Killing Greta Thunberg and Dolly Parton? The artist creating fake obituaries of cultural stars | Ents & Arts News

Enlarged newspaper pages displayed through the windows of a sparse, all-white gallery in London’s bustling Mayfair district stop you in your tracks.

Greta Thunbergwho died aged 19, had a meteoric career as a climate activist,” begins one, the text surrounding a photograph of the young activist speaking into a microphone; on the wall facing her is Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton, one hand in the heart, the other raised in a triumphant fist. “Lord lewis hamiltonwho died aged 38, was Britain’s greatest racing driver…”

Dolly Parton, Grace Jones, Sadhguru, Marc Almond and David Hammons are also immortalized. The text is there in black and white, past tense, prosaic, alongside instantly recognizable images of their faces.

Photo: Lucy Dawkins courtesy Gagosian

Like the awful moment you see your favorite celebrity on Twitter for no apparent reason, the incredibly real works evoke a panicked double-glance. But don’t worry – these obituaries are actually hypothetical, the last works by artist Adam McEwen, featured in his first solo exhibition in London.

The great equalizer, death is one of art’s most prolific subjects—”the greatest subject,” says McEwen—but envisioning the inevitable so intricately and so specifically for very real, very living human beings makes these fake newspaper articles quite strangers.

While some might find the works morbid or even distasteful, McEwen sees them as celebratory if not uncritical. Similar to the introduction these subjects might receive if they appear in the Desert Island Discs or This Is Your Life, they are complete markers of a life well lived; a lifetime of experiences and personal qualities distilled into approximately 1,400 words.

The works are tributes to “the people I love”, McEwen told Sky News. What connects Parton, Thunberg, Lewis and the other figures featured is a thread of “tension”, he says, or triumph over adversity; they played by their own rules and won.

“These people are demonstrations that, while it may seem like life is very difficult – if not impossible – to negotiate, you actually have more options and freedom than you realize.” McEwen points to Parton, an artist who has written thousands of songs and who reveled, according to his art, in “subverting expectations of big-breasted, big-haired women” in the American South.

“You look at Dolly Parton’s story and she demonstrates it. And Lewis Hamilton, let’s say; (it was) almost impossible to be a young black man who wants to be a Formula 1 driver, if not impossible. But he shows it is possible.”

Thunberg’s rapid rise from unknown student to the world’s most famous environmental activist is something that fascinates McEwen. “Beyond its youth and its conviction,” he writes in his faux obituary, “its ability to strike a chord lies in the power and simplicity of its message: older generations have left the young to suffer the consequences of their consumption. All knew that; now the young people weren’t going to let them ignore it anymore.”

From Malcolm McLaren to Kate Moss, Rod Stewart and Bill Clinton

Artwork from Adam McEwen's obituary featuring Jeff Koons, Nicole Kidman, Macaulay Culkin, Bill Clinton, Rod Stewart, Marilyn Chambers and Malcolm McLaren were part of Christie's The George Michael Collection sale in 2019. Photo: Nils Jorgensen/ Shutterstock 8 March 2019
Adam McEwen’s previous works were part of The George Michael Collection sale at Christie’s in 2019. Photo: Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock

As a young artist in the 1990s, McEwen subsidized his passion by working part-time as an obituary writer for the Daily Telegraph. The idea of ​​transforming form into art was born out of a group show he took part in in 2000. “Everybody received a Vivienne Westwood muslin shirt, straitjacket, and we were told to do whatever we wanted. I decided to write Malcolm McLaren’s obituary… it was a tribute to Malcolm and had a kind of dark, slightly punk sensibility that made sense.”

Other fake obituaries for stars and notable figures followed, featuring everyone from Nicole Kidman, Kate Moss It is Macaulay Culkin for Rod StewartJeff Koons and Bill Clinton. Some would read it differently now, should he start again in 2023.

“They won’t be updated,” says McEwen. “Also, they work differently later on. Say, Macaulay Culkin, the actor. In 2004 he had a certain stature and a certain history; he was in Home Alone… 20 years later, we see it from a different position … You see this work of art now and you think, that’s not how I think about Macaulay Culkin anymore.

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McLaren, the former manager of the Sex Pistols and Westwood’s partner, later learned of his own death. “I met him once and told him,” says McEwen. “He was kind of confused at first and then he laughed.”

He says that Koons was also aware of him. “It’s a funny relationship, but it’s not… people said to me, why don’t you Trump? Kill him! They’re not really getting the point.”

‘This is not a morbid desire – death is a fact’

Adam McEwen.  Photo: Andisheh Avini
Adam McEwen. Photo: Andisheh Avini

McEwen says he doesn’t worry about how his subjects might react to seeing their life stories told through their invented deaths. “The only thing I know for sure about Greta Thunberg… the only thing I know for sure about Nicole Kidman or Bill Clinton is that they’re going to die. I’m not using this as a wishful thinking. It’s a wish in fact. To Me too, I’m going to die.

“I don’t think (it’s) disturbing. Besides, these things exist in archives, or in digital archives, already for famous people. For Dolly Parton, there are already obituaries written for her, because they have to be. All I’m doing is appropriating something that already exists.”

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While working for the Telegraph, McEwen wrote obituaries in reaction to sudden deaths — including for John F. Kennedy Jr in 1999, when he died alongside his wife and sister-in-law in a private plane crash — as well as planned pieces.

Just like a real newspaper article, there can be errors to watch out for in your artwork, he says. “Typing errors, sure. Factual errors maybe. I mean, just like a newspaper. It’s 6 pm. It has to go to press. We do the best (we can) and then the next morning, ‘Oh f***, we ‘ I missed that typo’. It’s the same. I made them when they go, ‘in 19XX…’ and I was going to find the date (but I forgot), and then it’s done and it’s on display. ‘ Damn, I didn’t see that. But it doesn’t matter because it’s the same thing. It’s all part of it.”

Adam McEwen’s exhibition of fake obituaries dedicated to living celebrities is on view at London’s Gagosian’s Davies Street gallery until March 11.

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