Friday, August 29, 2008

So Jessica’s review of Picturing Politics appeared in today’s WaPo. Jessica’s conclusion: The show is a sledgehammer, full of heavy handed left wing didacticism.

Except maybe for the video projection by Jefferson Pinder and Matt Ravenstahl—which, according to Jessica, is complex, resonant, and powerful.

And except for Judy Byron’s installation, too, because it includes a compelling portrait of life as it’s lived.

And except for Rick Reinhard’s whole gallery, because of his poetic and understated photos of political protests.

And except for the part of the show installed in the community gallery downstairs, because of the photos and videos it features taken by veterans of the Iraq War, showing the story on the ground as they’ve seen it.

Okay, so let me tally this up here:

Jose Ruiz’s room, the Gaitans’s half room, and Renee Stout’s stretch of wall, accounting for about 1/4 of the show, are all objectionable for Jessica.

At least 3/8 of the show, however, is fine by her…and we’re left to guess which way the remaining 3/8 leans.

As it turns out, a lot of that remaining 3/8 consists of open-ended or humorous pieces that completely undermine her thesis.

Like, say, Lisa Blas’s curious pseudo-archeological investigation of the syntax of equestrian statuary…

…or Wendy Babcox and Meg Mitchell’s interactive website, which allows viewers to ask whatever questions about conflict in the Middle East they like without ever really receiving answers (by design), all the while watching scrolling text of randomly generated headlines from newspapers in the region.

And never mind her glaring omission of Mary Coble’s piece—at least as affecting as Jefferson & Matt’s, I’d venture, even if the visuals are reductive—just a quivering hand against a stark black background, tensing and trembling from the application of electrical current.

And speaking of humorous work—what about The Pinky Show??? How could you leave out the most engaging part of the show? Educational, yes, but with a lightheartedness and sense of genuine inquiry that doesn’t feel even a bit like a hammer blow to the head.

I’m left to marvel at how she misreads some of the pieces she does discuss. If you can’t find the lightness in Jose Ruiz’s installation, in which viewers are asked to drink Mexican and American beers and use the empties to construct a border fence…and in which Ruiz drops a loop from Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” behind a voiceover by Lou Dobbs…and includes a drawing of the Iwo Jima memorial in which the soldiers are replaced by cartoon day laborers, one of whom is busy laying down a paint roller stripe of white color across a map of the U.S…well, maybe it depends on your sense of humor.

An aside: I think Rex’s pairing of Jose’s free-spirited, almost improvisational looking installation with Randall Packer’s overblown (by design & intent) meticulously managed multimedia black box requiem for America—a big gallery-filling piece she doesn’t mention—is pretty inspired, actually. That would’ve been a contrast worth exploring.

Look, it’s a really dense show, and it requires repeated viewing—and probably more column inches than Jessica had at her disposal to treat seriously. So I suppose I can’t blame the Posties. I’d just encourage you to come spend some time with the show—yes, it demands your time—and judge for yourself. Meanwhile, look for more comprehensive and sustained considerations of the show in one or more national art publications soon.


Blogger johnjamesanderson said...

mmmm.... Jeffry, though I am secondary in Randall's installation, I'm a necessary component of this installation.

11:21 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Not an intentional snub. Readers: I was talking about the piece by Randall Packer AND John Anderson.

You're a "component of this installation", eh? I knew somebody was buried in that grave. ;)

11:16 AM  
Blogger johnjamesanderson said...

Someone has to keep Orf and Yorick company.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...

OK... I am officially confused once again by the wordism of Miss Dawson...

6:11 PM  

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