Monday, April 19, 2010

Interview with Jeff Gauntt, Part II

Images: (top) John D. (Ivan Dombrowski) Graham, Two Sisters, 1944. Courtesy MoMA; (bottom) Louise Lawler, Still Life (Candle), 2003. Courtesy x-tra online.

This is the second part of our interview with Jeff Gauntt. Previous postings are below, as well as images of the installation and Jeff's statement on the CAC exhibition.

Jeff: Hey guys, I'm trying to decide where to begin, so I can jump into the conversation. I wrote a few lines last weekend, where I address my concern for how the installation would effect the art, so I'll go ahead and past it here just to get started, then I'll discuss some of other topics.

All along I was enthusiastically concerned about how the installation would potentially challenge the individual works. By forcing a different context not originally intended by the artists, I knew I was heading into dangerous territory. The major concern I was determined to avoid is that of when an artist installs a group show and simply co-opts the works into a new art piece which reflects the curator’s artist’s ego. One horrendous example I have of this is from the mid-90s, when MOMA had asked John Baldessari to curate a small show from the permanent collection. I always enjoy seeing this type of show, since I can finally see a few works, which are otherwise hidden in storage for eternity.

Just to say up front, I’m not a big Baldessari fan, although I appreciate his influence in art. He had installed the show in such a way, that the viewer could no longer see the works in any way outside of his own art. The show included a portrait of two sisters by John Graham, a phenomenal painting by an artist I’ve been influenced by. In the show, Baldessari had purposely kept the painting dark, with only a pinpoint of light creating a perfect circle around an eye in the
portrait. The only thing that could be seen in the dark was the single lit eye, which just pissed me off since I wanted to see that painting. Clearly, this lesson has stuck with me. I knew that through my non-standard installation, I would risk angering some of the artists who imagined their work in a clean white cube, but as Abby pointed out, I considered the awkwardness of the gallery space as another artwork which had to be considered. Also, I should say that there was one artist who kept reoccurring in my thoughts during the installation, which is Louise Lawler. I had the benefit of working with Louise for several years in the late 90s, when I was the archivist at Metro Pictures. Prior to meeting her, I considered her work interesting, but far too dry and formal. It was only after getting to know Louise that I discovered the range of humor, and subtlety in her work. It's unfortunate that there are very few photos online of her gallery/museum installations, since the placement of her work is so key to her exhibitions, and that was what kept reoccurring.

Marc: First off, how did you like karaoke at Ellis Island? What drove you to choose the song you did, and have you sung it in the past?

Jeff: It was great, but a little frightening since the crowd felt like it had the potential to get really rowdy. There were some serious people there, which made the evening more interesting than the usual drunken selection. Of course, I’ll never forget the old white dude just nailing Rapper’s Delight! He possibly did that better than the Sugarhill Gang ever did.

Yeah, I choose Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd, which I’d attempted once before. It’s funny, since I don’t really know the song that well, but I do identify with the lyrics. It just feels like a nice solid song to sing, in a range I can mostly handle, and I can sing it like I really feel it, which is most important. Being a Texas boy, I’m pretty obsessed with identities and stereotypes in southern culture, as well as notions of authenticity, so it fits right in. But that might just make me sound like a smarmy jerk, since I really do love and identify with that song.

[NOTE: This next paragraph arrived in a separate email]

While trying to find a few Lawler installation shots, I found this really nice essay. The author does a nice job of going beyond the usual Lawler summation of "critiquing the institution", and actually sees the poetry in her work. This is certainly what I respond to about her work, and that feels appropriate to what I was searching for in the installation.

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