PLAY WITH YOUR OWN MARBLES
San Francisco, CA, August 24th 2009: Curated by Betty Nguyen, Creative Director of First Person Magazine, NOMA GALLERY's “Play With Your Own Marbles” is a bold attempt to challenge the viewer's usual access points into an artwork. In “Play With Your Own Marbles,” Nguyen brings together three contemporary Los Angeles-based artists who examine the finite moment when a work becomes defined as finished or in progress. The narratives of artistic and curatorial process are not only foregrounded in the content of the works – crafted with raw materials, portraying utilitarian tools, and addressing everyday apparatus – but additionally, the temporality, disposability, and pervasiveness of “art” is addressed. Decoding the artist’s surfaces and content, the participant begins to process the sublimation of art as a part of life, one that is as rich in semiotics as it is in aesthetics.
Patrick Hill’s Hill's concrete tableaux included in "Marbles" is mindful of the delicate balance of materials, painting thick layers of cement onto canvases in gestural strokes. In highlighting the tactile beauty of a material routinely overlooked as an exclusively utilitarian device, Hill beseeches the viewer to admire the aesthetic properties of a substance as commonplace as cement. Underneath the heavy material is a contrasting substrata of pale colors soaked intimately into linen. Stalagmitic formations suggestive of erogenous orifices and delicate folds of skin are pierced titillatingly, betraying a sadomasochistic eroticism and rigid, industrial sensuality. Fragile and precarious, his constructs evoke orderly apocalyptic scenarios.
Karl Haendel’s exquisite graphite pencil drawings may recall Richter’s photo-realism, yet his witty flirtation with cliché and irony through a playful approach to scale and subject matter allows his drawings to transcend mere reproductions. Haendel’s work may initially appear to be very straightforward; it is this handmade quality and the accessibility of his imagery and source material that renders his work easy for the general public to digest and relate to on a basic level. However, viewers unraveling the obfuscating layers and dissecting the content will uncover the insidious humor embedded in his artistic vernacular. The subversive narrative implied in the nature of Haendel’s imagery is only ever suggested, thereby engaging the viewer’s interest and serving as a trigger for an active construction of a more subjective narrative experience. In this capacity, Haendel’s work operates as a prosthetic artistic device on both a conscious and subconscious level, infiltrating culture like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Veins of academic rhetoric and dialectic investigation are evident in Walead Beshty's work; his documentation of invisible culture, as arrestingly beautiful as it is, contains a string of undeniably poetic and political statements. The action of placing denuded and defenseless objects on photosensitive paper and exposing them to light is, in itself, an intimate gesture that is borderline erotic. Reminiscent of x-rays, Beshty’s seductive, elusive abstractions feel almost voyeuristic, revealing the innards of naked, utilitarian tools and debris, rendering them into objets d’art. While a photograph may document a direct moment, Beshty’s photograms are more evocative imprints that immortalize objects as if catching them in another continuum, frozen with timeless elegance. As mundane as chemical droppers or crumpled papers that are usually binned—on Beshty’s examination table, these objects, in a post-Duchampian universe, are turned into artifacts, endowed with at least a second life if not more, as we never know when he will recycle the object yet another time.
In an investigation into the corrosion of an object during its trajectory from home base to gallery space, Beshty also showcases “shatterproof” glass cubes, fabricated to fit snugly in standard-sized cardboard FedEx shipping boxes, mounted as a sculptural installation. The glass boxes register the wear and tear of the trafficking of contemporary art objects: their gradual cracking and splintering provides a visual trace and material memory of their physical movement. A news release for Beshty’s show notes that his “mail art" in particular also serves as both a nod to Duchamp's “Large Glass” – famously “improved” by injuries sustained during transport.
About Betty Nguyen / FIRST PERSON
Curator Betty Nguyen is the founder and Creative Director of First Person Magazine. Nguyen worked with galleries in the UK, San Francisco and New York. In 2006, she curated her first major exhibition at YBCA, "Cosmic Wonder" that was inspired by two memorable words from Bertolt Brecht's The Rise and Fall of Mahogany: "Something's missing." Nguyen went on to create more projects with this ethos including First Person Magazine, a print and online manifestation of her ongoing commitment to developing a social arena where artists and creative vanguards from all disciplines can present their own histories and shared realities. This is the stepping stone to her future goal of opening a non-profit arts space in San Francisco.
A show has the potential to change in idea and direction, just as an artwork can be profoundly altered simply by moving it from one space to another. "Play With Your Own Marbles" began with the idea that materials drove the work on display, not unlike the ethos of the flagship stores which share NOMA Gallery's highly fashionable Maiden Lane street address. Later I began to consider it as an expression poised at the borders of what can and cannot be said in any given social or historical context. This self-aware approach to content and its physical delivery is a common thread to the artists in "Play With Your Own Marbles," whose work conflates the material and the conceptual to arrive at something fresh, provocative, and unexpectedly sensual.
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