New Works: 95.1
New Works 95.1: Introduction
essay by Robert Storr
New Works 95.1: Introduction
by Robert Storr
To an extent that few would dispute when it was brought to their attention but many take altogether too much for granted, art is a product of situation. The romance of the 19th century studio is the version of the truth most commonly accepted, but it is a version fixed in the public mind by romantic myths that have long outlasted their time. Garrets are a thing of the past, as, for the most part are the raw, columned lofts of more recent Bohemian legends. The former afford too little room for the varied and often expansive work typical of present day aesthetic experimentation: the latter are in increasing short supply in a world where the collectors of such work have often followed its creators to the picturesque industrial neighborhoods of our older cities and priced them out of the market.
The contemporary artist’s studio is generally closer to being a laboratory or open shop floor than a craftsman’s hideaway or the expressionists painter’s walk-up. Moreover, it is likely to be found in the less romantic quarters of town where art-work may closely resemble the work of other sorts that goes on around it, though its motives are contrastingly non-utilitarian. The main point to grasp is that even with these shifts in style and location, (proof, if proof is necessary, of the ingenious adaptation of artists to their forever changing and currently straitened circumstances), adequate space is scarce and to be useful it must be sufficiently plain to allow for its total transformation by practitioners
of radically differing inclinations. The archetypal space “White Cube” of the modernist gallery may or may not be the ultimate destination of the things artists make, but the “room of one’s own” that they, like writers, require is still a neutral empty area waiting to be charged by an idea.
The creation of such a space promises new art. The creation of several spaces at once anticipates a community. That is an occasion worthy of note at any time and in any place but especially so these days in the United States when support for the arts has been stretched so dangerously thin, and tolerance for the new has fallen so shamefully low. The Pace Roberts Foundation for Contemporary Art’s inauguration of ArtPace is by all these measures an event. Of special significance is the fact that while this initiative has been taken outside of New York and Los Angeles, America’s two art-capitols, it has been conceived from the first as an international as well as national and local effort. No apologies have been made for basing it in a city off the beaten art-track and no limits have been set on the horizon that can be seen from there. Nor do such apologies or limits make sense any more. The reality is that advanced art is made everywhere, and increasingly artists are prepared to stay home to work rather than migrate to the wobbly centers of the art world, while, as a complement to their anything but myopic rootedness, those of a more nomadic bent are demonstrably eager to go wherever the opportunity to make their work as they intend it exists.
The establishment of the Foundation’s International Artist-in-Residence Program, San Antonio has, in a single stroke, become a meeting place for artists coming from all regions of this country and from abroad. The first three who have been invited to make projects under the program’s auspicies represents what it is hoped will be a prototypically broad range of generations, backgrounds and approaches.
Based in Paris and active in the French conceptual art circles since the late 1960s, Annette Messager is a connoisseur of found images and materials, and the author of complex assemblages and environments. Originally she divided the two aspects of her activity into twin personae– Annette Messager-Collector, and Annette Messager-Artist–and to each she allocated separate space in her small quarters. The first Messager, following and at the same time parodying the gender–assignment of roles, sorted her treasures in domestic surroundings while the second more active Messager labored in an adjacent studio. Of course the two Messagers are one and the same, just as the two dimensions of her work, choosing and making are synergistically paired. This is evident in her attraction to and recasting of the iconography and installation
techniques of traditional Catholic ex–votive objects and paintings, juxtaposed in small clusters or huge, multifaceted groupings. Messager has fashioned her equally symbolic but pointedly contemporary evocations of the mortal, sensate body from photographs, drawings, texts, fabrics, and taxidermied animals. Cool eroticism and disarmingly witty candor about the likely fate to which flesh is heir are the hallmarks of her work.
Contrary to the general case advanced at the beginning of these comments, Felix Gonzalez-Torres has no studio of any kind. Instead he puzzles out his proposals in a modest New York apartment more obviously devoted to daily living than to professional pursuits. That assignment of priorities bespeaks Gonzalez-Torres’ larger imaginative purpose, which is to make work that draws attention to the norm–defying particularities of experience routinely ignored for the sake of ideological convention. Situation, meanwhile, determines the nature of his work just as surely as it does for those who are studio-bound. With this difference, Gonzalez-Torres chooses the location of each piece–gallery, billboard, domestic architecture–and his means–photography, text, light, candy, clocks, paper, performance–with the aim of gently undermining the customary uses of that place and the viewer’s habits of mind and conduct. Putting the simplest of devices in the public’s path in the most deliberate but nonconfrontational way, Gonzalez-Torres quietly makes one wonder at the nuanced flux of time, contingent freedom, intimacy and loss that are the constant conditions of private life in the social realm.
Like many of Gonzalez-Torres’ discreet sculptural or pictorial interventions, Jesse Amado’s structures crystallize and preserve personal events and their emotional consequences in a manner at once hermetic and direct. Like Messager’s amalgamated icons, his work draws simultaneously on the international language of process art and the culturally specific methods of ritual commemoration common to the Latin societies. Composed of hardware and soft substances, firmly braced planes and delicately balanced ones, heavy opaque sheets and translucent veils, industrial armatures and natural elements, Amado’s tables and wall reliefs are secular altars and psychological reliquaries whose fascination does not depend upon
knowing the exact story behind them but only on knowing that no aspect of them is without a palpable albeit permanently mysterious significance.
Viewed separately, the work of each of these artists articulates an
independent vision. Viewed together, their projects begin a conversation.
In the months and years to come, that conversation will continue and its participants will increase in number and diversify in approach. This occasion is the beginning of the exchange, and the starting point from which echoes will emanate that will certainly be heard elsewhere. Nowadays, the art world has no party-line, it is a party-line and word travels fast when something interesting is said at any place along it. Thanks to the uncommon dedication of its sponsors and the enthusiasm of the artists who have agreed to take part, this program alerts us all that very interesting things are being said, and done in San Antonio.
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