Whitehot Magazine

Henry Flynt @ Audio Visual Arts (AVA)


Installation view, Henry Flynt, Audio Visual Arts (AVA), New York 

Henry Flynt
Audio Visual Arts (AVA), New York


It’s been nearly two decades since I have written about Henry Flynt. This would include his word works, lectures, objects, and mesmeric sound works. Each of these mediumistic categories, in some way, contributes to the subtle, yet incendiary legacy of his position as an anti-maestro. Flynt’s awkward prescience implies a Surrealist infusion, reminiscent of Rene Crevel, who was known to linger outside the cathedral gate waiting for the first priest to emerge, whereupon a licentious insult would erupt much to the cleric’s surprise. The correspondence between the two artists has no firm basis, other than their shared tendency to exude a similar urgency of language.  In fact, the eruptions of Flynt’s linguistic peregrinations have been central to his work throughout his career.

Having said this, I have never believed Flynt’s notion of Concept Art (first published in 1961), and the movement that five years later would become known as Conceptual Art, can be reduced to a purely semantic difference. When the language of these artists is shown simultaneously on the screen, the work of Flynt resounds concurrently; but in practice, Flynt has been noticeably disrobed by the synod of the art world, clearly regarded as distinct from the others.  This suggests that to invest in Concept Art is ironically a different proposition from investing in Conceptual Art.  That is to say, the material returns have very little to do with the former in that they have been systemically bequeathed to the latter, thus giving the latter its hierarchical positioning.

Installation view, Henry Flynt, Audio Visual Arts (AVA), New York

 The far greater irony is that the conceptual returns emanating from Conceptual Art in more recent years may have been altered in comparison with the former, as evidenced in Flynt’s flagrantly insouciant, yet off-handedly brilliant Aesthetics of Eerieness [sp] (1992). This is the kind of exhibition that needs to be known more than seen. The art is truly within the mind as the mind is given over to the empty retorts of language. The vacuous references strengthen the work, as they are fraught with syntactical disjuncture.  Flynt’s terse placards using Helvetica letters range from THE BODIES OF EVERYDAY LIFE, to the faux adage, A FULLY OPEN MIND COULD SHATTER THE SKULL IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. In either case, the split between the clinical presentation of the exhibition and the enormous, unsettling shift in primal (schizoid?) content is unavoidable.  It could be all the more unnerving among visitors seeking to reconcile the language with meaning. One would be hard pressed to find any reconciliation at all, which it precisely the point. Flynt’s continues to employ the razor’s edge by enticing a possibility of meaning without giving it away other than as a variation on the absurd where opposites remain in perpetual conflict, i.e., Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Installation view, Henry Flynt, Audio Visual Arts (AVA), New York

  Out of the 68 works, chosen for display (all UV inkjet prints painted on MDF, measuring 14.5 x 28 x .75 inches) and rotated in groups of 12, the show becomes an on-going, omnipresent affair, full of surprise conjugations that perpetually refuse to conjugate in relation to one another. On one occasion there was an “accidental” triadic relationship between the corner of two walls and the ceiling where FIGHT PORCELAIN NOW and RAPE THE STEAK appear on adjacent walls, while the corner above had a painted work, titled Hanger (2014), consisting of three thin, straight black lines painted on the walls and ceiling, each approximately a foot long extending out from the center.  What may perplex the mind at this interval is the implicit dysfunctional precision of these signs, as form and content blithely dissolve into blankness. Flynt’s revenge through language conceived more than two decades earlier would seem to remain in force, thereby suggesting that absence of meaning may also point the way to revolt.


Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is an educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in AmericaArtsArt NewsArt Press(Paris), Sculpture MagazineThe Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program  at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.


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