UPDATE: The entire review is now done.
This week is a bit crazy for me so I've decided to do something a little different. Over the course of the next few days (potentially through the weekend), I'm going to work on this review of WPA\C's OPTIONS 2005 in spurts. Today, I am going to post the photos and as time allows I'll add information and commentary to complete the review. I know there's a lot of anticipation for those who haven't yet seen the show to see images. I hope this helps.
As a reminder, this review is a new venture for me. I've collaborated with Bren, my girlfriend and Chief Photographer for Thinking About Art. She takes the good photos you see on here (if it's a bad photo you can point the finger at me). When we go to openings Bren typically takes almost a hundred photos depending on the size of the show. She likes photography and this allows her to enjoy the show while I'm off looking or talking. She has a good eye so I asked her if she would select the photographs she liked most from the opening reception for Options. Her choices could be made based on the quality of the image itself, the quality (good or bad) of the artwork or some combination of both. Essentially, she's curating her own mini-exhibition based on the show. My responsibility is to write a review based solely on what's seen in the selected images. That will serve as my main review of OPTIONS 2005.
Of course, Bren did not select the same images I would have. Given that, I will write more later on to touch on some points I feel should be discussed. I encourage you to check back frequently to see what updates I've made to this post.
Without further delay, here are the images in the order that Bren decided (click for bigger):
The image above shows Lindsay Rodgers' pastel drawing Two Aries are better than none. Measuring 49" x 33.25", the piece is formidable in many ways. The sheer size of Rodgers' works on display give them a presence that they would not have at half the size. Size does matter in art as these drawings would likely be forgettable if it weren't for the size. Additionally, the works size creates figures in a human scale. With exceptional skill, Rodgers is able to make the people depicted feel a part of the viewer's environment. They "pop" from the wall with life. Lastly, the elegant and crisp presentation of the works was a welcome site and made me think that this is an artist who takes her work seriously.
While some may find the subject matter to be a bit tired, I enjoyed the glimpse into the common college life that must be Rodgers' daily existence. The empty background in her drawings provide a sense of theatre. The strong gaze of the curly-haired girl makes me wonder who is performing for who. Are viewers watching them, or are they watching us? In the reflection of the plexi may lie the answer.
As of last week Lindsay had sold one piece (of maybe 4-5 in the show) for $8,000. Kudos to her!
Randy Toy, an MFA candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University, contributes some strong work to OPTIONS 2005. A printmaker, Toy attempts to think outside of the box with his artmaking. Pictured above is a lovely, if not unique, stack of prints (or so I assume based on his other "stack" in the show). From what I understand, Toy obsessively prints sheet after sheet of paper. Normally hung in a 2D fashion on the gallery wall, Toy opts instead to stack them one on top of the other, thereby removing any real connections to printmaking. In fact, it seems like a complete waste of time to do this. But, for someone who has drilled upwards of 30,000 holes in the past year, his pursuit makes perfect sense to me. In the end, it's not so much about the resulting object and the work that went into making it. Though I believe the piece depicted above is not all that interesting (I've seen tons of "stacks" of color... from towels to clothes to paper to...) his piece called Whiteology succeeds where this one fails. Because it's not in the image above I'll have to discuss it in a follow-up review.
Though Toy's other two pieces on exhibit did little for me other than cause me to think of the Brady Bunch (you'd have to see them to understand), I found his selection for the show to be appropriate. Toy clearly takes his work seriously and is pursuing an avenue of printmaking that is fresh to me. Dr. Lumpkin conveyed a story that Toy is just as obsessive with his presentation as his art. He apparently spent a long amount of time dusting his plexi vitrines so that they were perfectly clear. I noticed that immediately and appreciated it.
Tim DeVoe, a recent MFA recipient from VCU, contributed to OPTIONS works that make the walls come alive. Though a bit hokey to some extent, the piece depicted above held my attention for some time. What DeVoe has done is to build the structure of a would-be wall, "torn" down the drywall and crumpled it up on the floor. Well, the idea is certainly interesting, and the image above does lend the piece a sense of drama, the actual experience of the piece disappointed. First, some nit-picks...
1) The actual wall where this piece rests is made up of cinder blocks. Therefore, the placement of a wood-framed wall with drywall immediately feels out of place. DeVoe could do nothing about this if he intended from the start to exhibit this piece, but perhaps he could have integrated into the surroundings better.
2) If the drywall was once on the wall but has now been torn off, wouldn't there be left over holes in the wood studs where the drywall attached? I didn't see any. For a piece trying to create some sense of trompe d'oiel, this was a small detail overlooked.
3) The resulting "crumpled" drywall sculpture doesn't actually feel "crumpled" so much as folded. I have no suggestions for DeVoe on how to make this piece feel more real in this regard, but he's the artist and he has chosen to work this way. Over time I'm sure that DeVoe will hone his craft and I hope to see the resulting sculptures then.
