In a beautiful and intelligent essay for the exhibition, John Wilcox: New York City, 1988-89, Dr. Frances Colpitt writes, “As if to counteract the incessant, grueling crush of death, this body of work is characterized by a Zen-like emptiness that is full, bursting with the resonance of a single word floating on a generous white rectangle or a radiant field of accumulated brushstrokes. Wilcox’s expressive process imparts meaning through every thoughtful mark, conveying discipline, restraint, and, above all, humility.”
The body of work to which Colpitt refers is a year-long endeavor by artist John Wilcox who, living in New York at the height of the AIDS epidemic, responded with a series of abstract paintings on canvas and texts painted on paper. In spring of 2010 Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas showed Wilcox’s New York City, 1988-89 paintings. The entire exhibition was extremely moving in content and form. Each canvas glowed with layered brushstrokes that read collectively as fields of color but individually spoke of touching and being touched. The various texts seemed to operate as punctuation in the exhibition’s entirety, but with intimate consideration, each clearly represents a world of its own.
“The once mute … appears intimate and troubling … Reconfigured as art, these components own a gravitational field which draws you into their world, whatever that stilled yet heady place, in which appearances, values and sensations are the same but rearranged…” —Michael Bracewell, ‘So Much Depends’: An Introduction to the Art of Richard Wentworth for Richard Wentworth, Tate
A curator’s confession: My heart aches for the work that is absent in this exhibition. Such is certainly true with the work of Richard Wentworth. The sincerity of every piece he presents fills me with love and makes me resent the cruel realities of curating a show. Nevertheless, the piece made available by the artist and his gallery for where is the power, is enormously satisfying in its signature matter-of-factness, absurdity and melancholy.
Thus, two black canes touchingly joined, is installed above eyelevel. In The Tears of Things, Melancholy and the Physical Object, Peter Schwenger unknowingly speaks to the “where” in where is the power as he writes of another of Wentworth’s walking stick sculptures, “Merely hooking a black cane over a glass rectangle projected near a gallery ceiling makes Walking Stick, 1987, jauntily free of any human step, into a pure and soaring line. This is a readymade, transformed merely by its position.”
Valeska Soares’ Love Stories II, as seen in where is the power, is an elegant presentation of 250 books, harmonious in size and palette, sitting on two long, white shelves. With this visually direct but complex and ambitious piece, Soares plays on the power of desire as she takes on the topic of love. Presenting a variety of books, spanning the romantic languages, that each share the word “love” in their title the artist entraps the viewer as she adds a sense of longing to desire by actively filling her beautifully bound books with nothing – emptiness.
Each page of each book is accounted for with page numbers and titles imprinted in the thick paper that fills each uniform book jacket but the content/the story is missing. This void is seemingly a secret from the viewer but is perhaps felt in closely observing each book’s careful construction, their coded display, and the uniformity of the whole as well as the inevitable assumption of loss and forbidden love when considering the classic topic of Love Stories II.
“For me, what makes Sandback’s work so moving is not that he did so much with so little, but that he did so little. The extreme reticence of Sandback’s work is not something I experience as an act of withholding but rather as an act of extraordinary generosity. By removing himself to the extent that he does, he makes a place for me. It’s not a place in front of his work, or next to his work, or inside his work … It makes a place for me inside the institution that the work is inside….” —Andrea Fraser, Why Does Fred Sandback’s Work Make Me Cry, Grey Room 22, Winter 2005, MIT Press
In his essay, Remarks on My Sculpture 1966–1986, Fred Sandback explains, “The first sculpture I made with a piece of string and a little wire was the outline of a rectangular solid—a 2 x 4 inch—lying on the floor. It was a casual act, but it seemed to open up a lot of possibilities for me.” That “casual act” was in fact a profound gesture that cut-through-the-chase of the Minimalist endeavor. Activating what the artist has referred to as “pedestrian space,” Sandback’s installations employee space as a material that is sliced and held with acrylic string to delineate planes and establish structures of absence/emptiness.
Perception of an object costs
Precise the Object’s loss—
Perception in itself a Gain
Replying to its price—
The Object Absolute—is nought—
Perception sets it fair
And then upbraids a Perfectness
That situates so far—
where is the power appreciates the significance and inevitability of absurdity in art as in life. Such can be found in twin, 2006-2011 by Chris Powell. A number of Powell’s works pair, or “twin,” made and found objects – setting up conversations. In this case it is two recovered chairs placed back to back and joined with the application of plaster. Naturally, twin brings to mind the metaphor of a chair as a body, suggesting a narrative of two becoming one or one splitting in to two and so on. Nevertheless, while an untold story beckons, there is also an undeniable visceral response to the rectitude of the two chairs back-to-back, compressing the space between them, plastered and joined into a complete form satisfying to the eye and body. Beautiful and absurd, it creates a tug-o-war between seeing and accepting. The continuous but divided form of twin, with its pseudo-function and implications, forcibly demands consideration despite the sculptures neutral palette and unpretentious deportment – a quiet but absolute power.
