Monday, March 19, 2012

Wade Guyton and Stephen Prina at Friedrich Petzel, Round 3

Installation view of Wade Guyton and Stephen Prina, at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, March 10, 2012.

They did it again.

On the evening of Saturday, March 10, a large crowd was gathered outside the Friedrich Petzel Gallery in Chelsea, and there appeared to be an opening reception taking place inside the smaller of its two spaces. Which was peculiar, since Stephen Prina's current show—his seventh with the gallery—was set to run through April 28.

Stephen Prina and Wade Guyton, at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, March 31, 2011. Photo: Petzel Gallery

Inside, Prina's exhibition had disappeared, replaced with four paintings and a poster. It seemed to be almost an exact replica of the show I saw on March 31, 2011, at the gallery and another show that took place February 5–27, 2010, there. This was the third in Wade Guyton and Stephen Prina's ongoing collaborative exhibitions. Here's an explanation I wrote of the project back in April, about the second show, which lasted for only that single day, March 31:
"Guyton fired up an inkjet print and then handed it off to Prina, who unloaded a can of spray paint in the upper-left corner, its contents streaking down to a puddle on the floor in a staging of his PUSH COMES TO LOVE (1999-). A third collaborator, designer and writer Joseph Logan, created the bright-green exhibition poster."
On Saturday night, Guyton's trademark canvases were the same bright, brilliant green as that nearly year-old poster—roughly the same color as nice, cheap mint ice cream. Admittedly, at the time, the reappearance of the green was pointed out to me by someone else. (In the first show, for the record, the poster was the same light pink color as the paintings in the second show: the poster in each case points forward to the next exhibition; it's a trailer for the next set of paintings.)

Wade Guyton and Stephen Prina, at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, February 5–27, 2010. Photo: Petzel Gallery

Last year, the various gestures (the one-day show, the almost exact replication of the material), however clever, felt insular and exclusionary to me: why even bother with an exhibition? In this third iteration, though, the whole enterprise became a great deal more interesting, like David Letterman repeating the same line again and again and again during a show—maybe varying the inflection slightly. It hits different each time, and it can become funnier and richer.

An artist at the reception likened the one-night-only exhibition to the projects that Louise Lawler and Sherrie Levine staged under the name A Picture Is No Substitute for Anything in the early 1980s, which usually took the form of brief, typically one night, exhibitions or events. Art historian Gwen Allen provided some background in her recent Artists' Magazines book:
"In addition to exhibiting their work in private lofts, they organized outings and social gatherings. They invited some people to the ballet on a Sunday afternoon; they served glasses of Dubonnet at the tiny painting studio of a deceased Russian émigré named Dmitri Merinoff… These events left little residue outside of invitations and memory traces, and occasional documents published in small-circulation artists' magazine[s]…"
For Levine, it was a way of creating a structure apart from the mainstream art industry:
"I think it was a way of distancing ourselves from the art world. In those days I didn't think the art world was the real world. Very naive, but attributable to our collective youth—a kind of Holden Caulfield hangover."
In contrast to the autarkic structures that Lawler and Levine were attempting to create, Guyton and Prina are, of course, working squarely within the art world, using a Chelsea gallery for their fleeting shows. They are established figures.

However, what art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau wrote of A Picture Is No Substitute for Anything holds true for the Prina/Guyton exhibitions: "The activities, events, and objects produced…collectively and individually functioned to foreground the mechanisms of cultural production, exhibition and reception." (It's a description that seems to anticipate the "transitive painting" that David Joselit identifies in his 2009 essay "Painting Beside Itself.")

Guyton/Prina's exhibitions may be insular and exclusionary—even a bit sinister—in its operation, but they succeeds precisely because of those attributes. (Yes, it helps that the paintings, especially these mint ones, are stunning.)

In terms of production, to follow Solomon-Godeau's formula, Guyton and Prina work as "unsynthetic" collaborators, as Michael Sanchez put it in Texte zur Kunst, performing their actions separately, like Basquiat and Warhol. (Prina apparently did his part in front of a small audience wearing gas masks, including Guyton, according to Scene & Herd, on Thursday evening—a sort of private, performative, very literal vernissage of the exhibition.) And they shorten the length of a show dramatically in this case, wedging it into the middle of another exhibition's run. (The previous two collaborative exhibitions took place in between Petzel shows.) The message is clear: a Guyton/Prina collaboration can break out at any moment, alighting at the gallery when one least suspects it, like a bug in a computer program that suddenly brings a system to a momentary, temporary halt.

The brutally short time frame carries very specific threats: you might missed the show because you're otherwise involved the evening it takes place, or perhaps even worse, you just might be out of the loop, not knowing it was going to happen at all. Some of the visitors on Saturday were told about the show by the gallery or the artists, while others found out second, third, or fourth hand. The project foregrounds and embodies the network by which ideas and rumors are spread in the art world. Friends tell friends. Word gets out. You hope you hear about it.

The Prina show has since been reinstalled just as it was before the Prina/Guyton show, but traces of the collaborative work remain. On the walls, paint is visible, leftover from Prina spraying the corner of the canvases and poster, and on the floors, pools of paint have accumulated after dripping down the length of the Guyton-printed canvases. Those pools and sprays of paint are indexical reminders of the one-night stand, and the fact that the Prina/Guyton paintings are gone, likely on their way to (very lucky) collectors right now. (The gallery even took some new installation shots of Prina's show that show the change.)

During the Guyton/Prina exhibition, posters like the one hanging on the wall in the show (sans spray paint) were given out for free to visitors. There was even a bounty of rubberbands to protect rolled posters as they were carted off. No doubt they are now hanging on quite a few walls in apartments and offices around the city—and around the world. (The opening took place a few yards from the Independent fair.) This time, the poster's background color was an intensely dark, almost black shade of purple. It's gorgeous. The paintings next year, one hopes, will measure up.

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