So much of our existence is paper thin. We tell ourselves that we are content with our lot, that we can control who we love and who we live with, that everything will be all right. But tear that paper veneer, and we see how flimsy life really is. We are mortal, our lovers and relatives are fallible, and New York-spawned art shows aren’t always as hip and trendy as we expect them to be.
Redux’s Executive Director Karen Ann Myers invited the editors and artists of semi-annual Brooklyn-based contemporary arts journal Paper Monument to host an event in Charleston. Contributor James Bae curated We Pictured You Reading This, a diversity of works on paper, video art, and paintings. Some of them will inspire local artists, while others will likely leave them cold.
Paper Monument prides itself on being reader-driven, breaking the flaky mold of dry art criticism. But judging by the Redux show, that comes at the price of quality control. Sophomoric watercolors are juxtaposed with professional-level photographs and paintings, with a bewildering array of different styles to choose from. This is survival of the fittest, big-city style, where the largest, brashest art stands out and smaller, quieter images are ignored. Visitors to the gallery are more likely to remember Corinna Schnitt’s “Von Einer Welt,” a 35mm film shot that shows a man visiting various naked women in a field, than Jessie Lebaron’s rushed and naïve oil painting “Orchard.” It’s not fair to compare the two, but in the world of Paper Monument, both are in competition for our short attention spans.
That seems to be the point of this show. It’s a showcase of emerging artists but also a comment on our transient culture: what’s admired today is superseded tomorrow by new technology or new ideas. Kerstin Bratsch’s “I Spy” places different colored spiral bound ads for the movie Pineapple Express in metal boxes, packaging trash as precious documents. Bratsch reminds us that we are urged to buy unnecessary commodities as if they’re necessities. In hi-def! Wide screen! On Blu-ray! By packaging it just right, he comments on commercialism and turns an idea into art, twisting a reminder of our human weakness for coveting objects into a form of entertainment for gallery visitors.
Too depressing? Try James Howard’s cheerful inkjet photo montages of fake ads for Haunted Bird Exorcism Services (“He Say Terrible Thing”) and soul transference (“The Option”), with all the garish brilliance of a rave flyer circa 1990. When does a joke poster become a work of art? When it’s hung on a gallery wall as part of a group show. Whether electrified parrots make you laugh or not, the posters connote a globalized culture where everything is for sale, from sex to spirituality.
Sex is packaged in a different form in “The Only One” by Lara Schnitger and My Barbarian, an incredible videotaped orgy of cheesy digital effects, louche jazz, festishes, bright clashing fabrics, people inhabiting collage, performance art, masks, phalluses, a man in a dress, and a female shadow marionette manipulated by two puppeteers. It’s effective video art with a melancholy song attached.
Not all of the pieces are recent. Back in 2006 Munro Galloway did a painting every day for a series titled “Green River.” Some results were slapdash, others beautiful. Three of his acrylic and oil paintings are in Redux, from dark and simple abstracts to a grungy figurative work called “Nirvana.” All three 20-by-26 inch paintings are best seen up close; looking at one called “Green River” is like streaking through space past a field of blue asteroids.
From stellar oddities to eye-popping photographic portraits, We Pictured You has such variety that at least one piece will appeal to each viewer. Universal themes like relationships, sex, and our frail mortality are explored. As a whole, we wish that Bae had been more selective in his choice of artists and concepts. The best monuments are the ones that are coherent and clear about what they’ve been built for, whether they’re made of wood, paint, or stone. They are solid in a way that our paper-thin lives are not.
But the eclecticism of this show is also a comment on our society. What kind of monument will our generation get? Judging by this exhibition it will be a messy, ephemeral one.