It is hard to say what the work in "Inspired Resistance," the group exhibition currently on display at Crosstown Arts, is resisting. The show features paintings by Nick Pena and Alex Paulus (among others), as well as ink drawings by Bobby and Melanie Spillman and mixed-media work by Joey Slaughter—all talented, if not particularly transgressive, local artists.
Following the success of this past summer's Material Retrospective, "Resistance" continues Crosstown's streak of hosting some of Memphis' strongest group shows. The 55 works included take full advantage of the spacious Crosstown gallery. In the far right corner of the gallery, Paulus' vertical grouping of his sparse acrylic paintings span from floor to ceiling. Nick Pena's Through the Moulin, centered on a back wall, achieves a mirrored depth that does much to balance the surrounding works, many of which employ a flat and illustrative style.
A friendly, graphical note runs throughout the exhibition. Paulus' paintings— each of which feature a line of colorful race flags at the top— constitute about half of the featured work. His flag detailing serves to inexpertly advertise the paintings' central elements: a steak, a woman's bottom, a psychedelic cube. Paulus' useless objects have a zero-sum feeling that contributes to the work's sense of science-fictional groundlessness. This sense is echoed, but treated more deeply, in Pena's paintings, where objects and horizon lines are not abandoned but are endlessly refracted.
Carl E. Moore's works also stand out as smooth but somehow corrupted adverts. In Latex Love, a condom with a broken wrapper sits smoothly beneath two unembellished figures who seem about to kiss each other, in profile. Of all the featured pieces, Moore's work does the most to depart from "Resistance's" somewhat airy headspace.
Ian Lemmonds, the exhibition's curator, writes that the exhibition is about artists being good at being bad at things and that "if you are inspired enough by what you do, that inspiration turns into a kind of resistance." This sounds a bit like a low-brow call to arms; a defense of funny and colorful "bad" work in a perceived fine art world that favors somber abstraction.
"Inspired Resistance" is largely a painting exhibition, so it is possible that the titular "resistance" refers to the particular existential quandaries of 21st century painters. Paulus' sparkly paintings of Barbara Streisand wearing a smiley-face mask may not make you question your human residence in the maw of time, but they do ask you to consider the use of celebrity and pop iconography as interesting heirs to some of painting's traditional concerns.
There will be a gallery talk at Crosstown Arts on Saturday, February 22 at 1:30 pm.
If you've seen the film Into the Wild, Sean Penn's 2007 biopic about doomed, Alaska-bound drifter Christopher McCandless (or read the eponymous book by Jon Krakauer), then you probably know about the artist Leonard Knight. On McCandless' way to the great North, he briefly stops at Knight's "Salvation Mountain"— a big, painted rock in the middle of the SoCal desert.
Knight passed away yesterday at age 82.
Knight's mountain, visible on Google Earth, reads "GOD IS LOVE, JESUS I'M A SINNER PLEASE COME UPON MY BODY AND INTO MY HEART." It is painted (in bright latex) to resemble an Eden, a waterfall, a valley of the shadow of doubt, a Gethsemene. It backs up against Slab City, a neighboring desert community of off-season Burning Man attendees and trailer-dwellers. Knight spent over 30 years crafting his mountain in ascetic conditions, and the result doesn't look, or feel, quite like anything else in the world.
I got a chance to meet Knight a few years ago. He would have been about 79 when I passed through the area, and at the time he was still spry. He gave my friend and I (plus a prayerful full-leather biker and a group of wayward crust punks) a tour of the Mountain, pointing out sections that had been fabricated from old tires and rail ties, or else carved laboriously out of the rough ground. We brought him a bucket of hot pink paint because we'd heard it was customary to bring paint in exchange for his tour. He told us that his goal was to spread the love of God and that he was glad that his work was getting attention.
