Reconstruction 6.4 (2006)


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"Midwestern Unlike You and Me: New Zealand’s Julian Dashper" 6 August - 6 November, 2005, Sioux City Art Center, Sioux City, IA / Larry Taylor

 

Installation view of Untitled (1996), 2006.

 

<1> You might say that Julian Dashper has driven the final stake into the corpse of painting, even after its much-touted death. Is painting dead? Of course not. But the idea of "painting" thankfully is in so much as it continues to be sufficiently challenged. And although Mr. Dashper states that painting’s death is "not his dialogue," this artist has effectively aimed to fire the last Warholian shot.

<2> "Midwestern Unlike You and Me" clearly positions the artist within a neo-conceptualist idiom. Conceptual art, the nomenclature so unusually apt, values the idea versus the visual, and theory--particularly linguistic (à la Derrida or Baudrillard)--overrides any concern whatsoever for beauty, artistry, or visual anything for that matter. While conceptual art can be refreshingly intellectual in an art world necessarily concerned with the way things look, it can also be painfully cerebral. (It could be argued that the original movement of the late-1960s, though much of it profound, eventually caved in on its own abstruseness--not to mention the torturous austerity of some "works of art.") Thus, the neo-conceptual artist has a two-fold task in order to stay afloat: yes, idea first and foremost, but don’t forget the visual, silly. (If the object need not be made--i.e., its genius residing in the concept only--what need do we have to experience it?) Also, as the more philosophical strains of conceptual art have largely been teased-out already, what has become principally at stake now is the re-engagement of an artist-viewer dialogue.

<3> Mr. Dashper seems to have begun plotting his way out of many of these trappings by changing the terms. For one, he works from remote locations: Sioux City, Iowa is just off of about everyone’s map, even in an era of MapQuest. Perhaps that, ironically, makes it the place to begin reasserting some concept muscle: less hampered by the standard coastal baggage, such a locale offers its artistic self tabula rasa. The title for the exhibition refers in part to the artist’s welcome refusal to sell an artistic brand based upon location (i.e., NYC, LA, Berlin, etc.).[1] Instead, Mr. Dashper has set up camp in his native New Zealand--equally off of your average atlas--and supposedly not entirely unlike the American Midwest. The latter has long been considered the last bastion of cultural purity in an age of transnational isms (global, post and/or anti).[2] Presumably we just have to temporarily forget Iowa as landlocked in the middle of American cow country and New Zealand as two islands situated in the South Pacific.

 

Blue Circles(1-8), 2002-2003

 

<4> A first peek inside the Art Center reveals, at least initially, very little. Rather than painted canvases there are the backsides of bare frames, display cases featuring "reviews" and ads Dashper himself placed in Artforum (one a full-page mimic of the cover of that art standard, cheekily entitled Artfrom), and a most curious-looking drum set. Strangely, the vast majority of the gallery is not "used." Such a wide-open space recalls the sparsely populated, vastly horizontal landscape found throughout the Middle West. One is forced to traverse this barrenness to get to the other side.

<5> Perhaps the emptiness is a corollary to the near-silent sounds that can be heard on the headphone set located in a far corner, itself not an educational device but an audio art piece, Buzz. The set features recordings Mr. Dashper made while in front of Australia’s key claim to modernist integrity, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 (National Gallery, Melbourne). What is heard are the sounds of viewers approaching the large canvas in its down-under home. But what may sound like a mistake--sniffles, silence, pitter-patters of feet--is intended to act as institutional meditation: How does one quantify or qualify the experience of viewing art? Isn’t that encounter typically internal, individual, and silent? The contemplation turns into deconstruction (complement to Pollock’s original constructive actions?) as the batteries in Dashper’s recorder purportedly had run low, forcing sequentially shorter recordings for each blue pole. The corresponding albums (Blue Circles)--to be mounted just like a picture--are a hard-edged, nearly-transparent blue. They qualify as visual art that is also "functional" in so much as they can also be played. Is this a kind of conceptual balancing act between performance art and the performative?

<6> Another bizarrely striking scene, not usually allowed in the confines of the white museum cube, haunts the space nearby: nearly half of a quite lengthy wall is dedicated to the artist’s CV, printed in black ink on white paper and posted via modest (non-artistic) means, push-pins and all. Obviously such exhibitionism calls attention to the grossly crude practices that museums engage in: rarely are artists exhibited for their visual merits, even in this new post-structural, pluralistic, and assuredly more democratic century. The blare white pages, one after another, call attention to the fact that art-in-the-twenty-first-century is simply business-as-usual--copiers and all.

