2010 has been a good year for Tony Tasset. Known for his witty and often sardonic approach to postmodern art, Tasset’s work has gained quite a bit of attention in the city he calls home. The artist was selected alongside fellow Chicago artist, Phyllis Bramson, to participate in the College Art Association’s annual Artist Interviews during the organization’s conference that was held in Chicago in February, 2010. Last month, Tasset’s Blob Monster (2009) was one of several large scale sculptures that made an impressive appearance on Orleans Avenue outside of The Merchandise Mart, in collaboration with Art Chicago and NEXT. This summer, Tasset’s larger-than-life sculptures will once again join the public sphere thanks to two commissions from the Chicago Loop Alliance for their inaugural Art Loop program slated for early July. The artist will unveil Cardinal (2010) an installation of more than one hundred banners along Chicago’s famed State Street. Tasset’s vision for the series of banners is to form a collective image of the state bird, a cardinal, taking flight. The second work, standing 30 feet in the air and sited in Pritzker Park, is aptly titled Eye (2010). It is a massive sculpture of an eyeball overlooking the Chicago community. More examples of Tasset’s work can be seen in the MCA’s current exhibition, “Rewind: 1970s to 1990s Works from the MCA Collection”, see Chicago Editor Abraham Ritchie’s review here. Tasset’s tour de force in 2010, continues with his solo show presented by Kavi Gupta Gallery, currently on view through July 17, 2010.
“Tony Tasset: Selected Works 1986-1996” takes a highly focused look at an earlier period from Tasset’s career, providing a mini-retrospective of the artist’s take on art theory, practice and exhibition. Tasset’s open rejection of any particular media is the one common thread found in all his work. His ability to employ various materials to articulate aspects of artistic legacy, irony and everyday culture replace the necessity for the traditional “signature” style. The exhibition at Kavi Gupta embraces this randomness and celebrates the work produced in that period. The exhibition supplies a deeper insight into Tasset’s perspective and provides a clearer trajectory of the artist’s career. Layout and curation allow for easy navigation between the tensions of concept and form, and aesthetic and meaning.
Abstraction with Cardboard Corners (1999) and Double Bronze (1993), seen above, flank the entrance to the exhibition. Selected for the gallery’s hallway, the works create a happenstance installation. Abstraction with Cardboard Corners is just that, lacquered Medite board capped with cardboard at each corner. What resembles a blank canvas leaned against the wall, is a completed work, available for sale. Double Bronze (1993), a pair of bronze busts atop a wood table continues in this vain. Tasset channels the modeling of Rodin and the worktable of an artist’s studio, reinforcing the contradictions of art as a commodity, and studio versus exhibition space.
The artist’s critique continues into the main gallery. Here, Tasset once again makes a play on the familiar, recontextualizing it and mixing elements from art world with pop culture. Display Sculpture (Inverted for figure), 1988, seen left, is in complete opposition to the traditional two-dimensional approach to hanging a painting, questioning the inherent function of art on display. An abyss of deep red and plexiglass, dives into the surface of the wall. Although awkward and unconventional, the work is engaging, literally drawing the focus inward creating an intimate and proactive viewing experience.
Adjacent to the installation, is an ironic and clever interpretation of another element of art display: the pedestal. Just above 38 inches high and freshly painted white, a first glance may miss the humor in Pedestal (leveled), 1993, seen at top right. Tasset’s uneven pedestal strips it of its function and sole purpose; to provide an even plane ensuring safety and security for sculpture on display. Tasset cleverly levels the flawed column with a shiny aluminum wedge lending a comment to flash and sparkle ever present in the contemporary museum.
Box (1993) is an absurd exaggeration of the common packing vessel. Constructed of cardboard and paper tape, the 60 ¼ inch square box is devoid of typical handling bumps and scraps. Tasset’s craft and attention to detail are exemplified with this mysterious work. Unopened and unexplained, its presence simultaneously recalls the conceptual works of Sol LeWitt and signature service of UPS.
The gallery’s project space looks like an abandoned construction site. Similar to Box, I-Beam (1996) and Pallet (1990), both seen below, are carefully laid out and equally pristine in condition. The industrial objects embody a dichotomy of strength and fragility. Substantial in stature and function but clearly vulnerable and unused for the usual practical purposes, this pairing employs universal objects to debate the question of art versus function.
Another sampling of Tasset’s work is down the hall in a side room, in what the gallery refers to as an “enhancement to the exhibition.” On view are iconic works, like Benchstack (1987) and Robert Smithson (Las Vegas), 1995, that clearly nod to Tasset’s artistic predecessors and inject his satirical point of view. The handful of works are worth a view, but would have taken away from the primary exhibition. Keeping focus on the original nine works selected for the exhibition tracks Tasset’s postmodern journey. With vastly different works by Tasset on view all over the city, the chance to revisit the beginning of his career is a rare opportunity.
--Robyn Farrell Roulo
(Images from top to bottom: Tony Tasset. Pedestal (leveled), 1993, lacquered medite, aluminum, 38 1/4 x 18 5/8 x 19 1/2 inches, Tony Tasset. Left: Abstraction with Cardboard Corners, 1999, lacquered medite and cardboard, 29 x 24 x 2 1/2 inches and right: Double Bronze, 1993, bronze and wood, 39 1/2 x 26 x 33 inches. Tony Tasset. Display Sculpture (inverted for figure),1988, wood, paint, plexiglass, 73 1/4 x 25.1/4 x 13 inches. Installation view of "Tony Tasset: Selected Works From 1986-1996" May 1 – Jul 17, 2010. Tony Tasset. Background: I-beam,1996, painted aluminum, 8 1/4 x 6 1/2 x 144 inches and foreground: Pallet,1990, maple wood, 5 x 40 x 48 inches. Photography, Sara Pooley, all images courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery.)