Knight has been written about as a visionary artist (an expansion on the term "self-taught artist", as many informally schooled artists have been called). His work falls in with that of painters Howard Finster and Bill Traylor, as well as with Memphis' own "Saint Paul's Spiritual Temple"—or Voodoo Village. Much outsider work (as it is also sometimes called) is spiritually-themed and highly colorful. But Knight's mountain is bigger and weirder and less salable than most outsider art, and so—even as it is the most visible piece in its genre—there are still concerns about its preservation.
Hopefully (and probably) Knight's work will meet a better fate than "Saint Paul's", which fell victim to vandalism and abandon after the 1960s. For now, if you're ever driving around in the desert south of Los Angeles, you can stop by and remember what Knight said about his work and faith in Into the Wild: "This is a love story that is staggering to everybody in the whole world."
Architecture is supposed to be the most accessible art form. As New York Times critic Allison Arieff wrote in 2012, "Architecture…carries a burden that the other arts don’t — it must reconcile aesthetics and ideas with user functionality. A painting or a novel need only please or provoke its audience; it doesn’t then also require setbacks, parking minimums and LEED certification." Buildings are everywhere. Not everyone collects oil paintings, but everyone uses buildings.
Arieff's op-ed ("Why Don't We Read About Architecture?") goes onto criticize writers for using words like "demassification" and "attitudinally" to describe architecture. These words are inaccessible for the majority of people (who, assumably, didn't have four+ years of theory education at the College of Their Choice.) Instead, she suggests writers use clean, simple, action-driven language to describe the functional arts.
But what to do when the architecture is not functional or accessible? Or, in the case of "Protoplastic," Igor Siddiqui's recently-opened exhibition at TOPS Gallery, when an architect has architected…well, art?
Siddiqui, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, is a Yale-educated architect and the principal of Isssstudio, an architecture and design firm responsible for projects like "Mas Moss" (a curtain made from soy-dyed biodegradable cable and ball moss) and Ceramic Tesssseltile (an irregularly shaped tesselating tile that "produces the greatest degree of variation when multiplied across the larger field.") His design work is mathy and techy and Green, and the online descriptions of his projects throw around terms like "morphogenesis."
"Protoplastic" can be understood as a flexing of the same design muscles that shoulder the architect's professional work. The installation, designed particularly for TOPS, involves custom acrylic moulds and biodegradable reliefs. Sheets of bright-white plastic are impressed with radial patterns of lines. The sheets are arranged in a free-standing pattern around the space. In the small basement gallery, the viewer could conceivably feel as if she were in the middle of a large, elegantly executed rodent maze.
It is difficult to confess. Confessions can be genuine, but the "confessional" is a codified genre, with all the perks and failings of a genre. Starting with St. Augustine and perhaps continuing to James Frey, the confessional has seen some high and low points.
Chris Miner, the video artist and director of Crosstown Arts, knows this well. The artist's latest show, "The Gospel According to a Young American" is a comprehensive retrospective of almost 15 years of video art. Over 40 videos, broadcast on 20 boxy televisions, comprise a record of Miner's confessions— about marriage, faith and understanding. The pieces vacillate between Miner's raw, un-ironic self-professions and deftly ironized portraits of his surroundings.
At its best, the work is both on-its-knees and conscious of that well-worn pose. At its weakest, (and, perhaps, in the most genuinely vulnerable pieces, such as when Miner critiques his Mississippi heritage) the work seems to not know to whom it is addressed: God? Fellow men? The artist himself?
The exhibition, open through February 15th at Rhodes' Clough-Hanson Gallery, is loosely arranged like a church: pew-length tables and TVs are arranged in wings around the gallery, while a single alter-like television sits centrally in space. There is a small side-gallery with humble fabric benches and several televisions placed on low pedestals.
The televisions loop Miner's grainy clips, all shot on a camera and in a style that the digital generation has dubbed, reductively, 'VHS.' Miner favors a slow pace— single frames with minimal action, shots of old photographs, or frames of an unmoving landscape. If there is action in the shots, it is only to show the minuteness of human movement in an otherwise unerring stillness.