Paul Coors at Clay Street Press

Paul Coors’ new solo exhibition at Clay Street Press is something of two different worlds. Beneath the surface of a quintessential contemporary exhibition, Tell Me What Else You Need From Me reveals a multiplicity of approaches to conceiving of and executing visual art. Coors, a 2004 graduate of The Art Academy of Cincinnati and formerly of the now defunct and highly respected Publico, is one of Cincinnati’s most gifted designer/printmakers. In this current show, the viewer is asked to locate her/himself within a space that never proposes stylistic or formal unity, a place where one is offered a series of objects bound together only by their common creator and then challenged to fashion the links between them. It is as if we have been invited to spend time examining variations on a theme without ever having the theme formally stated.

The clearest expression of Coors’ background as a printmaker are found in a series of compelling monotypes all bearing the title of Living Room (2010). A collection of candle wax prints that embody a feeling of the biomorphic and the fluidic, these images look mobile; an analog to a stain or substance that spreads across the surface from the center of the paper. The works also contain subtle, interesting relationships of value which, upon close inspection, give them the illusory impression of three dimensional form. The title piece of the show, a work of cut black vinyl, effectively uses text as a design element that does not distract, but rather adds, to the overall composition of a large work that at times feels like it could be the love child of T.S. Eliot and Ellsworth Kelly’s 1957 Sculpture for a Large Wall.

Single Takes (2010) as the title suggests, is composition of small, one off ball point sketches that give us insight into Coors’ process as a designer. Tightly rendered and deceptively simple, these stylized depictions of hair make use of such antiquated notions as line, space, shape, and value, to an amiable result.

The fatal flaw in several of the works in Tell Me What Else You Need From Me rest in their over reliance on conceptual interrogation rather than serious engagement with aesthetic concerns. Works like This Side (2010) and That Side (2010) are composed in a situation where not only is failure not an option, it’s not even a remote possibility, at least from a visual standpoint. The aesthetic decisions made in works such as these arise as the default outcome to a preconceived notion. Success in any endeavor occurs only when the prospect of failure, however remote, is at hand. When failure appears most likely, success becomes ever more meaningful. In the case of This Side and That Side, there are no plausible negative visual consequences to covering an entire wall with the same postcard held up by push pins; it is simply not possible for the piece to fail or to look “bad” because there are no substantive aesthetic decisions which need to be made. And the decisions which are made are of such little import that the resulting works convey no sense of visual significance, and offer no feeling of gravity. The very same issues hold true for Cincinnati Cape (2010), a work that is in essence a tissue paper reproduction of a business card designed by Coors. Contrast these two works with the Living Room series, Single Takes, or the lithograph Scoreboard (2010) where artistic choice, even on a limited scale, drastically impacts the final appearance of the work. These pieces have the inherent potential to get out of control, to make wrong turns, and ultimately crash and burn. That they come out on the other side as interesting, successful images contributes not only to our respect for Coors as an artist, but also to our satisfaction with the work.

This Can Be Life / Paul Coors feat. JayZ, is undoubtedly the most complicated piece in the exhibition. A collaboration of sorts which features two turntables mounted on a vintage lp credenza, each with a vinyl pressing containing a single track that stitches together every ‘uhh’ heard in the Jay Z catalogue can strike one as either a supreme act of artistic disinterestedness, creating something valuable only in and of itself, or as an equally matchless exercise in otiosity. (Full disclosure: the cartridges were not place in the turntables at the time of the visit, and this viewer did not hear the results.) As a work of free standing sculpture This Can Be Life / Paul Coors feat. Jay Z does at a minimum succeed in emphasizing clean lines and craftsmanship, a sense of symmetry, stability, and balance. For an object that is physically heavy it projects an aura of lightness and surprising elegance. Here to however, consideration of the role of artistic decision must come into play. Though This Can Be Life / Paul Coors feat. Jay Z is possessed of a stately formal beauty, it is as a result of fairly inconsequential aesthetic decisions. (Though the care taken in discretely tucking away the receiver and the limited visibility of external wires was not lost on this observer) As a result the viewer is left in a sort netherworld, unsure of where to place primacy of experience: on the object itself, the sound that it creates, or the effort required to laboriously scour Jay Z’s back catalogue. In essence, works like these provide multiple points of entry while insulating themselves against genuine attempts at criticism because they can claim (not without some merit) to be all things at all times.

Worth noting, thought not technically a part of this exhibition, is I Want This Forever (2009) a book-form piece made in collaboration with Dana Ward. Flipping through the pages one is struck by its contents as well as its composition. The work is intriguing, tactile, narrative, and formless simultaneously. I Want This Forever appeals to our human desire for the object and for those objects to have meaning. One gets the sense that this is Coors at his best; the creation of articles in conjunction with others that stimulate and satisfy. Coors’ skill and technique as a printmaker is on full display and it’s hard not to feel that you are holding something that is both precious and lavish.

There is an amount of cultural criticism available in this exhibition as well. Tell Me What Else You Need From Me at times touches on the excesses of consumption and the disjointed, pastiche nature of life in the 21st century, but the commentary is diffuse and indistinct. It almost seems as if Coors conceives of the works on display as being tracks on an album, and there are passing references to the long player throughout the show. Titles such as This Side and That Side, as well as Single Takes, the use of vinyl on the title piece, along with the genuine article in This Can Be Life, suggests that he sees this show through the lens of being both an artist and a producer. Being that some of his most persuasive work is made in partnership with others also intimates a strong sense of musicianship. One might even consider that Coors is on a tour of sorts. His show at Clay Street Press is yet another stop after back to back shows at Semantics and Country Club and in September he’ll by playing Aisle along with Tony Lunesman. Like most albums Tell Me What Else You Need From Me features some interesting cuts, and a few duff tracks.

– Alan D. Pocaro

Paul Coors, ‘Tell Me What Else You Need From Me’ at the Clay Street Press, 1312 Clay Street Cincinnati, OH 45202. Through July 16.


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