April 11, 2009
Postconceptualism addresses art theories as posed by the original conceptual artists in a selection of contemporary artists. Artists selected for this show individually approach many significant issues of conceptualism, albeit through their own unique visions. 12 of the 16 artists in Postconceptualism have studied art theory with Mark Cameron Boyd at Corcoran College of Art + Design and many have exhibited work with Fernando Batista. Together, Boyd and Batista believe this exhibition presents 21st Century artists whose work extends conceptual art and continues its impact as Postconceptualism.
Conceptual art questioned the traditional role of the art object as conveyer of meaning. The subsequent dematerialization of the object results in artists exploring impermanent media and creating ephemeral experiences in time and space. Mooskoo addresses intangibility by making fragile works that reduce concepts of “painting as object” to the fragility of paint minus its support. Ken Weathersby’s paintings reveal “the disregarded space” behind a painting’s support in two-sided paintings which “require(s) a deciphering experience” to perceive them. Reuben Breslar’s photographs of previous installations comment “on the residue of the process of conceptualism” by circumventing the spatio-temporal context of the original experience. Valerie Molnar works with yarn to make large formalist abstractions, “stripping away form, function, gratuitous yarn textures, ulterior fancy stitchery” to escape knitting’s history as functional craft. Amber Landis blurs the distinctions between fine art and utilitarian function further with her sculptural furniture.
When not avoiding object-making, conceptual art emphasizes repetition and process as non-traditional, anti-compositional ways to manifest the form of a work of art. The drawing by William Brovelli is a fragment of his on-going “Timeline” series about “the deterministic element of art making” that encompasses hundreds of thousands of hand-drawn figures that “serve as reference material for the neurological mapping of the brain's response to repetition within a narrowed format.”
Conceptual art is particularly suspicious of art works becoming commercial “product” and frequently disrupts this commodification in subversive ways. David Williams re-contextualizes the “commercial artifice” of product containers in his “paintings” of recycled soda cans and “places the viewer in the ironic position of appreciating the beauty of objects that were originally used to psychologically entice her or him to purchase and consume.”
Questioning authorship through collaborative art making also opens up participatory practice. Cat Manolis offers us her interactive sculpture that will envelop one-at-a-time participants in an experience of anxious self-reflexivity.
Conceptual artists venture into other fields of knowledge like psychoanalysis and anthropology to address identity issues and socio-cultural studies. Patricia Correa investigates “self-portraiture” and the social construction of female identity through medical statistics, specifically gynecological data that “represent(s) the life of a woman in terms of her menstrual cycles.” Rachel Fick’s narrative video ostensibly documents a generic American family but instead reveals the possibilities of “slippage between the manifested character and the participant's real self."
Language holds a specific (and humorous) fascination for conceptual art as semiotics opened possibilities for the work of art as text. Leah Frankel “replaces(s) text with imagery” through her transformation of a shelf of paperback books visually; Diane Blackwell searches “the basics of language and sculpture: letters and wood” for the elusive meaning among “definitions of work and play;” while Andrej Ujhazy offers “a silly post-conceptual wall drawing about a couple of words.”
Humor is also used in conceptual art’s critique on art history itself and conceptualists often comment on their peers with great wit. Breht O’Hearn’s ironic twist on the totemic in modernist sculpture skillfully pokes fun at the pedestal. Andrew Brown critiques minimalism with his “Tara Donovan reduction experience” and a small monochrome that claims “it's better when you’re not here.” Coincidentally, two Postconceptualism artists have used humor to address differing issues through the same object: a fire hydrant. John James Anderson exhibits a mapping project of bad fire hydrants in the District of Columbia, while Nicholas Carr has created a hydrant “fountain.” Anderson’s work clearly evokes social responsibility given his intent to prod city government into action by “document(ing) the broken hydrants, and later document the walk via a Google Map and an essay.” Nicholas Carr wittily refers to both Marcel Duchamp and Bruce Nauman with his hydrant that confronts creativity as a “state of emergency.”
Postconceptualism opens with a Public Reception on Friday, May 1, and continues through May 9, 2009. The exhibition site is located at 1939 12th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Image: “Child's Play”; © Copyright 2009 by Diane Blackwell.