Jann Haworth . . . from page 1
In the nearly half-century since, Haworth has proved herself more prolific than her better-known contemporaries. Of the 15-odd works at Modern West (a couple are discretely kept back in another space), only one was shown in an earlier show at the Rio, and she remains someone who can fill a gallery, frequently without repeating herself. Of course, she can never entirely escape “Sgt. Pepper,” and indeed she has tucked that familiar cover image, like a visual signature, into both autobiographical and original works (as has her collaborator, Peter Blake). But if she resembles a musician in all this, it might be Bob Dylan she most closely emulates; like him, she invokes “Sgt. Pepper’s” only to comment on it. Or, as she puts it, the cover is “an icon ready for the iconoclast.”
An example can be seen in “Charm Bracelet,” one of two enlarged, soft sculptures of charm bracelets, each stretched across an entire wall. It may help to compare these very personal works with the much larger and cooler, more distanced objects of Claes Oldenburg, whose gigantic scale always refers back to his satiric view of what a monument should be: large and in the way. Haworth’s large charms are not outsized like his objects; rather, their size expresses the importance of these mementos to she whose life’s events they memorialize. Haworth has developed a highly original device, wherein she sews a pocket into a work, in which she can place something temporarily: a newspaper or photo making an even more current reference. Such a reference to “Sgt. Pepper’s”appears here, in a large, fabric envelope. But closer inspection reveals it to be a photo of SLC PEPPER, the localized and gender-corrected version painted as a mural in downtown Salt Lake City. The cover has become only more famous over the years, but its appearance in her work could be used to make the argument that while today’s postmodern artists notoriously appropriate images, no one has a greater right to appropriate an image than the artist who made it.
The gallery titles this show Round Trip, a reference to life’s having taken Haworth from western America to Britain and back. Aside from the two bracelets and “Jewels and Ring,” a freestanding set of fabric jewels, Haworth, if she chose to follow Cindy Sherman’s example, might well call most of the works “film stills.” They are framed like paintings for hanging on walls, but consist of compound layers of fabric, among them clear vinyl that causes them to resemble stained-glass window panels, or the animation cels widely reproduced and sold as souvenirs. They are, of course, neither, but are compositions in depth that activate viewers to move around, the change in the angle of view altering the composition. “She was not There” consists of three levels: a line drawing on top; zones of color similar to, but not quite matching the lines; and a background of bright geometric shapes that includes her far arm. A target—an image used by Jasper Johns in part to flatten the surface of a painting—floats freely here and underscores the point: just as the woman who appears in an advertisement or movie poster often isn’t named, so women receive far more attention for being the subject of art than for being its maker.
In “Sunset on John Wayne’s Teeth,” a close-up of the actor’s mouth with shading provided by blue denim, Haworth uses clear vinyl to make Wayne’s large, brilliant teeth flip back and forth between pearly white and a void, like a window through which the sun can be seen setting. An even stronger challenge to the legendary false promises of the West can be found in the more complex “SB: Are You Glad to See Me?” Here a Classical torso, its arms missing, displays nipples made of saddle fittings and a complicated modesty shield incorporating a cowboy hat and a section of The New York Times, with an article on the sport of rodeo, that almost cover up some colorful underwear. The nude body is made of stiffened burlap in plates that overlap like armor, as though the muscles were a kind of defensive shield.
Even more complex, “A Cowgirl Gets up in the Morning, Decides What She is Going to Do and Does It“ adds acrylic paint to the transparent vinyl surface layer, depicting the colorful cowgirl shirt, glove, and Levi’s, while her anatomy and cowhide chaps are drawn and rendered on a lower layer. Demonstrating her versatility and complete contrast, Haworth has printed “Hokusai Mini (Version III)” directly on a single layer of the same fabric, a set of Pop splotches of bright color recalling “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” the Japanese woodblock master’s famous print that surely rivals her album cover for the title of most overused icon in art.
Words can’t capture the visual intrigue of these compositions-in-depth. In “Red Shoes x Electra Assassin,” the figure pierces the clear vinyl support, her head, arms, and one leg emerging to join the viewer outside the picture. In “Minnie Takes up Painting,” the only appearance here of one of the artist’s favorite icons, paint explodes in swirls of solid colors from a polka-dot landscape of receding hills beneath a cloud-dotted sky. And in “Two-Toned, White-walled Buick with Cruiser-line Ventaports,” explicit connections are made between symbols of masculinity and their female references. In several of these instances, a viewer may wish that the exhibit carried through more fully with the curatorial assertion that each work recalls an important transitional moment in Haworth’s life. Instead, it will have to suffice to be told that this is the case.
