831 Airport Way South
Seattle, WA 98134
6 August through 12 September, 2009
The purpose of contemporary art is to devise new means of creative expression that push the limits of display and expand the general public’s visual vocabulary. More than quid-pro-quo, artists have sought to depict and capture their responses regarding significant socio-political issues. For example on October 31, 1969 the Guerilla Art Action Group (GAAG) protested the MoMA Trustees’ financial interests in the Vietnam War and subsequently removed a painting by Kasimir Malevich titled White on White, (1918) only to replace it with a manifesto.
The Seattle-based gallery Lawrimore Project, located on the fringe of Seattle’s downtown gallery district, recently featured a group exhibition titled Spite House, that featured artists primarily from the Northwest, including Vancouver, B.C. “Spite House,” effectively revisited the tension that has long been shared by artists, galleries and museums yet rarely ever addressed directly. Or if it has, discussions have remained behind closed doors. Although complacency has served as a typical description for the most recent generation of artists, Matthew Browning, Andrew Dadson, artistic duo Eli Hansen and Herman Beans, Christian Kliegel, Bert Rodriguez, SuttonBeresCuller and Aaron Young suggested that artists are finally becoming less passive in their pursuits.
This particular group of artists engaged in an argument with the concept of the art gallery, focusing on both interior and exterior space. Bert Rodriguez’s A Wall I Built With My Father, (2009) blocked the interior space right behind Lawrimore Project’s main entrance. By creating a shallow space for viewers either entering or leaving the space, Rodriguez inserted a momentary barrier that was created by two conflicting points of view. While the artist and his father have been unable to find agreement on significant issues, their collaboration resulted in the formation of a thick white wall that appeared perfect aside from its placement. A more fatalistic suggestion appears in Eli Hansen’s and Herman Beans’ free-standing sculpture titled, When the First One of Us Dies. (2009) Made primarily of wood, hand-blown glass and building material, Hansen presents a customized, personal coffin that focuses on the binary of life and death. Hansen digressed from his collaborator in, I’m Not Paranoid Because I’m High, (2009) that featured a table of methamphatemine paraphernalia made from hand-blown glass.
Christian Kliegel rendered a complex installation that initially appeared extremely simple. Three thin columns located in the gallery’s front room consist of an array of media such as concrete, wood and steel that were deliberately made not to look like structural support beams. In fact, Kliegel’s anti-architectural approach, if you will, utilized a method of mapping the various spaces within the gallery after carefully walking upon the building’s roof. The artist did not just stop with inserting columns; instead, he also applied duct tape to the interior’s floor as a way to demarcate where he felt the interior walls should be. In the scope of “Spite House,” Kliegel’s suggestions deconstruct the stable frame of the gallery and appear to encroach upon the work of others.
Matthew Browning and Andrew Dadson both defaced the visual object using black paint, suggesting invisibility as well as erasure. Browning’s Untitled, (2009) for instance, appeared on the exterior of the building outside the windows of the architecture firm. Once seen as an eye-catching pink corner, contrasting with the rest of the gray building, Browning’s hard-edge application of black paint attempted to bruise the geographic visibility of Lawrimore Project, which sits alongside an otherwise busy road. Dadson separately construed his application of black paint into a suburban residential setting. Two photographs titled, Black Painted Fence with Ferns, (2006) and Black Bush, (2007) represent elements of a once idyllic green-belt that was blackened to the point of lifelessness. Dadson further added a bouquet of cream-colored roses set within a vase of black water that gradually seeped into the veins of the flower petals.
Aaron Young responded to the reckless hedge-fund money that was used to drive the contemporary art market during the last several years. Two sculptures, crafted out of 24-karat gold, looked like small sections of a large chain-link fence. Tumbleweed, (2009) is a bundled-up, crushed piece of fence that was placed within the gallery’s main room whereas, Untitled (Gold Forced Entry), (2008) functioned as a barrier to the gallery’s video viewing room where Dodson’s two-channel video projection, Roof Gap, (2005) played out. However the most interesting spite that did not appear in this exhibition was, Breach, (2009) by SuttonBeresCuller. This artist trio created a work of art that was then set behind a wall, remaining completely out of eyesight. Two rays of light extended from the section of wall that was placed in front of their piece, merely provoking a curiosity that failed to be satisfied.
As seen in the recent dust-up surrounding the New Museum’s choice to exhibit Dakis Joannou’s private collection that will be curated by celebrity-artist Jeff Koons, the concept underlying the exhibition Spite House, at Lawrimore Project is even more relevant now while the art economy looks for new ways to balance itself. The dialogue surrounding contemporary art had once been more complacent, than aberrant, since a few artists and dealers were able to get what they wanted: value. But now the discussion has grown more aggressive, with accusations centering on fairness, since monetary value is no longer an index of success.
Jill Conner is an art critic and curator based in New York City. She is currently the New York Editor for Whitehot Magazine and writes for other publications such as Afterimage, ArtUS, Sculpture and Art in America.
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