Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

A Postmodern Tossed Salad in the Atrium Gallery

viva Derrida! all hail Barthes!
and please pass the Foucault.

A recent collaborative exhibition at the Salt Lake City Library’s Atrium Gallery (In and Out of Habit, July 7 — August 18) provides me with the perfect opportunity to vent.

To rant, really; to rant and rave, at least for a few lines, about what is wrong in the art world these days. Or at least the education process that is producing so many of our artists.

But before the ranting a few disclaimers:
1. Since from what I can tell all the artists in this collaboration are still students (at Brigham Young University) they should not be held completely responsible for their sins — their teachers are to blame
2. This is not an invective against postmodern thought. Some of my best friends are postmodernists:)

Let me start off by saying that the paintings in the exhibit are for the most part striking. They are interesting. Strong color designs with layered paint applications make the paintings interesting enough to stop and look at. To consider.

But that’s where the trouble begins. Because if we consider them long enough, we might swivel our head about, searching for any extras that might help us to consider more.
And voilà, we’re not disappointed. For extras there are.

A small stack of them perched atop a stand between the two elevators. The artists have been kind enough to provide us with a prospectus/artists’ statement/thesis proposal/confessional about the collaborative effort we have been considering. And oh, here it goes, let the ranting begin …

. . Not so quick, though. It’s only fair to let you in on the extra. Present the evidence, as it were. The following is the full statement about the show:

In designing this collaborative show, we began to explore the idea of repetition and how it affects us as individuals. All people experience repetition to some degree, whether by choice or by circumstance. We decided to isolate a repetitious event from our respective backgrounds — bothersome habits, deliberate rituals, significant patterns, or mundane daily events — that had some degree of influence on our personalities and character. We then analyzed how these experiences may have affected the development and longevity of our own interpersonal relationships. Having indivually and collectively examined these repetitious incidents, we created corresponding interpretations based on our own experiences, an image from each of the resulting six pieces was then selected and incorporated into six new works of art (collage and silk screen) represented by the collaborative exchange involved in two groups of three, three groups of two, and one group of all six artists. We surmised that through the philosophical layering of repetitive creation upon the idea of repetition itself, relationships would be forged as a result of working symbiotically on various levels. We hoped that this unified effort would become a visual documentation of the process of forming relationships based on combining past experiences, habits, opinions, decisions, ideologies, etc. Whether or not the relationships will be lasting can be determined only through time; the works of art created in the endeavor, however, will remain timeless.

Wow. Go ahead, give it a second look, take it all in.

Ready? Here goes the ranting.

What are we doing here, a science experiment? We surmised that if we put elements X, Y, and Z together something really cool and profound would come out.

I can only guess that these students were fulfilling some assignment, with appropriate attempts at serious scholarship, to justify going to four years of school and receiving a bachelor’s degree. Or was it masters?
One of the questions this really poses is should artists even be going to Universities to get their educations? Why not simply attend an art school.

The only reason I can think of to attend a University in pursuit of an art education is the non-art instruction one might receive that might broaden one’s talents. But if this is the result, I think it better to learn in a private studio.

After all, what do we have here but some statement about the art we are viewing which attempts to provide a level of seriousness and art history worthiness to the works. These are serious artists?

What we’ve got here is some type of pseudo scientific experiment going on with watered-down philosophy in the form of jargon and buzzwords. The kind of stuff professors eat up.

These artists may never have even heard of people like Derrida, who provided the philosophical underpinnings of postmodern thought, or Barthes and Foucault who applied it to literature and culture; but they have been baptized by its trickled down effect. Have learned that art can be made serious by adding the right jargon.

This project has everything. In the beginning, the project seems to be about repetition. Fair enough topic. Certainly post-modernly chique enough. Well adapted for a visual medium (but have these artists really done anything with it that can compete with Warhol?). Next a powwow session. Group therapy. Let’s talk about these things. Then they each paint a painting. Then they combine paintings in different ways.

Then we find out that this is all part of some type of hypotheses. A thesis statement followed by an experiment and the results. The artists surmised that “through the philosophical layering of repetitive creation upon the idea of repetition itself, relationships would be forged as a result of working symbiotically on various levels.” It’s starting to sound like the project is more about relationships than it is about repetition.

The language here may reveal the weakness of the thought. What is philosophical layering? The layering might be there, but calling it philosophical does not make it so. What type of relationships are formed? And what is the symbiosis on various levels? I don’t think the artists themselves could answer the question.

Seems to me that all this is basically an attempt to make you feel like if you don’t understand the relationships it’s just because you don’t get IT.

Mostly it is a lot of sound and fury. Signifying …
a case of logorrhea, an ailment too often found in the art world.

What it all comes down to are the two types of people who attend exhibits. There are those that read the artist statement, puzzle over what it all means, but who take the works more seriously for the difficult words surrounding them. Then there are those of us who don’t even take a glance. If anything should do the talking it should be the paintings.

postclaimer: you may have noticed that there are no pics included. Laying aside obvious issues of copyright, I would point out that the whole point of the above ranting is the unfortunate reliance by artists nowadays, on the written word, the explication of text, rather than on the visual medium. Who needs pictures. They’re not the subject, just an illustration.

In and Out of Habit: A Collaboration ran from July 7 — August 18, 2001, at Salt Lake’s Atrium Gallery. Artists involved in the collaboration were: Shawn Bitters, Sunnie Bybee, Janelle Howington, Ashley Knudsen, Jared Latimer, Casey Smith.


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