Thursday, June 17

More Interesting than Words: Rodney Graham Light Boxes

Via, Art Observed: 303 Gallery in NY has Rodney Graham's light box photo's on display. Photographs in light boxes are akin to viewing them on a computer screen. They are both interesting and viable ways of exhibiting but really make the image appear entirely different. A light box has that illuminated glow. Graham's images would not appear as ghostly as they do if they were printed.

The instantly recognizable cliche of the Old West has made itself very ordinary by now and works the best.Then once the viewer is sucked in, there are strange manipulations happening. However, I always am weary of justification of work through lots of art historical references. Or as the press release says:
Graham recreates a staging of a piece from 14th century avant garde, as performed by musicians of the mid-1970s. The concert Graham is ostensibly recreating is a recreation itself, a historical reconstruction that betrays the stylistic bias of the period it hopes to evoke. Graham implicates himself as part of the arc of history, as he dons the clothes of the present-day man acting as the 70s man acting as the 14th century man. The surfeit of stimuli which contribute to a picture of antiquity are taken to their logical extreme, with Graham subjected to all the implications of their romance and projection, abetted by his own whimsical tinkering.
Or even less articulate, and more revealing of some over-reaching of meaning, Art Observed's wording:
Each work encapsulates a disconnection from the very object it is depicting, thereby questioning the status of the object.The series of disconnections almost seem never-ending: presented are the lightboxes, which present a scene, that presents an archetype as it has been shaped by its medium (theater, dance, etc), that in turn (as is its nature) is a symbol for the events it seeks to unify.  This cycle, adapted for the show, has the show’s artist throughout: Graham inserts his own figure in each of the lightboxes. In other words, the displacement of lightbox, scene, and archetype from the singular experience it represents ask a series of questions. Where is the object, Graham asks, and where is the artist?
All of this is well understood, but I hesitate to use this as reasoning for the work. I completely understand the importance for artists to be art historically educated and aware of their context. But when we view the work, do we gravitate towards it because the musicians are from the 1970's? Would we ever even know the artist is in some of these images unless we were in with his camp? In such an example as Graham's press release, I wonder if the words are compensating for what good 'ol composition and technique does on it's own.

Instead, the press release or artist statement is more something I would expect after-the-fact, used to contextualize or criticize. Maybe I'm just operating in my pre-Emering Artist mindset. And maybe, this is the sort of thing that accompanies your work when you've already got a market hankering for it (and I also recognize I am taking this all in as a whole: the reporting of the exhibit and the imagery together). But I recognize alot of today's work being accompanied by complex reasons and clubby-art references.

I agree with the context provided by the press release. But sometimes I wish there was some breathing room or mystery when work is first introduced. I think there are alot of complexities to making even the simplest work. But not all of those complexities have words and they shouldn't require immediate compensatory contextualizing.

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