The “red telephone” is the famous hotline that linked the White House via the National Military Command Center with the Kremlin during the Cold War. As a description it might also bring to mind the historical and beloved British phone box. And finally, The Red Telephone is the title of the “summer of love,” 1967 pop song by the rock band Love. None of which is lost on artist Kris Pierce, and related or unrelated, it all offers an interesting lens through which to consider his 2012 piece by the same title.
For where is the power, Pierce connects people alienated from one another due to geographical segregation within Fort Worth by placing three red (non)pay phones in key locations throughout the city in his piece titled The Red Telephone. Modified with a wireless transmitter, the phones become public confessionals that, streamed to a web-based station, disclose dialogue, bridging distance and difference while giving power to voice. The Red Telephone, 2012 is a performative work offering individuals the opportunity to confront insecurities, speak their mind and connect to strangers who listen to their recordings as well as those who participate from disparate locations. Participation with The Red Telephone is abstract and the connections hypothetical but the live and archived recordings are revelatory as they reflect the various communities while highlighting differences and some similarities.
Cornelia Parker’s early installations brought her a great deal of attention and for good reason. They are ambitious in every way. Imposing in scale and visually stunning, the punch they pack is delivered upon the realization of what is being viewed and how it came to be. Politically and culturally astute, Parker’s work always offers layers of discovery, prompting thoughts that the initial, highly visceral encounters actually delay. Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View of 1991 is a collection of charred building fragments that appear to float as they hang from the ceiling to reconfigure the garden shed that they once were, prior to being exploded upon Parker’s request by the British Army. Before reading the museum label or hearing about the origins of this piece the viewer is confronted with a beautiful but daunting form floating in the center of the gallery with a single light bulb, suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the piece as a source of light that casts dramatic shadows across the gallery wall. Enchanting yet frightening, like the monstrous shadows of a child’s room at night, the shadows expand the already impressive form to fill the room. Then the layers begin to peal away and the light becomes illumination as the viewer works through numerous implications from a humorous cartoon-like explosion that evokes the absurd; to the inference of violence and military force; to the philosophical, as the shadows bring to mind Plato’s cave and notions of reality.
“In the changing material nature of the mirror as object, we might glimpse a parallel development of the idea of the self in Western culture—and by extension, in Western art.” —Josiah McElheny, Cabinet, Issue 14, Summer 2004
For an Art 21 interview in 2005, Josiah McElheny explains that all of his work is derived from some original source. A studious artist who, through his art practice, explores topics of interest such as history, art history, fashion, notions of perception, models of time and cosmology, is described in a press release for Some Pictures of the Infinite at the ICA, Boston, as using his findings to “encode his work with information, converting beautiful objects into repositories of meaning.”
In a 2004 essay, A Short History of the Glass Mirror, for Cabinet magazine, McElheny writes about each mirror represented in Three Historical Mirrors, 1998 which is installed in where is the power on the south wall so as to visually connect the front and back spaces of the gallery. The piece consists of four parts: a wall label identifying each of its three mirrors in chronological order; an early obsidian mirror that offers a “dark and haunting vision of the self;” a 14th-century convex mirror as seen in Jan Van Eyck’s painting, Wedding Portrait; and a silver-backed, rectangular mirror that is embellished with a flower pattern.
There is a succinct quality to Glenn Ligon’s use of text. Form is as critical to meaning as content. Ligon has stated that he aims to “make language into a physical thing, something that has real weight and force to it.” The gravity of the four words, I AM A MAN, on the bold and uniform placards carried by thousands of protesters marching in solidarity with the Memphis Sanitation Workers, March, 1968 is certainly a strong model for Ligon’s aspiration – given the sign’s brevity and conviction of both message and image.
As a gay, black man who was too young for the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike to be personally/experientially understood, Ligon proposes the contemporary relevance of this historical statement by renewing the simplicity, dignity and brilliance of the now iconic sign carried by those proud and exasperated men in 1968, with two works: the early, critically recognized painting Untitled (I Am a Man) of 1988, a replica of the original sign; and Condition Report, two framed Iris prints made in 2000. In both cases, the “I AM A MAN” idiom undoubtably maintains its power as Ligon makes it art.
“I accept art to be evidence of human existence. I have found that we are able to make a very small amount of all the pieces we think about. So it’s a little bit like leaving footprints just occasionally. And the footprints we leave have been chosen. It is very telling but never conclusive.” Robert Kinmont
127 Willow Forks (This is Who I Am), 2010 is comprised of three rows of forked willow branches cut to various lengths and gently attached to the wall. The forks are accompanied by a maple, pine and birch plywood case containing the surplus willow forks with “127 Willow Forks” lightly stenciled in pencil on the front of the box and “This is Who I Am” stenciled across the top of the box lid. The press release for Kinmont’s solo exhibition Evidence in 2010 at Alexander and Bonin gallery states, “For Kinmont these forks bring to mind a reference to one’s life as well as to the variety found in any single category in nature. The arrangement of the forks functions as a metaphor for structure and diversity in society.”