Nevertheless, credit and awe go to Jann Haworth as she exploits fabrics in accordance with her two great discoveries about them: their capacity to mimic the details and expressive qualities of the subjects she uses them to represent, and their ability to liberate her from the limitations of conventional art materials. Furthermore, throughout her continuing career, the subject of her images has always been as much the medium she is copying as the objects that are conventionally rendered in that medium. Whether meticulously stitched versions of painting, sculpture, film, flesh, clothing, or merchandising display, her artistry represents both a subject and a medium in which that subject conventionally appears. The posted warning against reading these eloquently opinionated, multimedia expressions as feminist seems hardly necessary. The illusions and delusions of society and the various forms of commerce that sustain it—monetary, romantic, intellectual, and more—are all susceptible to the sharp point of her needle, and anything that can be molded and stuffed may become a lightweight, luminous prop on the stage of her comic vision.
||Exhibition Reviews: Salt Lake City
Constellations and Supersymmetries
Sean Morello at UMOCA
Aesthetic theory has always been a subset of Philosophy, a body of human thought that modern science has essentially rendered obsolete. The problem is that philosophers, be they Plato or Kant, want to legislate reality: to say, not Is this beautiful? but rather, What is beauty? The process then moves on to fitting works of art, or any other snippets of reality, into the cookie cutter the philosopher has crafted. Whatever doesn’t fit is lopped off; the gaps are left, made to appear as flaws in the beautiful, rather than in the philosophy. This allows a curator/critic to dictate, as Clement Greenberg used to do, that a given artist or artwork represents the proper next step in an historical progression that he has generously provided.
Another approach is to look closely at a work or an artist and try to see what’s actually there. As for historical sequence—and readers should know that the way canonical art history texts are ordered is an authorial proposition always open to question — successive movements in art don’t make what follows necessary; what they do is make it possible: liberating subject matter from representation, a goal of Modernism that took decades, for example, made abstraction acceptable to the public. In his current exhibition of collages at UMOCA, Sean Morello, an artist exquisitely alert to this history, celebrates the freedom bequeathed to him by a century and a half of painters by keeping his work in the littoral zone: the shoreline where abstraction and representation overlap.
Collage and Assemblage are the fundamental vocabulary of today’s art, a transformation that began with Cubism and was made indispensable by Dada and Surrealism. By 1957, British Pop star Peter Blake (who collaborated with Utah’s Jann Haworth on the cover of "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band") could overturn expectations with a small shock in "On The Balcony," a seemingly elaborately collaged canvas that is, in fact, entirely painted. Since then, the boundary between collaging paintings and painting collages has been crossed in both directions. If there is something vitally accessible about what Morello is doing in these works, it’s more than turning the tables on Blake by making collage look like paintings. It’s making collages that look like specific paintings, like missing works by familiar painters: the ‘Zips’ in "Pivo" and "Maimonides" say ‘Barnett Newman’ as clearly as the Vs in "Taco Bell," "Jobs," and "Style" say ‘Kenneth Noland.’ A nod is as good as a wink, providing you’re in the know. If there’s a drawback to this meta-conversation, it’s how it shuts out casual enjoyment.
Morello’s accomplishment is certainly not trivial, though it remains to be seen if it’s important. It can be seen here most clearly in two works from the ‘Supersymmetry’ series "District" and "Bridge." These works call to mind the work of Washington Color School painter Morris Louis, whose personal characteristics, rather than any particular painting, it evokes. That said, the resemblance has no art historical meaning. Louis pioneered stretching a canvas loosely in a nearly horizontal posture, then pouring liquid paints near one edge and letting them run off the other. This was a breakthrough in the cultivation of accidental elements, something made possible for Louis because of the drip works of Jackson Pollock. Let’s be clear: while a technical advance, this is more important as part of an aesthetic revolution, a stage on the way from the era when artists were determined to be in complete control of their works to an age when they can now select a slice of the indeterminate chaos around them and claim it. But what Morello does in these pieces is to depict the artworks of Morris Louis, in much the same way as earlier artists depicted not specific things, but things of a type. Morello’s most satisfying response might come when the viewer returns to the textbooks (or Google) and looks up the original, only to realize that Morello’s work, stripped of the struggle to control flowing paint, is the more assertive and convincing. The point of this is not to force high culture, a.k.a. gallery painting, and low culture, represented by the manufactured materials used in making the collage, to coexist — objects do that everywhere at every moment, as Banksy hinted when he titled his movie about art Exit Through the Gift Shop — instead, Morello is playing with the ongoing dialog between bringing objects into art through skillful reproduction and doing so with a pot of glue.