The Way Art Should Work

The Way Art Should Work

Artist/curator and White Columns director Matthew Higgs captures the communal nature of artists relating to each other in an exhibition that includes 15 pairs of artists and 30 traded artworks reunited after their mutually bartered exchange.

The pairings reveal a compelling visual discourse between artists. And it is this visual dialogue that drives the constant flux of ideas and visual crosscurrents from generation to generation and across cultures and economies. Unfortunately, that visual dialogue is often overshadowed by the academic banter of curators and critics alike. Thankfully, Higgs kept it simple and wrote a brief statement that allows the artworks to speak for themselves. Some pairs are more complementary than others, but that factor seems to be less important than the act of trading, of artists talking to artists and looking at each other’s art.

Artist pairs that really stand out in the exhibition include works by Carter and Ruth Root. Carter and Root are two very different artists whose pairing captures the complementary visual and emotive aims that Higgs has in mind. Carter’s photographic collage includes a pair of eyes staring out from a wall adjacent to an intercom. The work is jarring in the way it overlays a surrealistic psychology on the mundane, much like a Robert Gober sculpture has the ability to undermine the average in unexpected ways. Root’s work contains an equally disturbing pair of eyes, staring out from a geometric patchwork of color. The two works together share a memorable visual and psychological relationship.

The pairing of artists Arne Svenson and AA Bronson is also a high point in the exhibition. Svenson’s mug shot-style black and white photograph of Bronson and his boy friend Mark contain a sense of visual calm. Bronson’s frenetic color photograph “Felix,” taken of Felix Partz moments after he died from AIDS, is a powerful and emotionally charged personal history. These images have an extraordinary tension between them and each within its own visual and narrative content as well. Bronson’s assertive color and decorative quality overpower the crushing loss captured in the subject matter. Svenson’s cool, calm black and white photograph captures a Zen quality in its subjects.

According to Bronson, his trade with Svenson was completed in “…. an accidental sort of way. Arne Svenson happened to mention that if he ever owned a piece by me, he would want it to be the portrait of Felix… so I gave him one. Next thing I knew, he asked if he could take portraits of me and my boyfriend Mark… and then he gave us copies. There’s a nice generosity of spirit between us that I really value.”

Trade captures the generosity of spirit so essential to the emotive barter economies between artists and the cultures in which they operate.

The exhibition includes works by Rita Ackermann, Michael Ashkin, Michael Bidlo, Jesse Bransford, AA Bronson, Carter, Jennifer Cohen, Roe Ethridge, Rainer Ganahl, General Idea, Kim Gordon, Erik Hanson, Gareth James, Jane Kaplowitz, Deborah Kass, Richard Kern, Jutta Koether, Cary Leibowitz, Judy Linn, Nate Lowman, Adam McEwen, Aleksandra Mir, Dave Muller, Thomas Nozkowski, Rob Pruitt, Walter Robinson, Ruth Root, Martha Rosler and Arne Svenson.