Sunday, August 2, 2015

11th Hour Review

Image Courtesy of the Joshua Edward Bennett
Joshua Edward Bennett, Ceniztanos 
Good Children, New Orleans

This show closes today. 

1. You have to see this work in person. Online it becomes graphic when in fact it is sculptural. The installation is impressive and part of the experience of the work.

2. This show is a total experience. The lighting and sound piece, the handmade sconces, aluminum string curtain, and benches lend the space the character of a chapel or meditation room without that quality feeling overwrought. Compared to the more developed art in the show, this is furniture and atmosphere that achieves its goal without over-reaching or detracting from the art.

3. The work itself consisted of walk-mounted pieces that were sculptural and sculptural pieces, which retained their two-dimensional roots. The wall-mounted pieces were made of wood and layered painted aluminum. Three chalices on pedestals with mirrored surfaces were built of stacks of cut rings. I could go on describing the work but the way I experienced it was immediate and not analytical. It was on a second pass that I began to try to decipher how they were made.

4. There are two works that incorporate the image of a chain, one large and one smaller. The larger was structurally admirable and very attractive. While evidently a serious endeavor to fabricate, it did not rise above high-end design. I found the chain motif both too empty and too loaded, not in sync with the rest of the show, but not opposing it in an interesting way. 

5. Is this Ayahuasca art? It’s true, there is something of the Western artist meets DMT-inspired spirituality. There is a piece in two parts that resembles an Inca totem character. The most fine-lined abstractions have a trip-on-this attraction. When the artist confirmed that he had spent time in South America (Peru) I was interested but not surprised. (I didn’t ask about Ayahuasca.) But the fabricated, machine-assisted geometry, the obvious labor and sober attention to each piece save these works from being woo-woo. There is influence without cultural pickpocketing.

6. These objects surpass psychedelia or abstract decoration, though they utilize the vocabulary of both. Some pieces were more optically complex and others more directly geometric. Their coexistence in the show made me think of how the brain, or more accurately consciousness, has different and polar modes: waking and sleeping, sensory and cerebral,  active and passive. In the end what I can say is that this work was expansive and visually intelligent. I am not sure if that will make sense without seeing the work. The artwork engages the viewer to the detriment of distraction. It promotes being in the moment, which is to say meditation, which is to say, the experience of art.

7. Titles. This is a touchy subject with me. I applaud this artist’s solution. I don’t want to write it here because I always look at the work without titles first and want to allow other viewers the same discovery. Suffice it to say that he went beyond Untitled, my default preference in a lot of cases.

8. Adam, thanks for the tip. Joshua Edward Bennett, thanks for the experience. What a cool homecoming. 


  1. ( ((mostly)) Unanswered) Questions:

    1. Does the mechanical production of the work, computer designed and machine cut, in anyway diminish the artistic achievement? (Once one sees how it’s done, the work can be repeated by others as compared to painting, for instance, where brushstroke can only be estimated when attempting to reproduce.)

    2. What Third Estate is created in combining progressive production technologies with mythologies, in simultaneously projecting technologically forward and thematically reaching back? (Makes me consider the Third Estate created in the fiction of Patrick Modiano, whose works take place in a present in which a character is revisiting a landscape of his/her past.)

    3. Though I’m moved by the “show”, more than appreciate Bennett’s intention to engage the spectator, not overcrowding the walls, remaining chaste to color and pattern themes, does his use of candlelight and music attempt to dictate a spectator’s experience much like a movie soundtrack attempts to condition mood?

    4. Do the chains offend because of the ease of spectator connection? A chain is far too simple to connect to emotionally and historically, where the power of the rest of the show resides in the elusivity of its symbols.

    5. Does the economy of colors (only black, artificial turquoise and red/orange) more conducive to making absolute statements? (As in the way black and white echoes polarities.)

    6. Are responses permitted in the Village Disco?

  2. St. Adam,
    Thank you for these fantastic questions.

    1. Although machines were used in the fabrication of this work, the artist is evident in the total realization of the work (not to mention the labor--although I hazard to guess that would be farmed out at a certain level of monetary success that allowed it to). It's true the "hand" of the artist is not present. Maybe that why even the most two-dimensional works read closer to sculpture than painting or drawing. I could not identify Jeff Koons's or Richard Serra's fingerprints but I know what they've made when I see it. Also, for me the impact of this work--and this was interesting about it--was located not in the work but in the space between the work and my retinae. The artist was not saying "Here I am," but "Here you go."

    2. (Flaunting my ignorance here,) I had to look up Third Estate. I'm still not quite sure what to do with this question but what you say about reaching forward and reaching back makes me ting about the present, but a slightly more vivid present, away of time stretching in both directions. I guess this goes back to the sense that this work is grasping for something spiritual, for lack of a better word.

    3. Yes, I think the elements I referred to as furniture and atmosphere (the sound piece) do direct the viewing experience. "Dictate" seems too strong. I don't like when theater is employed to doll up a show of unconvincing work. In this case I believe the work, the wall pieces and sculptures, were strong, not only as parts of an installation, but in and of themselves. After that I'm okay with a little mood music.

