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Duke Riley at MagnanMetz Gallery

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Duke Riley's Pigeon Coop

Duke Riley’s Pigeon Coop was in use at the Florida Keys before gallery installation

Artist Duke Riley is a pigeon guy and for his recent project, he worked as a pigeon trainer in the Florida Keys. As the New York Times Article “Avian Artistry, With Smuggled Cigars” states “He started the training in Florida last year with 50 pigeons; 23 went on the first mission, this summer. Only 11 returned.” (The NY Times video is well worth watching.) The mission for the pigeons was a small political intervention… they served as documentarians or Cuban Cohiba cigar smugglers. Some of the pigeons carried small cameras that captured their travel between the Florida Keys and Cuba others travelled from Florida with empty harnesses to return with cigars.

Pigeon paintings by Duke Riley

Pigeon paintings by Duke Riley

The pigeon project’s artifacts are installed in the first gallery of MegnanMetz until 25 of January 2014, where you can see the pigeon coop with the pigeons still living in it, pigeon paintings, pigeon mosaics made from sea shells and videos that the pigeons made as well as other artifacts.

Pigeon paintings by Duke Riley

Pigeon paintings by Duke Riley

The second gallery presents documentation of a collaborative performance along the canals of Zhujiajiao in China that re-stages a legendary race of the Chinese zodiac. A projected wall video shows the race and along another wall are mounted animal masks that performers wore to represent the various creatures of the Chinese zodiac. On the wall opposite from the video is a large scale drawing capturing the legend of the Chinese zodiac.

Duke Riley's masks from the Chinese zodiac

Duke Riley’s masks from the Chinese zodiac

A large scale drawing reflecting the legend of the Chinese zodiac

Chinese zodiac by Duke Riley

A large scale drawing reflecting the legend of the Chinese zodiac

Chinese zodiac by Duke Riley

A large scale drawing reflecting the legend of the Chinese zodiac

Chinese zodiac by Duke Riley

Written by ricardo

January 14th, 2014 at 6:39 am

Duke Riley at MagnanMetz Gallery

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I’ve become a big fan of Duke Riley’s work. Riley combines historical research, public intervention and skilled craft to generate narratives that are immediately engaging and subtly layered and complex.

Duke Riley drawing

I Photoshopped the drawings pictured in this post in order to better see the detail that Riley executes in his graphic work; they are worth seeing in person whenever possible. Although the only work documented in this post is graphic representation, Riley works across media and he has gotten the most attention for his public interventions, such as “After the Battle of Broolyn” for which he built a replica of an 18th Century U.S. Revolutionary submarine “The Turtle” and set out on the Hudson to attack a ship, the Queen Mary 2 docked off Manhattan. The NYC Coast Guard hauled Riley and his submarine from the Hudson.
Riley's Turtle Riley's Turtle

The latest exhibition presents two installations revolving around two separate historical narratives – the hobbo ballad “An Invitation to Lubberland” and Petty’s Island, a Citgo owned island in the Delaware River.

I didn’t have the patience to watch the videos portraying An Invitation to Lubberland which presented a late 19th century/ early 20th century dressed man running around underground tunnels. I was much more drawn to the second work presented “Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird” which consists of an intervention upon a Citgo fuel storage tank and a reclaiming of the island by the Laird Kingdom Liberation Army that published a letter to Hugo Chavez on the Huffington Post reclaiming Petty’s Island.

The project includes a giant portrait of Ralston Laird painted onto the top of a storage tank, interviews with the great great grandson of Ralston Laird, artifacts of the Laird family and beautiful drawings that re-imagine the island. (Ralston Laird was an Irish immigrant who once lived on Petty’s Island and claimed himself king of Petty’s Island.) Below are a few closeups of the large scale drawing pictured above.

Riley's Petty's Island

Riley's Petty's Island

Riley's Petty's Island

Duke Riley goes all out with his work. He ventures across boundaries to realize work that must be taken seriously due to the earnestness of execution. My only point of critique is that his graphic work is consistently in line with hipster subculture aesthetics informed by past eras of Americana and I would much rather see Riley establish his own visual language. Although the visual styles are generally informed by the era of the topic that he tackles it seems to be the same early 19th century U.S. graphic style that he recreates. Perhaps what I enjoy the most is that Riley really seems to enjoy his work thus the research leading to dense narratives that are conceptually and visually engaging.