March 7, 2008

What You Do With It

The vulnerability of the art object is once again an issue. Harking back to the halcyon days of the late ‘60s and the “dematerialization” of the object, a current concern in art practice is whether or not an object can be both design-oriented (like commodity-status furniture - see Citizen:Citizen - or lamps – see Jorge Pardo - and therefore absolved of tough theoretical inquisitions) and still be “fine art.” One postconceptual view of the object, with a history that is easily traceable back to Bernar Vent, Alison Knowles, Lawrence Weiner and Mel Bochner, is the idea that a condition of indeterminacy resides in and around the object as a “site” and that validation of the object as “art” comes from other extraneous contexts.

Various artists and curatorial practices have surfaced that elicit questions of the latent ability of an art object to contain any value, including but not limited to “use value” and “exhibition value.” Akemi Maegawa’s work, particularly her Size Matters series, raises the possible “invisible” nature of value attribution and cultural validation of the object. The Size Matters series introduces a duality of supplement and object. What this creates is a duality of validation, a duality based on two seemingly paired but possibly opposed contextual sites. The unbalanced juxtaposition of the supplementary material, as out-sized, “wall label” text designating media, dimensions, etc., and the “artwork” itself become dual points of contextuality. The individual works are identical in presentation and scaling and clearly privilege the supplementary material, as the objects in question (miniscule penis, breast, Hummer, house and hamburger) become secondary to our focus on the gigantic wall label, featuring further bold-faced attention on Maegawa’s name perhaps commenting on the hype of “celebrity” artists.

[While we are on supplementary material, I disagree with a fundamentally flawed perception of Marcel Duchamp in the essay that accompanies Maegawa’s show. Duchamp is referred to as a maker of “works that critiqued the role of the gallery space and relied on ‘non-art’ materials or found objects that resisted easy accommodation as art objects.”(1) Scholarly research on Duchamp’s readymades substantiates how they differ radically from “found objects:”

“The found object shares with the readymade a lack of obvious aesthetic quality and little intervention on the part of the artist beyond putting the object in circulation, but in almost every other respect it is dissimilar. The difference is attributable to Breton’s positioning of the found object in a different space – the space of the unconscious”(2)]

Clearly conceptualism questioned the very nature of how value was attributed to the precious “commodity object” and if we learned anything from conceptual art history it would be the understanding that it is no longer necessary to insist that artistic value lies solely within the objects of art. We need the supplementary material of art theory or supplemental views on the “site” of art and its relevance to both art's value and putative meaning. To approach art making within these contexts produces successful postconceptual views and practice.

Maegawa creates a dual positioning of contextual validation not equal but focusing attention on both the status and visibility involved with a gallery’s promotion of an artist and also the reduced importance and telescopic tendency of the art object to manifest in ever smaller increments of visibility. It is no coincidence also that Maegawa’s show is titled Invisible, Inc. as “successful” art marketing incorporates these kinds of “invisible” concepts within its ever-diligent and over-mediated manipulation.

Far from being a throwaway cliché, the phrase “size matters” bears a genuine relationship to Maegawa’s successful continuance of conceptual art. Perhaps size itself does not matter but the concept does as it is “what you do with it” that really counts - how conceptual art theories are utilized and how they might grow and develop not only the validation of art but also develop and value the artist.

[Invisible, Inc. continues at Irvine Contemporary through March 29, 2008.]

Image: © Copyright 2008 by Akemi Maegawa.

1. Teague, Benjamin. “Akemi Maegawa: Invisible, Inc.,” essay for the exhibition at Irvine Contemporary, 2008.

2. Iversen, Margaret. “Readymade, Found Object, Photograph,” Art Journal, Summer 2004, 48.

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