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Thursday 08.09.07

« 2nd Annual ACVC Exhibition | Main | Talking About Art »

Me, you and everyone else we know is a ventriloquist at Small a

Michael Zahn's Then We Came To The End (2007)

WARNING this show at Small a projects is the product of a novel curatorial idea, something which viewers should always be suspicious of. In this case "Me, you, you. a ventriloquy" presents artists that treat their aesthetics and materials somewhat like a ventriloquists' dummy. I take that to mean they are essentially animating the dead skins of art weve already seen before, while giving it a different voice.

Weird but cool. Sure it is full of pitfalls but I highly recommend this show of aesthetic sock puppets. (Note the gallery doesn't have regular hours this month but you can call ahead 503 234-7993 and set a time (show runs through August)… no doubt gallerist Laurel Gitlen will often be there taking care of details for the Affair @ the Jupiter hotel art fair Sept 14-16).

Now for the art:

On paper Michael Zahn is an inspired curatorial choice and his installation references Peter Halley, Donald Judd, clutter and Office Depot supplies.

I'm a big fan of Michael Zahn's earlier work, which deconstructs and skewers minimalism. Still the needless inclusion of brown boxes and trompe-l'oeil post it notes in "Then We Came The End" is a weak hedging move. It's a simple, "look where minimalism went" joke which seems tailor made to amuse the ever present but not anywhere near as good as Tom Friedman wannabe witty simulacra crowd? Still this "prop comic" art fits the curatorial argument of speaking through another artist's style. So yes it's witty quotidian curator porn that would have worked better had it been less cutesy.

(R) Jesse Willenbring's Interior, (L) Amanda Ross Ho's Dot Matrix Suite

Better work was Jesse Willenbring's "Interior." The inclusion of a painted magazine with the wall painting reminded me of those home décor magazines and paint samples. The ventriloquism really comes through as the magazine interior and gallery wall both seem to have hired Martin Kippenberger as their design consultant. Of course he's dead, so they've turned his style into a zombie aesthetic (something Kippenberger had already done). Willenbring may not change the art world but it's a sensibility I see rarely in Portland, except when Ed Cauduro and Paige Powell loan their Basquiat paintings to the Portland art museum.

Jennifer West's Drunk Film with Language

The best work here was Jennifer West's Drunk Film with Language video. Dizzyingly messy, West outdoes all the other artists here for witty insider jokes without the apologies. In fact, the work is "drunk" on itself. Wanna find out what happens when a cocktail becomes conscious while being held in the hands of a wobbly partygoer? Watch this and find out. Sufficiently disorienting stuff! The fact that it references inebriation, minimalism and abstract expressionism is pretty accurate, both literally and as a metaphor of style being addicted to itself.

Carter Mull's Decollage simply reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg's weakest later print works (this uses an inkjet printer). It isn't bad, I just don't see the point when there are good Rauschenberg prints still available. I much prefer Mull's edgier detritus work with glass, salt etc.

Similarly, Amanda Ross Ho's Dot Matrix Suite, made up of Xeroxes as well as paint and the cheap Styrofoam cups, etc. presents an interesting take on replication as a form of ventriloquism. Not as succinct as Philip Taaffe or Rauschenberg's combines and silk-screens it still fits the theme.

My biggest problem with this work is it seems to require the cluster of activity to have any effect, and even then an artist like Jessica Stockholder or Rauschenberg can do more with less, in fact they can do more with more too. Everything seems too hemmed in; a series of slightly different works that hedge against one another's individual insecurity for collective security. Look, I'm not going to massacre this wagon train of ideas… it is simply the type of scatter trash art one sees a lot of these days. It isn't terrible, just uninspired. It lacks the tension and tuned pragmatism one finds in Isa Genzken, Jason Rhoades and Stockholder's work, there is talent here but it really needs to distinguish itself somehow.

Sometimes the art going experience isn't about being completely satisfied, sometimes it is about being provoked and maybe a little bit underwhelmed. "Me, you, you. a ventriloquy" delivers the goods with West and Willenbring's work and asks some nagging questions about artists today with the others.

Just like a ventriloquists act the twilight-zone like suspicions and disbelief add to the effect and that's where the curatorial premise brings it all together. It's the kind of show you can only get away with once a year (usually in the summer) but you should see it.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 09, 2007 at 10:35 | Comments (5)



every comic act needs a boorish drunken heckler

your splendid impersonation of one is commendable



Posted by: mike_zahn!!!! [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 10, 2007 10:34 AM

thanks Mike... love your early work (seriously)

great artists like Judd and dern good artists like Halley need their hecklers too... and your shtick is equally commendable. It keeps drunken bores like myself distracted from the really important topics like oil company profits.


Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 10, 2007 10:48 AM


at least your priorities are in order

so now i think i'll grab a cool one myself

Posted by: mike_zahn!!!! [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 10, 2007 11:28 AM

Yes, Rauschenberg was also the name in my head upon leaving this exhibition. It seems his influence endures in another generation of artists, which is both baffling and exciting to me. The unresolved question is 'what can you add' to the combine technique?

I would argue that Stockholder carved out a huge territory of her own by exploding into installation space and through her superior nuanced eye for color and form. I don't see any of these artists making such radical evolutions, and I found Mull's work the least compelling. I was most interested in Mr. Zahn's work(which I was not familiar with before), because of the Stockholder-esque color tricks and its version of minimalism that seems to both parody and usurp the post-IKEA commercialization of the original (earnestly spiritual) movement.

Although I was ultimately underwhelmed with the exhibition (and perplexed by the accompanying art-jargon-car-wreck press release-maybe that was the point?), I appreciated its freshness. You wouldn't see something like that anywhere else in Portland.

Posted by: inexile [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 11, 2007 04:41 PM

I have been a big sucker for Mike Zahn's for quite come time now, but even I must admit there was a little too much going on in this piece. Too many histories of art making confusing me. However, it was still possibly my favorite piece out of the show. Something about the whole aesthetic grabbed me.

And yes, Jennifer West's piece was great, with an equally great, and suitable, title.

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 11, 2007 06:03 PM

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