Thursday, January 21, 2010

a review from Rocky Horton's new art blog nashville critical

A review from Rocky Horton's new art blog nashville critical
January exhibtions at Twist 58 and Rymer

Filed under: Uncategorized — nashvillecritical @ 2:41 am
The (relatively) new Twist 58, the Twist art gallery’s project space, is the most interesting art gallery in downtown Nashville. Outside the university/college system, it is one of the only venues showcasing difficult, challenging, or “unsalable” works of art. It is not fearful of installation art, a virtual pariah at the more established galleries (with deference to what I think may have been an attempt at installation by the Rymer gallery, which amounted to an enigmatic, unlabeled pile of red dirt in the corner of the upstairs gallery). And, thus far, Twist 58 has shown itself to be an open space for experimentation and imagination.
Currently, Twist 58 is hosting three shows of varying degrees of success: Duncan McDaniel in the rear room, Matthew Christy, and squeezed into a small closet area in the back, Patrick Vagrant.
Knowing very little of Patrick Vagrant’s work, one may have difficulty noticing it. Apart from the video work displayed to passersby on an exterior window, the work is unassuming. This lack of immediate notability is partly due to the cramped closet space it occupies through a door in the front gallery and it’s meager use of slyly modified materials. In an art community that is defined by overstocked galleries and ostentatious artworks, Vagrant’s work offers an intriguing alternative.
The entirety of the exhibition consists of the aforementioned video work, a few clamp lamps (one aiming unnecessarily at a junction box… not a part of the work, but confusing nonetheless), two tape recorders, and a Gideon’s hotel Bible.
All of these works have the common quality of a slow reveal. Somewhat unique in Nashville, these works do their work unhurriedly and without pretention. The piece entitled, “I am a strange loop”, consists of two vintage tape recorders (are there any other kinds?) lying close together emitting a high-pitched whine. Only after some investigation does one realize that the recorders have been simply wired together, receiving each other’s output and in effect, playing each other.

"I am a strange loop" by Patrick Vagrant
This kind of subtle play on expectations is Vagrant’s greatest strength. Akin to artists like Robert Gober, Vagrant’s work refuses to reveal or explain itself fully. “I am a strange loop” requires the viewer to linger and to contemplate. This is no small task in a seemingly urgent, lightning-fast, information-saturated age. And, in this respect, Vagrants work does what all good artwork should do–give the viewer pause.

"there is nothing outside the text" by Patrick Vagrant
In, “There is nothing Outside the Text”, Vagrant has subtly re-crafted a Gideon’s hotel Bible so it is bound on both sides. Again, placed seemingly inattentively on a shelf, this work dares to be dismissed as just another object in the room. The Bible is dirty and slightly damaged. By binding both sides, Vagrant offers a solid critique of the limits of the Biblical text by its inherent metaphorical boundedness, its refusal to be open for interpretation and its occupation as the property and proprietor of a limited worldview. However, it also carries with it a Wittgensteinian understanding of a mistrust of text. It is a simple poetic work on the limits of text, the limits of hermeneutics, and the limits of human understanding, religious or otherwise.
In stark contrast to Vagrant’s work at Twist 58, the Rymer gallery has offered a staggering amount of simultaneous works on display. Apparently, the gallery has a unique understanding of how to consider works of art. A kind of “more is more” approach that is disruptive to any type of contemplative viewing of the pieces. This type of display–more flea market than art gallery–infers a lack of understanding of the importance of each piece, reducing them to pure commodity. If it weren’t for the exemplary work of a few of its artists, the Rymer gallery’s arrangement could be interpreted as an attempt to disguise a lack of quality by distracting the viewer with sheer volume.

detail of Clary work at Rymer
Finding its way to the front of the crowd, the work of Charles Clary is perennially interesting. His work consists of cut paper layered to resemble geological striations or molecular forms. These works are well-crafted and coolly designed. They are not particularly original reflections on new trends in landscape painting. Nonetheless, Clary’s works are often exploratory, manifesting in frameless installations of the stacked cut-outs, reversing the perforation of the traditional surface to boundless relief maps of pure color and organic form. Clary’s works at the Rymer gallery are a welcome respite from the cacophony of works on display.
In the most recent offerings, Clary has made an attempt to inject some sense of play or fantasy into the otherwise reserved aesthetic. Regrettably, this is a misstep. Hidden in formerly serene punctures of the surface, Clary has begun including small pencil renderings of science fiction style towers, or buildings. It is unwelcomed and an absolute destruction of the former seriousness and sublimity of the works. Perhaps the inclusion of a more playful hand would be appropriate to push beyond works that are tiring to create and are lacking progression. However, simply placing drawings of confounding subject matter reduces the work to illustrations of sci-fi fantasy lands. Like the Rymer gallery’s all or nothing display style, this choice shows an unexpected lack of restraint and discernment. It is an unfortunate blunder.