Though the image above makes the piece look great (in my opinion) it just goes to show how great the divide is between 2D and 3D. DeVoe's other piece in the show was far less interesting to me than this one, but consistent through both is evidence that DeVoe is a talented craftsman.
In the image above we can see two artist's works: Suzanna Fields and Amanda Sauer. Fields' "paintings" are on the right, the brightly colored accumulations or ribbon-like swirls of paint. Through some sort of process, Fields is able to fabricate her work out of hardened acrylic paint. Sometimes they form mandalas, other times something more abstract. Without question the pieces are visually interesting and the bright colors will appeal to many people. However, I believe these works play in the shallow end of the pool. Granted, it is a somewhat unique process and the resulting works have garnered quite a bit of attention recently, I just can't identify a purpose or statement behind them. This is by no means a requirement, but I'm looking for something to justify the response these particular pieces have received (two of which had sold three days into the show). On the other hand, Fields shows some similar work that is more minimal and confined to the two-dimensional plane of paper. These works appealed to me much more by standing out visually while working within the framework of 2D painting and drawing. Unfortunately they are not shown in the image above. All three had sold for $700/ea as of Oct. 8.
Sauer's photographs, while tame for the contemporary art world, presented more of a dilemma for me to judge. My immediate visceral reaction was something along the lines of, "ohh, how pretty!" With more time and thought, other considerations entered my mind. One, it's tough to avoid thinking about Sauer's use of the Holga (the catalog and Dr. Lumpkin both incorrectly stated that Sauer primarily used a pinhole camera) and all the backage that comes with it. I'll be the first to say that the Holga makes some remarkable images. However, because of the effects caused by a Holga's imperfect design, I'm left to wonder if anyone can take pretty pictures with a Holga (based on what I've seen on the web, the answer is yes). So, how does a photographer use the Holga, and the infamous quirks of the camera, to unique and progressive ends? This is a question I'm certain that Sauer has struggled with but as of yet hasn't formulated a satisfactory answer. The subject matter of her images is straight DC touristy snapshots. We've got plenty of that already. Which brings me to this: how do I reconcile the beauty of her highly saturated images with the persistent boring nature of the subject matter? Where does that leave me? Well, I think Sauer needs new subject matter or she needs to get really creative. She needs to explore the possibilities of the Holga so that she can expand our notions of what constitutes a Holgafied image. One thing is clear: Sauer is a young talent that will certainly demonstrate she has something to say over time (she hints at this with the exquisite presentation of her photographs). Though the majority of her photos quickly sold, something tells me that these Sauer's will not be prime examples of her work.
OK, so my Chief Photographer set me up here. She's trying to bait me into a massive rant about pure absurdity and ugliness of Susan Noyes Vaughan's razor blade art. She wants me to go off, talking about how poorly executed the idea is, both intellectually and structurally. She wants me to talk about how this artwork resembles a last minute project turned in my a young collegiate level art student. But I won't do that. Nope, not me. I'll just say that Vaughan's showing is among the weakest I've seen around.
On the other end of the skill spectrum are the beautifully crafted sculptures of George Tkabladze. Practicing a craft that's been around for centuries, Tkabladze has mastered the skills it takes to recreate artwork that probably could be found in some museum of antiquities. What this says is that while Tkabladze certainly has talent for sculpture, it seems to come at the expense of creativity and vision. It certainly says nothing new about art. I'm inclined to say that without question Tkabladze is the best artisan in the show followed closely by Sheila Blake. I imagine they both could make a kills at some of the local arts and crafts fairs that appear in this area. What am I supposed to take home from seeing these sculptures? I'm not entirely sure except to say that the image above shows the two dichotomies of OPTIONS 2005: the artist with all vision and no skill juxtaposed with the artist with no vision and all skill. Hopefully the close proximity to each other's work will encourage some inspired works in the future.
Displayed above are some of the leftovers (pardon the pun) of Ryan Mulligan's performance/installation. On opening night, Mulligan served as a chef and prepared some stew as part of a mock cooking show, you know, those that are all the rage on TV now. I suppose that this was meant to be some sort of commentary about the proliferation of cooking shows. Or something. This reminds me of the disappointing video Ryan Zimmerman showed recently at Transformer of the never-ending police chases. Both installations were inevitable. They both have incredibly short shelf-life. They are a product of the now. They don't attempt to see beyond the now to see what the future may hold. They seem content to reflect what is here today and in a very reactionary manner. This work doesn't predict the future (correctly or not) and is content to be entertaining for a few weeks before it is forgotten. I imagine some brilliantly creative artist is drafting a proposal right now to "perform" in a reality show type event. Here's to you, you imaginative artist. Break down those barriers! Get those ten minutes of attention! Be that class clown who fake-farts to get the five second laugh!
