Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"NOT THE WAY YOU REMEMBERED" at the Queens Museum of Art

Installation view of "NOT THE WAY YOU REMEMBERED," curated by Jamillah James, at the Queens Museum of Art, Queens, New York. Photos: 16 Miles [more]

When you next visit the Queens Museum of Art, head straight to the second floor. If you have some time to spare, take the ramp that steadily rises up and around the Panorama of the City of New York, as I did on Sunday afternoon, arriving to find a reception filled with artists and their supporters enjoying a majestic aerial view of "NOT THE WAY YOU REMEMBERED," a 16-artist exhibition curated by QMA fellow Jamillah James on the first floor. Even without that crowd, it is a thrilling place to begin. You can spot one of Brendan Fowler's multi-frame works from up there, all fluorescent pink flowers and lush green leaves, and a shelf of Jean Shin's altered trophies. There are more mysterious works, too: an empty display case, a pedestal bearing a dirt–covered shirt, and a collage assembled with just a handful of clippings, all things you will immediately want to see up close.

Left to right: Jean Shin, Altered Trophies (Everyday Monuments), 2009. Altered trophies, painted and cast resin. Dave Murray, 85% of the Art I Made Turned into a Diamond. 0.29-carat diamond. Brendan Fowler, Fall 2009 (2 Screen Flower Print, Flowers on Walk With Andrea/Terry/Cindy 1, Flowers on Walk With Andrea/Terry/Cindy 2, Flowers in Terry/Cindy's Garden 1), 2009. Digital C-prints, silkscreen ink and enamel on paper, frames, and Plexiglas.

Brendan Fowler, Fall 2009 (2 Screen Flower Print, Flowers on Walk With Andrea/Terry/Cindy 1, Flowers on Walk With Andrea/Terry/Cindy 2, Flowers in Terry/Cindy's Garden 1), 2009. Digital C-prints, silkscreen ink and enamel on paper, frames, and Plexiglas.

A wall of photographs greets you down below, an installation of Jason Lazarus's Too Hard to Keep Archive (2010–), which consists of images that fit the work's title, donated by people in the process of purging. (This is an increasingly rare privilege, as whole lives are archived online, digital photos never quite going away.) There are photos of a woman with a black eye, people kissing, and landscapes. A whole wedding album sits high on a shelf. If, in Bas Jan Ader's I'm Too Sad to Tell You (1971), we watch the effects of private grief, we here see its myriad sources, though we're equally cut off from the details. Viewing these mute objects triggers our own associations, perhaps even our own pains, a process that recurs throughout the exhibition, which is filled with works that offer various glimpses of personal lives, though never complete confessions.

Installation view of Faten Kanaan, The Reader, 2011. Mixed media.

Detail view of Faten Kanaan, The Reader, 2011. Mixed media.

Zak Kitnick, The People Behind Our Products (Silver), 2009. Die-cut tin sheet, LDF, and other media.

That admixture of display and reticence is also present in Zak Kitnick's The People Behind Our Products (Silver), a row of three wall-hung white boxes, each fit with an aluminum radiator cover, which shields and obscures different types of product packaging, castoff material that takes on a sinister, eerie presence when blocked by the die-cut metal. Lauren Luloff's Striped also looks similarly uncomfortable and vaguely elegaic in this context. A red, white, and blue striped sheet wrapped messily around a green board, it is propped against a wall like an abject, abandoned record of a domestic dispute, some unknowable trauma. Luloff also has a piece on view at the Bronx River Art Center right now, a frame strung with wild bands of colored fabric: it is a raucous party, and this is the brutal morning after. Such fanciful readings aside, it is also a visual treat, a Buren come unhinged and folded in on itself. When I first read the checklist, I thought its title was Stripped. That would fit too.

Lauren Luloff, Striped, 2010. Bed sheet, acrylic, rabbit skin glue, and wood.

Bryan Zanisnik, video stills from Preserve, 2009. Two-channel video, 5 min., 15 sec.

Taylor Baldwin, Martyr Me a Little, 2008. Extinct heart pine1, white high-density polyethylene2, yellow HDPE3, black HDPE4, drywall screws5, fluorescent green acrylic6, fluorescent pink acrylic7, epoxy resin8, black resin dye9, aluminum10, brass screws11, paint mixing stick12, sticky wax13, graphite and colored pencil14 on newsprint15.

Wall label and footnotes for Taylor Baldwin, Martyr Me a Little, 2008.

Taylor Baldwin opts for extreme disclosure, or at least the appearance of it, in the wall placard that accompanies his intricate and finely polished assemblage Martyr Me a Little (2008). It lists, in a lengthy series of footnotes, the provenance for each of the materials he used to build the work. The black resin dye? "Bought from Woodcraft for too much money and felt guilty over." Those brass screws? " "Salvaged from the VDOT warehouse liquidation." The accumulated series becomes a kind of contemporary update of Richard Serra's Verb List Compilation (1967–68), with acquisition methods — given, retrieved, donated, traded, bought, found, bartered, swiped, salvaged, made from, stolen, borrowed — replacing actions. Of course, that surplus of information says nothing about the content of the skull–adorned monument. We are once again only given a sliver of a reveal.

Agathe Snow, Paper General, 2007. Mixed media assemblage.

The empty box you spotted from up above turns out to actually contain one tiny object when you inspect it more closely: a minute diamond forged from the cremated remains of Dave Murray's art. Its title is 85% of the Art I Made Turned into a Diamond, and it has the unique glory of twisting John Baldessari's famous cremation episode into something new, witty (it weighs in at a modest 0.29 carats), absurd (why only 85% of his work?), and laced with ambiguity (why do this at all?). Agathe Snow takes a more impersonal route, scavenging castoff materials from downtown Manhattan for her sculpture Paper General (2007), a slick black collared shirt and white paint mask caked with thick mud. Divorced from their original owners and combined in this new context, these objects become non-sites for Snow's neighborhood and free-floating signifiers for our own thoughts, our own memories.

Installation view of "NOT THE WAY YOU REMEMBERED"

On first reading, the title "NOT THE WAY YOU REMEMBERED" suggested to me the surprise one feels upon returning to a once-familiar place or being confronted by a once-familiar object: "That is not the way I remembered it being." But it could also denote a shift in the process of remembering, a rewiring of the way we process or access memory, a Barthesian prick, or even a loss of control: "I didn't want to remember that, I don't like to think about those things." There is that strange, spare collage still to see — a work by Amanda Ross-Ho, it turns out. She's affixed to a rectangle of Sheetrock a snapshot from Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, a photo of a wildly colored pillow, and a section of a page sliced from a party-supply catalogue. There is also a lone earring. What will you make of this?

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