much as it will the typical gallerygoer. The received art-world wisdom about these artists is that “they’re interested in finish and pretty colors, which is all true. But there’s more to it than that,” Miro attests. Dude, that’s, like, so deep.