Andrea Rosen Gallery: The Wedding (The Walker Evans Polaroid Project) with Roni Horn
Gallery 2: Michael St. John - 10 Dec 2011 to 14 Jan 2012
Walker Evans, Graveyard Monument, 1973-74, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase,
Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr. Bequest and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1994 (1994.245.1420),
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Wedding (The Walker Evans Polaroid Project)
with Roni Horn
Curated by Ydessa Hendeles
December 10, 2011 - January 14, 2012
Opening reception: Saturday, December 10, 2011
The Wedding (The Walker Evans Polaroid Project) is my response to an invitation from the Andrea Rosen Gallery to curate my first exhibition in New York.
The only stipulation was that I include at least one from the series of Polaroid images made by Walker Evans during the last year of his working life. The request to include something by him resonated with me because I had assembled an extensive collection of his black-and-white images 20 years ago, which I showed together with works by contemporary artists in several exhibitions. Positioning archival photography in a contemporary-art setting had actually become central to my practice by 1991.
Otherwise, I was given complete freedom to explore the architectural and cultural context of the Andrea Rosen Gallery, just as Chris Dercon and Thomas Weski allowed me to explore Munich's Haus der Kunst for my 2003 show, Partners. In my practice, my approach is to develop a site-specific work, conceiving and executing each show as an artistic embodiment of the particular exhibition space. I start with the context and search for ways to develop a relationship with it that is expressed through layered metaphorical connections. I use an artistic process to create a site-specific curatorial composition that interweaves narratives from disparate discourses using disparate elements. These elements are in no way aligned art historically, and I regard each as a fundamental component of the composition that bears no substitution, not even from the same body of work.
I have never come into the Andrea Rosen Gallery without feeling the majesty of the cathedral-like architecture of its main gallery. The ceiling, in particular, with its magnificent skylight and dark brown loft planks sloping down to a strong supporting steel structure, lifts the eye.
But how to show Evans's small Polaroids in such a monumental space? My curatorial challenge was in part to find a means of negotiating between the physical space and the scale of the Polaroids, but also to fully respect the content of the humble but masterful Polaroids.
Ultimately, the problem inspired the solution. I decided to make a show that focused on Evans's photographs of architectural structures and details. Each image is one of a filmic suite of pictures snapped sequentially and precisely composed. Each records the photographer's engagement as he circled his subjects, capturing them in a succession of portraits. He found something curious and engaging from every angle in the inventory of everyday dwellings. I noticed that all the Polaroids of architecture showed buildings with their windows covered by blinds and shutters or, when abandoned, with no windows at all. Evans shot his vernacular subjects with his characteristic combination of curiosity, persistence and detachment.
The Wedding (The Walker Evans Polaroid Project)ultimately came to include: 83 Walker Evans Polaroids; elements from Bird, a body of work by Roni Horn made between 1998 and 2007; a collotype from Eadweard Muybridge's 1887 Animal Locomotion series; a photograph of c1900 Paris by Eugène Atget; a 19th-century French model of a cooper's shop, with tools to scale; a large, 19th-century English birdhouse; and a selection of early 20th-century American Arts and Craft Movement furniture, including original and custom-replications, designed by Gustav Stickley.
A list of components, however, like a roster of artists, indicates little about the content of any of my shows. My exhibitions are meant to be poetic rather than didactic, amalgamating diverse individual works and objects into a coherent whole. A curatorial composition has its own unity and point of view, like an individual work in any artistic medium. Individual artworks and objects stand in specific relationships to each other, both in terms of their physical placement and their cognitive consonance, dissonance and resonance. Their form and the medium in which each is made, as well as the places in which they are set, provide opportunities for viewers to mine them individually and together for meaning, knowledge and insight.
The Wedding (The Walker Evans Project) is a direct function of my own intellectual and experiential engagement with specific artworks in tandem with the space. But while my shows always start from something that resonates in my own experience, they should not be taken as autobiographical. I am especially allergic to hearing that my curatorial practice is autobiographical since this mistaken focus on my back-story—or, indeed, that of the artists included—short-circuits the experience conveyed by the works and by the exhibition. An artwork is a manifestation of an artist's worldview. My role, as I see it, is to grasp something significant in a work of art and then position it in a way that brings its insights to the foreground.
I do not develop a thesis for a show and then find and fit objects into the space as illustrations. I consider the locale for each show carefully—physically, geographically and as a specific cultural place—and look for ways to stage the art as I perceive it and as I think it might resonate best for viewers in that particular context. Each object, of course, has its own history and narrative, but my goal is to reveal fresh insights into the objects exhibited as individual entities and as components of the exhibition. My aim is to mediate between the exhibition space and viewers to reveal multiple layers of meaning in the works and something significant about the locale.
