In the words of 1970’s hardcore punk band, Black Flag, Gimmie Gimmie Gimme is “a loaded gun.” Dealing with everything from civil rights to Watergate, from feminist to schizophrenics, the exhibition narrates the human experience on many (many) levels. With such weighty topics, the gallery makes an even bolder move in toying with the structure of the exhibition itself. Utilizing non-traditional faculties, the gallery presents a show that is far more experiential than it is didactic. With so many moving parts I wondered which would work, which were trite, and which would go unnoticed altogether. The execution, however, was surprisingly successful and smart and truly enhanced not only the content, but also the viewer’s relationship with the work (a curator’s dream). The first of these components was in part by chance.
“I know the world’s got problems”
The show begins in the first floor lobby of The Weston, where some of the larger-scale-installation artists are featured, everywhere from the surrounding street-level windowpanes to the ceiling itself. Initially it’s a lot to take in, as the pieces themselves are further away creating a lot of dead space between you and the work. It being the lobby also feels a little less personal, like you’re in the holding room before you get to see the actual show. And then you realize the rest of the show is downstairs (bless you, gods of architecture) because it is this very walk down stairs that produces this sense of significance, like you’re about to be let in on the world’s biggest secret, which you are.
Abject art at it’s finest, the lower-level gallery places race, gender, and sexuality on historical, cultural, and personal scales. Employing the physical space to enhance the narrative, our understanding of these topics is (literally) from the ground up. We are given this tangible experience of going underground to talk about the things that no one wants to talk about. If that weren’t enough, we are also forced to look at these topics as they relate to one another, due to their uncanny arrangement within the gallery walls.
This ‘ah-ha’ moment really happened for me when viewing Jean-Michel Basquait’s Untitled (Deconstructing Woman) and it’s physical congruence with Tahiti Felix Lynch and Dave and Greg’s tattoo flashes. Minimal representation meets replicable templates, the two paired together gave way to a conversation about identity from an individual and collective perspective, and the implications of both. This composition of underground culture meets outsider art had this way of making everything else make sense. They were no longer disparate ideas but rather one in the same, or at least interconnected at that.
“I’ve got problems of my own”
Something else notable about the show was the extreme physicality of the work. From genitalia to portraiture and everything in between, the explicitness of the show either grabbed your attention or made you look the other way. Hovering above 1970’s fem art and just around the corner from 1980’s shock art is Jonathan Monk’s My Height in Yellow Neon. It’s 21st century body art, if you will.
Fresh and contrast, we see a different take on the topic of ownership as it pertains to the body and self. Where other artists explored it quite literally, Monk did the same thing just differently. As noted above, the neon installation is positioned 68 inches from the gallery floor, and glows at only a foot’s length. The light emanating from the bulb is not very bright, it’s muted, as I remember, but what’s imperative to this piece is the fact that it glows. In the long lineage of art history, neon is relatively new to the books, but with it comes bright cultural connotations. Whether it simply connotes nighttime, or it points to clubs and promiscuity, there is this modern-day sensuality to the use of light within the context of the show. That, paired with the definitiveness of height and it’s measureable quality, we see this sense of ownership in a very personal and empowering way.
And then we see the lack there of.
“Not the kind that can’t be solved with an atom bomb”
If you’ve ever been in eighth grade you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It was our middle school trip to Washington DC and we were visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Perusing floor after floor of abysmal world history, you arrive at this corridor filled with shoes, around 4,000 to be relatively exact. There was something about the mass of objects that was alarming and sobering in it’s size and ambiguity, to which you’re informed of the daunting and self-explanatory title: Victims’ Shoes. (Visit here: http://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/permanent/shoes for reference and more information).
Tory Fair’s Heap took me back to that display, and perhaps it was because of the context of the show, having to do with the human experience, human suffering, human exploitation, and the like. I’ve revisited her Heap time and time again and am still unsure of the objects that comprise it, but the stark resemblance between the two makes me feel as though I know exactly what this piece is about. Bolstering this metaphor is another logistical device used by the gallery: ambiguity. Throughout the exhibition you will find no label, no inscription, no featured explanation of the artwork, the artist, the context, or even medium. The power of this faculty adds another layer to experiential nature of the exhibition, one where you have to approach the work with supposition, the very catalyst for the tragedy mentioned above.
To summarize the exhibition into one idea, one thought, or even one sentence wouldn’t do it justice. To try to tell you exactly what the work was about would miss the very point of the show altogether. Take the weekend (but not the kids) to see it all for yourself now through January 17th, 2016 at The Weston Art Gallery.