Art Letter


Being an art dealer for over a decade has got to skew one's perspective and yield a vision about art that is simultaneously more informed and correspondingly confused.

What art means and how it functions gets embroiled in whether it can be sold and for how much.

Likewise, why a gallery presents a given exhibit is not necessarily as pure as we might perceive it to be; they love this artist and think we should see it / buy it. Very often there are tangential considerations: a scheduled show got canceled and they need a replacement super quick, they've swapped exhibits with another gallery to get exposure for one of their artists and all they have to choose from in return is drek, an artist they've made a commitment to has had a vision and is now gluing plates to velvet.

There are two shows I just saw that made me second guess the galleries' intent.  A lot of times "meaning" comes from "accident," the pairing of two works of art, or two artists, an unintended dialogue - a new meaning.

These shows I'm talking about are September exhibits - season opening shows, so their significance is more purposeful and less serendipitous.

(An aside: do you ever notice how art reviews besides really only describing the art and hardly ever saying much constructive, rarely (never) talk about the installation, the lighting, the number of pieces - all the things that go into enabling and defining the viewing experience, the things they give movies Academy Awards for but remain reticent about with art? )

There's a sculpture show at Carrie Secrist Gallery called "Outside In."  It raises all kinds of issues for me.

It's loaded to the brim with topnotch mainstream sculpture with some quirky inclusions. 

The "thing" about this show is that they are bringing outside art in to the gallery. To get this point across there are tranquil landscapy scenes projected on numerous walls.

I can't say "gestalt" without getting too artsy, can I?

Maybe the reason people are frequently uncomfortable in an art gallery is because they are asked to "suspend belief," to accept that something transcends its materials and becomes a metaphor. This "leap of faith" is performed by the viewer.

Too much guidance over informs, and limits - too little thwarts.

In the Secrist show, instead of visualizing these sculptures in my idyllic outdoor setting, which I might do in a room with blank neutral walls, I am compelled to thrust them into the landscapes provided. That was hard for me.

Part of what made it hard was the vast range of sizes in the show, from a Henry Moore, no larger than my fist to a Bernar Venet that was so big I spent more time wondering how they got it in.

I wasn't comfortable sticking a piece of a given size into a landscape of a specific setting and scale - especially since all the scales in the room were real disparate. I would have been better off without the landscapes, or with urban settings as a possibility, but nothing would have been best.

It is really hard to make good Money selling art.  There is frequently an internal conflict between showing what you believe in and showing what you think your audience will purchase. Resale, the reselling of works of art which have been acquired and are returning to the market, can be lucrative and is how many galleries keep their doors open to show the art they are more committed to.

There is a definite onus to appearing commercial.  Resultantly most galleries adhere to ridiculous, illogical business models. The objective becomes commercial viability without appearing to be commercial whatsoever. And where to draw the line and when is the oh-so-tight rope the successful dealer must walk.

Carrie should be congratulated.  What a huge undertaking this was just to install the exhibit! With curator Joseph Antenucci Becherer, from the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan she has a assembled a superb group of predominantly, exemplary sculpture. 

That there are too many and that their relationship is to nature - not to one another is a "belief" I couldn't suspend.

I end up frustrated by an exhibit I'd really looked forward to seeing that had just as many good pieces as I expected, which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing individually, and was reduced by too much information.

How much information to present is always an issue.  I think if there is a one to three person exhibit it is a good idea to put the artists' names on the wall and if it is a group show I think it is mandatory to be able to easily figure out from a price list whose piece is whose.

At Donald Young Gallery I frequently feel like I don't have enough information and I'm never sure if it is me or them.  A lot of shows I see there leave me scratching my head. Days, weeks later, perhaps after seeing a tangentially related item, article, or exhibit, there'll be a thud and the significance of what Donald has taught me will become evident. The past Josiah McElheny and Rodney Graham exhibits certainly did that and so does half his current exhibit.

I am really taken by Joshua Mosley's video and sculpture installation, A Vue, 2004. It is charming and melancholic providing just enough information to be engaging, provocative and memorable. Meaning evolves over time. This is a good thing.  We are not being dictated to. Engagement first. Content second.

I like too how technology is at the service of the content in Mosley's art, which is, in part, a commentary on how that the new technology brings with it the same pitfalls we had before.

I think this is fun stuff. Deciphering, exploring, pondering. I think I'll go back.

I might have to go back for Gaylen Gerber too. Maybe I'm about to pay him the highest compliment: I don't get his work.  I never did.  I've even read about it. I've tried to understand it. I've tried to not understand it. That didn't help either.

In each of the individual works of art spread across the back wall Gerber has collaborated with a friend and/or associate. I think that's supposed to yield some democracy to the whole art making experience, thus everybody, but, damn, not me - I feel left out.

I liked what I saw at Peter Miller Gallery.  Brian Ulrich and Jonathan Gitelson do fun fresh work. I like Peter's aesthetic.  I like how the different artists the gallery shows reflects different facets of Peter's personality.

More and more, art is where you see it or find it. A gallery's grasp on things aesthetic is not as strong as it once was.  Maybe in a way it is in fact becoming more democratic and maybe it is more about seeing than making.  I like that in Ulrich's work I find someone who sees some of the same ridiculous things I do. I guess that's gratifying.

Gitelson's work is well paired with Ulrich.  Both of them are looking, seeing some of the fun and basic attributes of society and are letting us in on the chuckle.  I don't think it's profound, nor do I think it is supposed to be.

Okay, so what impressed me most as artwork was Joshua Mosley's show at Donald Young.  Really good work. I'd think about buying it.

What didn't impress me was that I was not capable of being unequivocally supportive.  It's out there. And I'll keep lookin'. And when I find it, I'll let you know.

Paul Klein