about the exhibition
New Works 09.1
March 19–May 17, 2009about the artist
Sterling Allen is an artist and curator who in 2006 co-founded the alternative gallery Okay Mountain in Austin, TX. His found object-based drawings and sculptures are constructed of images culled from internet search engines and items purchased at yard sales. Allen's process begins, however, not with the found objects, but with the establishment of a general shape or form, which acts as the compositional framework for the assemblage. The shape is then filled in with a selection of random images-such as a diving board, stapler, or stuffed animal-resulting in a composition laden with associative possibility. Allen's work is heavily informed by American consumer culture as well as Surrealist imagery.
Allen received his BFA from The University of Texas at Austin in 2003. He has had solo exhibitions at VOLTA, New York, NY (2009), and Art Palace, Austin, TX (2007). His work has been included in many group exhibitions, including It's Gonna Be Reverything, Paragraph Gallery, Kansas City, MO (2008); Palace Does Dallas, Road Agent, Dallas, TX (2008); Nexus Texas, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, TX (2007); An Introduction to Mountain Making, Okay Mountain, Austin, TX (2007); Me Odio y Quiero Comprar, Galeria Enrique Guerrero, Mexico DF, Mexico (2007); and Making It Together, Creative Research Laboratory, Austin, TX (2006).
about the project
Allen's Housing Edition comprises a constellation of three identical miniature houses and a triptych titled Stillwater Shanty. Through repetition and the use of recycled material, the artist questions the nature of the edition, the readymade, and the influence of visual association.
Allen's deconstructive process begins with the reduction of a common object or image, and it ends with the substitution of new imagery into the resulting form. At Artpace, Allen has applied this process to large-scale sculpture, a first for the artist. He began by constructing rudimentary versions of a home, creating three simple pitched-roof boxes. The structures were then adorned with objects purchased at yard sales and thrift stores, or even salvaged from dumpsters. Although each sculpture is constructed in an exacting fashion and covered with similar materials, the varying wear and tear of respective found elements reveals idiosyncrasies in the series.
By attempting to formulate a sequence of identical sculptures by hand, Allen has applied a DIY (do-it-yourself) aesthetic to the concept of the edition. An edition is traditionally defined as a series of identical artworks issued in numerical sequence in a finite group. Though the artist may work directly on the initial version of a series, editions are often made by a mechanical process, resulting in highly refined, indistinguishable objects. Conversely, the DIY aesthetic places an emphasis on handmade goods and the dissolution of consumerism. With Housing Edition, Allen has created a hybrid DIY-edition artwork using a Pop Punk approach to the selection and application of materials, along with conventional methods of construction.
Allen's use of found objects modifies the definition of the readymade, a concept developed by Marcel Duchamp in the early 20th century. A readymade involves selecting an everyday object, removing it from its typical setting (often nullifying its function), and presenting it as a work of art, with the idea that context creates meaning. Sometimes a readymade object may be modified, building on its existing properties and adding to them. This is known as an assisted readymade. Allen's installation goes beyond the assisted readymade by not only modifying the objects, but completely repurposing them into "new" objects that appear as recognizable forms-houses.
The study of image association-pictorial semiotics-provides a method for decoding an artwork based on personal connections made between materials and their arrangement. One aspect of the field focuses on the importance of social context, emphasizing the role of cultural history and community values in the way we decode signs and symbols. Allen's use of materials incites different reactions, ranging from amusement to nostalgia to cynicism. For example, a viewer may associate Stillwater Shanty with time spent with relatives, ultimately interpreting the series as a celebration of the American family. Others may read the work within the context of its fabrication (commissioned from a Chinese mail order company), linking the paintings to unfair labor practices in China. Housing Edition in its entirety is a multilayered investigation of visual language and varying modes of interpretation.