Tim Nickodemus' exhibition at Alderman Exhibitions, titled Megatheria, has put me in a bind. I enjoyed the show despite itself. This is perhaps the ultimate admission of arbitrary criticality, but run with me: I want to write about it (and here I am) not because any of the paintings held particular resonance as great art objects, but rather because of how they engaged my attention as a viewer.
A standard move in art is to elevate a common observation to the level of high consideration, framing this sight in a new artistic context and asking (demanding) an audience to consider an otherwise not-art thing as now-art. Depending on what it is being placed in this way and the degree to which the artist's hand is involved, this focus on context facilitates a certain kind of discussion which often cannot happen any other way. In this way, the gallery becomes both critical confessional (with admissions made in formalist puns) and citational material for artists and authors interested in the ways we imagine and re-imagine our material environment. Finally, for those who refuse to engage with this newly contextualized object according to its aesthetics (or who have lost faith in the validity of such an engagement), there is always the endless marveling at and practical discussion of the strategy itself.
There is remarkably little difference between those exhibitions which rest on the novelty of the artwork as expanding the borders of what is considered art.
Tim Nickodemus, Archeology, 2012, oil on canvas, 13" x 15"; Courtesy of the artist and Alderman Exhibitions
The question of high art, with a with nod to fellow artist and ArtSlant writer Amelia Ishmael, whose Black Thorns in the White Cube addresses this directly, is a more interesting topic -- yet even this is marred in the authoritarian structures which, as temple architects and dealers of mana, distribute permission to engage with a work on the level of poetic meaning or spiritual reflection. There may be reasons for these levels of removal between the everyday and the artistic, but they certainly have more to do with the manner of presentation and the attitude of the viewer -- her willingness to project the imagination -- than inherent qualities of the objects themselves. I have seen some of the most complex narratives expressed wordlessly in the re-arrangements of salt shakers, coffee creamer, forks, and knives.
Perhaps it is because I am a writer and like to tell stories, but I like best those artworks or installations which allow me to do exactly that without impugning what I come up with. When I expressed this to Geoffrey Todd Smith and Michael Rea at their exhibition Sharks, Dicks, and Drugs (where those words form the modal construction of dramas both absurd and deeply, deeply personal), pointing out how bar patrons were telling their own stories about the work, their response was an agreement. Gesturing to large print of a shark escaping a woman to devour a threatening half lob, Smith said something along the lines of, "we wanted to make work that people could talk about the way we talk about art that was meant to be talked about some other way."
Tim Nickodemus, Corded, 2012, oil on canvas, 13" x 15"; Courtesy of the artist and Alderman Exhibitions
Which brings me back to Nickodemus' Megatherium. The works are uniformly sized, show an unremarkable handling of paint, have a limited color range, and operate somewhere between flat abstract still-lifes and landscapes. In them my imagination has a playground preserved, even strengthened, by the spurious nature of the references in the work: Tim's encounter with decaying frescoes and a second encounter with the reconstructed skeleton of a giant sloth. How do those connect? Your guess is as good as mine.
I propose that this is the point, however, as in both cases, here are things produced by an agreement between the imagination of what is possible and the material framework necessary to allow that imagination to cross into reality. The bones are not themselves a giant sloth, but they can be fit together to indicate one in a way which allows us to image what it might have been like. The fresco is falling apart, but we can fill in the gaps. We create what both is and isn't there and then believe in it. We are convinced of the invisible because we want to be.
(Image on top right: Tim Nickodemus, Elegy with Handles, 2012, oil on canvas, 13" x 15"; Courtesy of the artist and Alderman Exhibitions)