Jonathan Beer at Tripoli Gallery
By SARAH ELISE HALL, APR 2016
Jonathan Beer’s recent exhibition Memory Palace at Tripoli Gallery recontextualizes a very old idea with a new twist. He reconsiders how a memory palace, which originated in Ancient Greece, functions. Traditionally a memory palace is thought of as a mnemonic system that uses visualization as a tool for organizing and recalling information. Beer refers to it as psychological architecture which he playfully transforms from a psychological space into literal space. Viewers entering the gallery experience being inside a space in two senses: physically inside the gallery architecture, and psychologically inside the artist’s memory palace.
Hand-painted geometric patterns, consisting of cartoon rock formations, stripes, blocks and camouflage, cover the walls of the gallery. Collectively they create a visual thread between the idiosyncratic paintings hanging throughout the gallery. Some paintings hang in clusters; others in orderly rows; while others hang slightly off kilter and independently occupy an entire wall. Beer’s paintings range in content and format, but remain very cohesive against the variegated wall painting which functions like an anchor. To add complexity to the environment a few humorous polyhedron sculptures resembling pyramidal plinths and double sided road signs are placed strategically within the back room, adding to an already dynamic visual space.
Beer spent two and a half weeks in the gallery before the show opened, painting his own visual system onto the walls, using it as an armature to arrange his work. One striped wall has a cluster of tacked up pieces of torn drop cloths which function like post-it notes; partial ideas and quick thoughts not to be forgotten. They contain quick painterly sketches of Mini Mouse, a pile of cocaine, an exploding van, the crucifix, and a pithy piece of text that reads, “a ripe sense of entitlement”. Irregularly shaped polyvinyl boards hang on another wall of painted camouflage, containing shorthand images of ships, dinosaur-humanoids and abstracted brushstrokes that look vaguely like writing. Most images appear to be rendered quickly, almost impatiently, as though too many ideas are spilling forth and there is an urgent need to get them out before they are forgotten. But Beer’s strength in rendering makes for elegant, efficient marks even if they are hurried. The quick gestures and marks convey a sense of fluency that mirrors how the mind can jump seamlessly from idea to idea in non-linear ways.
Painterly abstract paintings hang beside cartoon-like images and found black velvet paintings. Beer employs these different modes of painting as a way to explore how ideas are processed and stored in the mind, while also pushing the boundaries of good taste and painterly materials in a tongue-in-cheek way. His materials include all forms of paint, building and commercial materials used for construction, advertising, and inherently funny materials like spray-on rock texture and astro turf. Within the context of this show the paintings become surrogates for memories, ideas and information, and ultimately reveal Beer’s personal mental data and life experiences; they are punctuated by ubiquitous images from American pop culture that have a way of slipping, subliminally, into our collective unconscious. Together, the strange juxtaposition of imagery, including current events, American cliches, and Beer's personal imagery, pull together as a cynical yet wry critique of American life. Beer’s dark humor and artistic facility serve up a multi-sensory experience that lingers in the mind long after leaving the exhibition. WM
Jonathan Beer’s Memory Palace exhibited at Tripoli Gallery, Southampton, Long Island, NY from April 13th – May 25th, 2015.
Sarah Elise Hall is a New York-based artist and freelance writer. She contributes regularly to the online magazine Art-Rated. Recent art projects include exhibitions with Janinebean Gallery (Berlin), the Drabinsky Gallery (Toronto), MUSE CPMI Center for Photography and the Moving Image (New York), and Islip Art Museum, (Islip, NY). Her work has been written about in the National Post (Toronto), Toronto Star, the Huffington Post and included in Michael Petry’s book, Nature Morte, published by Thames & Hudson Press.view all articles from this author