Wednesday, November 21, 2007
There's a show that you should see up at 2020 Projects. Here at The Failure of Knowing we have been recommending only the shows at that little-gallery-that-can lately, but it's not without reason. Curated by Jacin Giordano and titled The End, this exhibit takes us into a tightly constructed mindspace full of black paint, nearly apocalyptic visions, allusions to the cyclical nature of things, a healthy sense of paranoia, and a fin-de-seicle air that would have fit neatly into the atmosphere surrounding anyone with their pulse on the socio-political undercurrents of American society in 1999. Instead, this is late 2007 and we are no longer perched at a precipice before a rapid slide down into disillusion, disbelief, cynicism, social malaise. Giordano's curatorial statement shows that we may have hit bottom, that all is not well and good in the world. The end is not only nigh, but has been here for some time and the best we can do is make some jokes, look for poetry in the drek, laugh it off until we're ready to scrape the shit from our shoes and take new steps away from our own ends, thus completing a vicious cycle.
This show features Daniel Newman, Frank Wick, Ethan Ayer, Joshua Sigman, and the late John Howlett, all offering a diverse array of works that, due to their exceptional placement within the white walls of 2020, work in ensemble to produce something like a darkly funny poem and a glib confession about the sardonic forces within us all.
Frank Wick's work is the main standout here, with a tongue in cheek humor that left me feeling uneasy and odd after the initial laughter wore off. Die Unicorn Die, a life-sized Unicorn drawn on the wall with washy Flavor-All drink powder and Rat Poison, asserts that truths are illusory at best and possibly fatal if ingested. During the opening, Frank served Flavor-All drinks laced with vodka instead of poison to footnote the reference to Jim Jones. (note: I don’t think too many people got the reference, but who cares. They drank it anyway, all too trusting of free liquids in small paper cups…) Another piece, Everything is Coming Up Roses, is a cast arm clothed in business attire. Its realistic hand, covered in band aids and offering us a good 'ol American Thumb’s Up, insists on a job well done despite the obvious wounds. Sarcasm wins out here as the sculpture jumps out from the wall at waist level with forced engagement, demanding mediocrity from us all, mocking our serious efforts with banality because in the end even the sincerest of gestures is ultimately trite and moot.
Painter John Howlett’s works are like neon signs charged with celebrating an esoteric glam and kitschy rock and roll idealism: Pentagrams, hidden symbols, naked women aflame and pulsing with dangerous sex, youth's ideology run amok…Was John Howlett serious? Yes, I think he was. But, was he laughing when he made these insane paintings? I think so. Actually, the joke's on us for looking past the anxiety and rebellion inherent to them for something deeper and attributable to theories and formalisms. Howlett's work screams for us to employ our insubordinate demons, to sample a world where desire and fear could possibly lead to an uncertain end if we are gullible enough to take it all so seriously. Flanking Daniel Newman’s Shroud, Howlett’s paintings Untitled and Unconventional Beauty strike a deal with darker forces, and we the viewers become unwitting devotees to Giordano’s dark orchestration.
Humor is not at play with Daniel Newman's work. His work doesn't feel funny to me. Not at all. At least not what I've seen. These paintings, second-hand and store bought before applying the black pigments onto them, imply (in this show’s context) and contest the death of painting that the art world was going on and on about a few years ago and invariably returns to every so often. They possess an ascetic minimalism that favors cancellation, the void and its uncertainties, heaviness as opposed to lightness. Newman’s painting Shroud becomes an altar piece, an icon of black mass, a doorway to an end, death, the tidy center to all black holes.
Geological time is sped up, in effect aging the canvas so that it conceals its true age. This makes for a fascinating surface, like a desolate landscape scorched long ago with primal fires. Newman has a knack for black, but I'd like to see him try something else with pigment aside from layering its handsome black varieties over thrift shop paintings.
Joshua Sigman takes us into a parallel universe where sci-fi type laws apply and the burden of paranoia carries the weight of contemporary anxieties. In Debra, a small sized digital image, a queue of riot cops stretches into a tentative horizon. The cops seem to duplicate exponentially like hungry insects eager to unify and become one in order to serve their angry hive. Joshua Sigman’s other piece, Vicious Cortrilla is a couple of poems on postcards stacked atop pedestals curiously presented as sculpture. Sigman’s poems are emphatic tomes on death with psychedelic undertones. Short and uncomplicated, their immediacy quickly transports us into a Borgesian style riddle where the transitory nature of being succumbs playfully to an otherwise existential dilemma.
Ethan Ayer uses black paint to create awkward abstractions that leave only sections of more conventionally rendered passages beneath exposed and cancelled out. Referencing subjects particular to traditional easel painting, this censoring is evidenced in a suite of 4 paintings Untitled (grains), Still Life (Hand and Harvest), Horse Study, and Still Life (Harvest). Not only are we purposely shut out from these pictures and their significance, Ayer is in effect choosing abstraction over other modes of representation for us. He tells us that we are not allowed to view what is beneath, that we cannot have the experience of relishing in what we assume to be beautiful application of craft and technique, and that we are not permitted to tell stories based on these hidden images. These paintings are extremely conscious of being paintings. They have their own elitist meta-psyche which dares viewers to spar with them and offer no answers in return. Perhaps we are meant to be left with a desire to see more of the obfuscated areas, but I was not. Instead, I was left with the conundrum of what these paintings are, and where they lie in the long history of art about art.
The End’s strength is Giordano’s ability to cull together the disparate voices that are these artists. His curatorial effort overshadows the fact that these pieces are made by individuals. Maybe this was an unavoidable effect since The End and its conceptual carry-ons automatically place the works in a corner where all we have is The End and there is no room for anything else, which is to say there is a definite opinion at work here; Though Giordano insists that he's merely "organizing" the show, his point of view comes across like a lawyer adamant to argue his/her case. This strong curatorial stance in such a small space is a welcome change to the run-of-the-mill group shows that have been taking up entirely too much wall space in contemporary galleries as of late, mostly under the auspice of loose and allegedly unifying themes. A focused curator can nearly negate the artists' hands, and in The End Giordano’s curatorial vision threatens to do this very thing.