Julian Opie’s schematic reductions of people, animals and landscapes to lines and planes of color are slick, accessible, mostly predictable, fun, light, casual and flat. At his worst, when he’s doing landscapes, Opie’s works look too much like the simplified graphics of trees and fields that inevitably adorn the packaging of nutrition-free, cancer-inducing processed food. In the 1990s and 2000s the British artist’s unapologetic genericism seemed the perfect art for the era of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s glib big-tent blandness.
But, his images are so mesmeric. The hook is how Opie gets us to see more than he shows us. Some critics have derided Opie’s cartoonish style as interesting only as a kind of visual trickery, with nothing really profound to say. These days, though, depictions of multicultural cosmopolitanism, an Opie staple, seem radically utopian.