 

Untitled (The Warriors) , 1998

 

<7> Seriality and minimal form are also significant parts of this conceptualist’s taxonomy.[3] Not only do frames--sometimes bare, sometimes wrapped and stapled with canvas--hark back to Donald Judd and Eva Hesse-like "objects," but there are Lewittian echoes as well. Untitled (Slides) may be the cream of this crop. Like the CV, 35mm slides are here arranged in a way that they should not be. Indeed, these are an artist’s private parts, not to be exposed in public (covered from sensitive, believing eyes). They are plainly arranged in plastic sleeves and merely posted on the gallery wall. However, as the actual transparencies are rectangular (versus the square slide mount itself), Mr. Dashper has alternated their orientation such that they act as variations on a square. His Picasso and Duchamp well absorbed, the series functions equally as conceptual and/or visual; the Slides do not demand the unilateral mode that is often settled upon by so many cerebral artists (and/or critics). There must be actual images on the slide film, but absent the necessary light the viewer’s best efforts to see the detail is thwarted. Further, something once "behind the scenes" has been de-mystified and yet at the same time made into a positive (whereas the overriding tendency in concept art to deconstruct often means resting at the former).

<8> Truly the pièce de résistance, though, is the untitled drum set. It, too, is preposterously out of place for an art museum. Thus it has all the more psychic gravity. One is attracted to it not only for its wonderful colors and connotation of "play," but also because it is the sole sculptural item in the retrospective. It is a functional item that has not been taken out of its functional mode, however (cf. Fountain and other readymades). A scuff mark on the base drum states categorically that this cannot be fine art, even given the location: it gets used. The drumheads are altered, however, and display colorful concentric circles (a delightful similarity to yet another series of mounted albums). The viewer might be prompted to think of Johnsian targets, appropriated, filtered, recycled, and reignited--doubly ironical two-dimensional determinations of form, squared. Visual rhythm gets a new take. Perhaps there is even a violent undertone in the potential hitting and banging--even a wearing out of such art. Relatedly, "real" drumheads hang on the wall, absent their auditory center. Their presence is heightened and complicated as juxtaposed to the nearby empty picture frames; both are untitled.

9> Upon leaving the gallery the only other notable sights or sounds were those distracting, excruciating frustrations on the part of one gallery-goer. (If modernism falls in a corn field does anyone hear it?) Perhaps Mr. Dashper’s point is thereby somewhat self-reflexively illustrated: for all of modernism’s theoretical splendor, many of its lofty incantations do not always translate in a land that is still, however slightly, Midwestern. So that viewer didn’t get it. Perhaps even an illustration would not have helped. Yet, in all fairness, there are places were Dashper’s art flies a little high. We are once again reminded of the perils associated with conceptualist visual practice. Nevertheless, good art never panders and is content to provoke some static, if necessary.[4] The bottom line from Sioux City (via New Zealand) is that this artist is not making art simply on the basis of the predictable reaction to the acceptable theory, but also of his own eccentric accord. What is exemplified by this particular case study is that if one does not stop at the theoretical or at critique of critique, there may just be something for us to see . . . maybe even to hear.

 

Artfrom , 1992
(Advertisement published by the artist in Artforum 30:5 (January 1992): 52)

 

Notes

[1] Numerous contemporary artists have adopted New York City P.O. boxes in order to still be referred to under the fashionable category of " New York based artist." While one cannot deny the rising cost of living or the lack of quality space in such markets, one cannot help but wonder if it is actually the city that ultimately determines the value of the art. [^]

[2] The retrospective debuted in Sioux City where it was co-curated by Christopher Cook of the Art Center and David Raskin of the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. As the exhibition then traveled to the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita, Kansas, one could say that, in addition to the content, the affair was thoroughly Midwestern. Furthermore, one of Dashper’s audio recording pieces, Leaving Nebraska, is stridently Midwest. [^]

[3] While minimalism, hard-edge and conceptual art are often conflated in the popular lexicon, they arose as three very distinct, self-conscious movements. The work in question suggests a unique amalgamation of the historical movements, mindful of the original differences. [^]

[4] Still another problem arises when there is only static: call such sensational examples "static for static’s sake." [^]



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