Thursday, May 12, 2016
Off the Wall
Hatch: An installation by Jenny Montgomery at Salon Refu
(not a review)
In an email announcing the latest show at Salon Refu, Susan Christian wrote: “This is going to be quite a complicated show. As has been my continuing trajectory, it's not an ordinary images-in-frames-hung-on-the-wall show. (The last one of those I did was back in November I think, and it was sticks not easel paintings). This one is yet another installation, with a good deal of poetry applied directly to the walls, and many large and small setups which refer to steps and pieces of the artist's little son Heath's journey through a childhood deeply affected by cerebral palsy brought on by oxygen deprivation during the birth process.”
The previous show at Salon Refu was Anne de Marcken’s installation The Redaction Project (reviewed here). The “sticks,” of course, referred to a show of Christian’s own paintings on sticks, which was wonderful (reviewed here).
Is Susan Christian, the most innovative gallerist south of Seattle, abandoning traditional easel-and-pedestal art in favor of art that defies categories? Good for her—although I must admit I have a particular fondness for painting and hope she does not abandon it altogether.
Way, way back in 1970 I championed this kind of non-traditional art in my graduate thesis at East Tennessee State University. The title of my thesis was “A Ground for Today’s Art: An Alternative to the Frame Pedestal Aesthetic.” My thesis advisor came up with that title. I thought it was rather wordy and academic sounding, but I agreed to it because it described the gist of my thesis. Starting with Jackson Pollock taking his canvases off the wall and laying them on the floor and walking around and on them—getting into his paintings in the most literal sense—and graduating from there to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein rejecting the idea of “the hand of the artist,” Robert Rauschenberg taking part in Merce Cunningham’s dance performances and making “paintings” out of a stuffed angora goat, and happenings by Allan Kaprow and others, I traced the movement of modern art away from aesthetic items decoratively hung on walls to events, performances, mail art, and happenings that embrace all of art and all of life.
You might think that if an art student out of Mississippi could see that trend and celebrate it almost 50 years ago that you’d see more of this non-traditional art in local and regional galleries. And it is around. A little bit. Performance art has become fairly well established. Graffiti, poetry slams, theatrical events and all kinds of things that do not fit in the old categories now find their way into the more progressive and forward-looking museums and galleries, but such events, shows, or whatever you want to call them demand open eyes and open minds on the part of the art public and a willingness to take big risks on the part of gallery owners. Especially if they depend on sales to keep their doors open. After all, who could possibly buy a happening or a mixed-media installation that takes up an entire gallery?
The latest show at Salon Refu is just such a show. It is an installation by Jenny Montgomery, a poet—and in this instance, most importantly, a mother. There are individual pieces in her installation that can be seen as sculptures or paintings. I don’t know if any or the pieces are for sale or not. But it is the totality of the words and images that makes it art.
Watch for my review of her installation in the Weekly Volcano tomorrow, It should hit the streets later today, May 12. I will also post it here.