O-ism (Jim Shaw)

"Born in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York in the mid-1800s, O-ism's beliefs included the notion of a female deity, of time going backwards, of spiritual transience, and a prohibition on figurative art."
--Jim Shaw

O-ism is an American religion said to originate at the same time as Mormonism in the 19th century. Its theology centers on a goddess who may not be named and who is referred to only as "O". The O-ist painter Adam O. Goodman is known for a body of large color-field paintings that infuse modernism with O-ist spirituality. Unrecognized in his own lifetime, Goodman earned his living as an illustrator under the pseudonym  Archie Gunn.

Both O-ism and Goodman/Gunn are creations of the contemporary artist Jim Shaw. In 2002, Shaw presented an exhibition at the Swiss Institute in New York in which he installed Goodman's studio and paintings, as well as  a massive set of file cabinets housing Gunn's collection of reference imagery, mostly taken from commercial publications of various kinds. The press release for this show notes Shaw's intention to investigate "the idea of the American artist".

This project bears several hallmarks of fictive art: the elaborate creation of realia (paintings, files) pertaining to the central narrative; the recursive use of pseudonyms (Shaw > Goodman > Gunn); and the invention of fictional personae who hover just this side of outright impersonation. With the double fictive entities of a religion and an artist at its center, the project very pointedly questions of just how much actuality is required to consider something a "real" religion or a someone a "real" artist.

1. Swiss Institute press release, September 2002.