Creating an exhibition is a public act that transcends the interests of the individual curator who created it. I make exhibitions for other people to see and benefit from by provoking their own critical-creative engagement. The autonomous elements on display have dual roles—as fixtures that pin down the cultural-diagnostic content of the works in their original historical context, and as paradigms that function as provocative contemporary-art gestures in a contemporary-art gallery. My shows are designed and constructed to offer viewers a challenging and visceral opportunity, through contemporary art and non-art objects, to reflect not only on the components of the exhibition, but also on their own experience of and engagement with the objects individually and in the way they are assembled. I trust viewers to be receptive and bring their own perspectives to bear on what they encounter in my shows. I hope for an audience that is comfortable with metaphor and willing to look beyond the obvious thematic links to think about what they see.
I do not provide an essay that interprets what I have assembled. I don't try to interpret the work for viewers. Instead, because the elements extend outside the arena of contemporary art, I put together "Notes" that contain all that is required for a thoughtful viewer to experience the work without having to be a connoisseur in the various disciplines of the pieces on display. They can then move to the level of metaphor and meaning more easily without being told how to think.
Michael St. John
In the Studio Twenty Eleven
December 10, 2011 - February 4, 2012
Michael St. John's project of representing the world, from the banal to the incredible, the disheartening to the hopeful, engenders nothing less than a recalibration of vision and notions of value. Creating a circuit of visual information, St. John's representation of the everyday changes the way a viewer sees his or her world. Underlying its humor and clever nods to popular culture, St. John's work is subtended by a current of empathy and deep responsibility; and Andrea Rosen Gallery is so pleased to present his second Gallery 2 exhibition, In the Studio Twenty Eleven. The collected elements of these works refer to the range of St. John's multivalent practice, but stand together as a particular and concise body of work.
As the title of the exhibition suggests, the most central source image and idea for this exhibition is Jasper John's painting "In the Studio", 1981. Jasper John's "In the Studio" follows a familiar trope of artists painting their studios but radically departs from convention by incorporating three dimensional, painted sculptural elements to create multiple layers of illusion. The addition of sculptural elements in combination with tromp l'oeil painting is deeply influential to St. John's work. St. John's paintings, however, utilize the form of Jasper John's work while breaking the hermeticism of the studio. Incorporating images and objects from the real world, St. John enacts a similar kind of operation but in his hands the collapse of the painted surface with the real world serves as a way to elevate the incredible, everyday gestures that exist unnoticed.
Evoking Robert Rauschenberg's combination of painted surface and found images in "Rebus", 1955, the format of the works also mimic the way that images and small objects can be taped or tacked to a wall in homes or studios. These makeshift bulletin boards are so ubiquitous that they escape notice, and yet these seemingly small acts reflect the meaning that images and objects can have. It was an image and a description of Patti Smith standing next to a wall of taped up photographs from her book Just Kids that trigged St. John's immediate recognition of the importance of these spatial arrangements as expressions of subjectivity and the ad hoc creation of ritualistic sites.
St. John's work reflects his constant interrogation of the full range of visual culture. By representing the overlooked and commonplace, St. John elevates what would normally be failed or hidden efforts at communication. The artist reframes small gestures of public address (bathroom graffiti, stickers on notebooks, lost dog signs) in a way that can lend more power to individual expression against the occupation of public space by corporate advertising. While this methodology of working can seem so current, St. John has been working in this mode for nearly two decades and has been a teacher and mentor to a younger generation of artists.
St. John's work embodies the democratization of images that has become a larger part of our culture with the ever expanding role played by the internet and social media. Rather than relying on the apparatus of media corporations, however, St. John's works is decidedly personal. Eschewing spectacle and in spite of their subtle means and modest scale, St. John's work always reflects the artist's careful handling of materials and painstaking formal construction. The artist's work makes a case for the persistence and relevance of art as a means of encouraging the simple act of looking carefully and seeing critically.
Michael St. John lives and works in Massachusetts and New York. This will be St. John's 11th solo exhibition in New York. He has also been included in numerous group exhibitions. Along with an extensive resume of curatorships, St. John has held numerous teaching positions including his position as an adjunct professor at New York University since 1994.
For more information and images please contact Jessica Eckert firstname.lastname@example.org or Nen Reyes email@example.com