Multimedia works by critically-acclaimed emerging artist Brian Bress have been described as inventive, humorous, and “discomfortingly complex.” Interventions: Brian Bress represents the artist's first solo museum exhibition in the western United States and features a selection of five unique video portraits. Strategically placed throughout the Museum, these works address not only the viewer, but also the works and concepts within the museum environment. This installation speaks to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s major summer exhibition, Portrayal/Betrayal, and, more importantly, to the extension of ideas regarding depiction and representation.
Using flat-screen monitors encased in frames, Bress’s works appear at first glance to be conventional photographs or illustrations, each depicting one or more figures rendered abstract through the use of masks and costumes. When these strange figures subtly and slowly move at a nearly imperceptible pace, however, they create a sense of surprise and unease. Embodying references to imagery found in modern art, these works are simultaneously familiar yet peculiar, which adds to their associations with the uncanny.
Andrew Berardini for Art Review (March 2012) writes that Bress’s work is “…less intensely disquieting than slightly unsettling, like the portraits in the hallways of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, which turn holographically to follow visitors’ every move…Here, though, the costumes and characters and creatures in the pictures look almost friendly: softish and colorful, moving at the nonthreatening, soporific half-speed of most young children’s television programming.”
Bress painstakingly constructs every aspect of each work, employing a variety of techniques and materials in his hand-made costumes, masks, and even scenery. Figures are adorned with wigs, collage masks, foam rubber suits, and painted costumes. They contrast or sometimes blend in, like a “where’s Waldo” effect, with carefully composed, stage-like settings that range from scenic landscapes to the imagined interior of a constructivist painting.
Genevieve Yue notes on ArtForum.com (January 30, 2012), “Sometimes the roles imperil the actor more dramatically, as with Cowboy (Brian led by Peter Kirby), 2012, where the artist, dressed in a cartoonish foam cowboy suit, unsuccessfully attempts to draw various figures on a glass plane. His misplaced scribblings show how the thick, airless suit has also blinded him.”
This “stage play” of sorts begs the question of Bress as artist or performance artist. Posed a similar question by Andrew Berardini, Senior Editor of ArtSlant in an interview (November 2010), the artist states, “The quick answer is that I’m not a performance artist. I don’t perform in front of a live audience.” He goes on to note, “…it is peformative. There’s also a durational aspect to performance art that can be demanding in a way that I don’t want to be.”
To this point, his humor is evident as he retells a joke Charlie Ray once told his class at UCLA. “How many performance artists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
“I don’t know. I left after four hours.”
The five video portraits comprising Interventions: Brian Bress will be displayed throughout the Museum—from the public areas on the Lower Level to the permanent collection galleries on the Main and Upper Levels. The artist will also present a special new portrait based specifically on paintings in SBMA’s 19th-century European collection in Ridley-Tree Gallery, where his work will hang among and in conversation with masterpieces by Claude Monet, Odillon Redon, Vincent Van Gogh, and others.
Bress received his MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles and BFA from Rhode Island School of Design. The New Museum, New York featured his video Status Report, 2009 in their theater from January 18 - March 25, 2012. In the past two years, Bress has exhibited his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art (North Miami, FL); the Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia, PA); Arthouse (Austin, TX); the Parrish Art Museum (South Hampton, NY); the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum (Tampa, FL); and at the Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City, Utah. His video Under Cover, 2007 was included in the landmark exhibition California Video in 2008 at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the accompanying catalog, California Video: Artists and Histories. His work has been reviewed in such publications as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Artforum, and Frieze.