On a side note, in Dr. Lumpkin's curator's talk, she said something along the lines of, "And Ryan really takes this stuff seriously. He actually researches this stuff. He knows what ingrediants went into George Washington's favorite stew!" Here's to you Dr. Lumpkin, for gracing us with your brief presence! Dumb ol' me assumed all artists took their work seriously and researched what goes into it. If only I had told her that I've reached out to dozens of forestry experts across the country trying to understand wood better. Maybe then I would have been select..., oops, sorry....
Another one of Lindsay Rodgers' drawings. I discussed her work generally above but because Bren selected this photo as well, I must discuss it too. I enjoyed Rodgers' quite a bit but I enjoyed the presentation on opening night even more. I want to give credit to whomever set up the drinks in front of this particular drawing. It was a nice touch. Otherwise, the drawing gets lost over in the corner where it hangs.
Emily Hall recently completed her MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University (sense a theme here?). Without beating around the bush, let me say that this particular piece was hands down my favorite in the entire show. This little piece holds many pleasant surprises. It may not seem like a big deal but this piece requires some committed looking. Fortunately the lush red paint on the exterior of the sculpture draws you in. Once in you're presented with a world of questions. Why are there windows cut into the back of the piece where all you can see is the wall? What's with all of the tiny slats of colored attached to the inner wall? Why, when you look on the inside wall of the sculpture, do you find many more colored slats attached? How many viewers will actually look there?
This piece, titled Living Room and measuring 16" x 18," epitomizes for me what I expected to find in this show. Serious work that's contemporary, deals with relevant issues for today in an abstract way (I'm thinking about space, privacy, territory, secrets, etc), great craftsmanship and a quirky/fun sensibility. I inspected the sculpture very carefully looking for signs that the piece was rushed or thrown together... I couldn't find anything to suggest such things. I don't remember the price of the piece but I doubt it was unreasonable.
Other pieces by Hall were encouraging, but not all the way there. Ideas were interesting but execution lacked. The same refined nature of Living Room couldn't be found completely in the rest of the other pieces. Some suffered from imperfect execution while others lacked in the craftsmanship department. Regardless, I believe that Emily Hall shows the most promise of any artist in OPTIONS. But, can someone tell me what's up with the blue rectangles painted on the walls? I don't care if they hold any significant meaning, I'm just curious why the artist chose to put them there. I like them, even if they are a bit absurd.
Julian Bayo Abiodun, who teaches drawing at MICA, contributed two paintings and three videos to OPTIONS. I wish he wouldn't have bothered because for me, these were the only pieces to challenge Vaughan's as worst in the show. Let's start with the painting shown at left. It's a good sized painting, sure, but worth the $15,000 price tag? Um, no. Not at all. I don't know nearly enough about painting to judge the technical aspects of any painting. With that said, I feel very confident that these are horribly painted images. They absolutely fall apart upon close inspection. And the idea of painting a character from a video game? Insanely tired. So what? Who cares?
Abiodun gets a bit more creative with his videos of hacked scenes from Grand Theft Auto. Potentially there is some room to play here conceptually. However, I'd bet that this is a well-travelled road too. Dr. Lumpkin, in her curator's talk, seemed fascinated that someone would/could manipulate a video game this way. What would she think if she heard that 10 year olds could do the same thing? Perhaps include them in the next show she curates? Well, just manipulating a video game is not enough of a statement to grab my attention. It's a cheap trick. Give me 5 minutes on Google and I gaurantee that I'll find much better hacks posted to some message board.
Anne Benolken's dramatic installation of boxes presented one of the biggest dilemmas for my viewing of OPTIONS. On one hand, I found the boxes to be extremely personal (to the artist or not), thoughtful and interesting. On the other hand, I couldn't get past the fact the dozens of boxes full of crap amounted to very little wholistically. Well, that and the use of Christmas tree lights. (Aside: Bonus points for any reader who can show me a piece of art that uses Christmas lights and is improved because of it.)
What went wrong for me in looking at Benolken's work was that while I knew I had to get inside the boxes to really experience them, for some reason I just couldn't. I didn't feel that I could approach them. I felt pushed away. I think this was due to them being just stacked on top of each other in what seemed like a clump of stuff. That and, again, the Christmas tree light barrier on the ground.
I imagine that many people were able to get inside the boxes and really enjoy them. The only analogy I can come up with is this: I imagine that a rural yard sale has the same effect on people. The objects on display each tell a deeply personal story. For many people, when they drive by they just see junk and speed on past. For others, they'll feel a connection to the feel of a rural yard sale or they'll spot a specific object that interests them. Either will provoke them to stop and take a look. Perhaps they'll buy something.
When I think about this specific installation I get the feeling that something is there even if I can't be a part of it. I feel there's a bit of mad scientist to the work (and Benolken). I feel that there are probably some interesting connections to folk art to think about. However, I feel that the piece is vastly overworked. The amount of love and thought that goes into each box does them a disservice. There are simply too many competing elements.