    4. I think you're right. The chains don't offend me but they unnecessarily bolster the language of abstraction which was doing so well on it's own.

    5. Hm. Absolute? I don't know. I saw cool and distance with the blue, warmth and advancing with the red, and the black? maybe that was space or abyss. Not that I read the colors as symbolic but now, a couple of days after the show, in hindsight, this is how the colors functioned for me.

    6. Of course! What good is a disco if the villagers don't dance?!

    1. (An Emoji for Dialectics) (pt.1)

      6. Within the group dynamic, the Disco encourages solo performance. John Travolta stands with legs astride, one arm pointing, while his partner looks admiringly on, unengaged. While the disco also encourages the line-dance and other partnered acts of synchronicity, it also anticipates break dancing. This forum, then, might have been very accurately and aptly named.

      5. In terms of the French Revolution, where the term “Third Estate” was first applied, the First Estate was Church, the Second Estate: State (or Aristocracy), the Third: Commoners, which revolutionaries wanted acknowledges as a state unto itself. I am not suggesting a proletariat reckoning here but the necessity that a third “place” be recognized. Using the example of (the also French) Patrick Modiano: by superimposing present over past, Modiano creates a yet-unseen literary locale. The revisited past is no longer concerned with the emotion or history or lessons of the past, nor strictly with the movements or gains of a present looking backwards, but with the possibility of a new environ created by laying one atop another, a place that did not exist previously and cannot exist on its own. The superimposition of (Bennett’s) technology and mythology suggests, to me, a new estate, a concern that “drawing” mythological symbols does not. Bennett’s power resides not (solely) in his symbols, or even his continued efforts to seek new symbols through layered geometry (though this is very cool), but by the incorporation of materials and process. Take the image at the top of this page. It’s vibrant, and its colors pop, but it does not achieve what his work realizes when laser cut, its lines not just lines but machine coordinates. For me, the incorporation of technology is what grants this work its own estate, built upon but rising above its first and second support columns.

      4. I love your use of “doll up” as it makes either a doll’s house of a gallery or a painted pantomime of an exhibition. We’re both in agreement that we applaud what Bennett achieved by making a chapel of gallery space, and that if his work could not stand on its own no atmospheric condition was going to buy-off the work itself. Nor am I against enhancing the atmospheric possibilities of exhibition. James Turrell requires not just darkened space, but enhanced space. The shape of the environs are as significant to appreciation as luminosity levels. I do not mind mood music, smoke machines (as Jane Cassidy well utilizes), whatever artifice, if artfully incorporated. But I cannot pretend they’re not artifice, and that they invite a sort of theatrical experience to viewing. Though my use of an aggressive verb might seem a bit totalitarian, it stands for the authority that enhancements have upon spectator viewing.

    2. (An Emoji for Dialectics) (pt. 2)

      3. Though the chains almost need no more said, I would (maybe) challenge the response that they bolster abstraction. The consequence of easy representation and association (a chain represents a link while also associating repression) seems almost anti-abstract. Though does resonate the argument of what constitutes abstraction. If abstraction is simply non-representational, then Bennet’s searching for new symbols should not be considered abstract. Yet if abstraction is the reduction of form to basic geometric designs, then the chain should stand-in as a perfectly rendered abstract form. Is it necessary whether we define these works as abstract or not?, decorative or not? Yes, of course we should disco dance these terms across the neon blinking threshing floor. Where if not here where the music’s groovy and someone might be offering mood-enhancing refreshments.

      2. Colors arise either instinctually or by choice, but once placed are real estate up for consideration. They can (should?) be considered emotionally, or harmonically, or politically, but serve, along with scale, materials, theme, etc., as maters of deliberation. Bennett’s minimal color scheme makes an impact. Colors unmixed and laid side-by-side with minimal division make visual impact. Bennett seeks and achieves a visual jolt, even if that jolt is not startling enough to take one out of the piece: he keeps us contained. But what besides visual impact does minimal color scheme make? All of his colors (even the metallic of his black) feel “unnatural” to me in that they are technologically created, not easily summoned in the animate world or from traditional painterly pigments. His pallet intentionally resonates the technological aspect of his work. While working within illusion and object, he also gives us the meta, shows the seams, invites deconstruction. Whether this was intentional or consequence, I won’t guess, but does resonate how color is never merely color.

      1. I totally agree with your assessment, and appreciate the example of Koons and Serra, the recognition of the artist’s hand in machine- or even readymade work. But I wanted to entertain the notion of someone who said to me, regarding Bennet: “Once I see the screws and fixtures and know I can reproduce it perfectly myself it’s sort of ruined for me.”

  3. Re. the Disco: Ha! Seriously, I am wishing there was some other space for a conversation. Like a VIP room.

    Chains: Right. I should have said the chains "unnecessarily bolster the language of non-representation."

    Regarding your friend who made the comment "Once I see the screws...": Ah the old my kid sister could do that comment. Sigh. There's one in every disco.

  4. Note: I meant some ADDITIONAL space--within this blog format.