Typically, if one sees work that she/he likes, they are not likely to get a second chance to see such work again for quite some time, since the unspoken rule of our beloved galleries is to avoid anything that is not making its debut. I suspect, for this reason, the non-profit space White Columns inaugurated their Looking Back annual, three years ago. Each installment is selected by a NYC-based curator who gets to round together their favorite works seen about town in institutions, gallery settings, etc. during the course of one year. Thus, Looking Back: The White Columns Annual is a hodgepodge of well-known established artists paired with younger artists whose work is taken out of its original context and placed under the umbrella of an exhibit that has no clear agenda of its own. This lack of an inflated curatorial framing frees the visitor’s mind to play with multiple interpretations of what is on view.
One theme quickly comes to mind as I look at the work in Looking Back: The White Columns Annual, that being a blatant and purposeful ripping off of past trends in modern and contemporary art, which in the end, makes me nostalgic for the original work and less enthralled by what is currently on view. Gareth James’ post-minimalesque sculpture comprised of bicycle inner tubes does not capture the same tensions as that of its originators, nor does Loren Connors’ Yves Klein knockoffs, R.H. Quaytman’s pseudo OP Art, Robert Beck’s failed attempt to be Sigmar Polke, and Oliva Shao + Food Shop’s resurrection of the ghost of Gordon Matta Clark. One should also include in this mix the wannabe Picasso’s of Kate Manheim.
One piece that stands out in this overcrowded exhibit is a hyperrealist painting, dated 2007, of the lower half of a cowboy with a branding iron, made by Hannes Schmid. In the midst of the work described above, one would falsely accuse Schmid of playing off the appropriation artist, Richard Prince, and his series of re-photographed Marlboro ads. However, the truth is Hannes Schmid WAS in fact the artist/photographer originally hired to make some of those very same early Marlboro ads Prince appropriated. Years later, Schmid, perhaps inspired by Prince, decided to make gigantic, photo-realistic oil paintings of these images, and in turn, developed a body of work that is aesthetically exquisite and conceptually intriguing. If anything, go visit Looking Back: The White Columns Annual just to see this piece, if you missed it at his recent show at the Mitchell Algus Gallery.
Images: Hannes Schmid; Installation view. Courtesy White Columns.