Duke Riley: Tides and Transgressions

Rizzoli Electa. Jun. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9780847872411. $65. FINE ARTS
The first survey of the career of contemporary multimedia artist Duke Riley, accompanying a summer 2022 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. His work is wide-ranging—large-scale, fantastically detailed illustrated histories of New York’s waterways; performances involving thousands of pigeons sporting LED lights at twilight; and pieces drawn from traditional maritime arts and crafts, repurposing beach trash and construction debris as scrimshaw depicting modern-day robber barons (the CEOs of chemical companies), sailors’ valentines—mosaics originally made from shells—maps, embroidery, and fishing lures. Yet for all his exuberance, Riley’s concepts are strongly cohesive, throwing a spotlight on plastic consumption, pollution, and the arc of American oceans’ history. This survey offers an overview of more than 20 years of Riley’s art and interventions that will draw new viewers and offer existing fans the chance to stop and look more closely. The pictures are the point of this beautifully produced monograph; descriptions of featured projects are kept to a minimum, the better to showcase Riley’s craftsmanship in detail and document his edgy, iconoclastic performances. The art here is political, beautiful, and darkly funny.
VERDICT A handsome addition to any fine art collection. It’s imaginative work with substantive themes of ecological advocacy and maritime history, all executed with a fine hand and a piratical sense of humor.
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