It’s easy to take a jaded stance on the two exhibitions running concurrently at the Center for Contemporary Arts. They are logistically separate, with Clayton Porter’s solo exhibition, Noxious Empire, on display in the Spector Ripps Project Space and David Leigh and Ben Meisner’s collaboration, Red in Particular, sprawling through the Muñoz Waxman Gallery.
The exhibitions also are quite different from one another, with Porter producing primarily big, figurative paintings while Leigh and Meisner offer a large-scale, sculptural investigation of color and transparency. Porter paints monsters. The downstairs duo demonstrates form, surface and plane. Porter’s work is graphic, with bold lines against flat colors. Leigh and Meisner have assembled colored, often transparent, panels in relational configurations. Often the panels are bent in a horizontal arc and supported by 2-by-4-inch pine armatures.
The jaded view would be that the wood-supported arcs are void of any essential or gripping meaning. Now, add in that the paintings in Porter’s show are overly stylized. The result is that Porter’s work should be on skateboard decks instead of walls and Leigh and Meisner’s constructions ought to be upended into a position where they could be used as pretty good skate ramps.
Permit me to interrupt the logical flow here. My favorite splice of cultural production is, at the moment, a couple of lines from Chris Bachelder’s splendid book, Bear v. Shark:
Our culture’s information practices have just about done away with the concept of a non sequitur. In other words, we now fully expect things not to follow from other things, such that when things do not follow from other things, they seem to follow quite naturally from other things…the real non sequitur has perhaps become the sequitur, so to speak.
How does that follow, however naturally or unnaturally, when looking at these exhibitions?
In Porter’s exhibition—ostensibly representing our grossly consumerist culture with monstrous graphics—we ask whether there is or even should be a segregation between forms of imagery? What is the difference between comic books, TV commercials, T-shirts and art? If we are a media-literate, postmodern, post-Warhol society, is the notion that art contains more astute or valuable cultural criticism and insight than other cultural by-products an antiquated one? If so, are the traditional roles of the museum, the gallery and the non-commercial art spaces in need of as much revision and realignment as music and video production and distribution systems? If the answer is yes, are there losses or other implications involved?
These questions are perhaps best answered on individual levels but, for myself, I find that they demand hard introspection from artists.
Porter, who is a very talented artist and has frequently made biting, insightful work, is branding himself under the pretense of criticizing the apparatus that has led us into a culture predicated on frenzied branding. His embrace of the prevailing pop aesthetic is no more assailable than artists who still imagine themselves safe in an ivory tower of cultural value, but nor is it more effective. In the case of Noxious Empire, Porter’s reliance on his skill and his pat iconography is a self-defeating tactic. No doubt he worked hard on the exhibition, but he still has taken the easy way out. We may not live in a culture that expects more from him, but he could consider raising his own expectations.
Leigh and Meisner’s project is more difficult to parse. It is less accessible, less cool, than Porter’s gripping graphics. It will leave many people cold. It will leave many people wondering about the effect of scale—would we consider it so seriously if it were a small, first-year art-school studio project meant to prove an understanding of color? Why is bigger sometimes better, even without a corresponding leap in content or quality or execution?
Far better in an empty room than in the questionable surrounds of an opening reception, the works do manifest a quiet, purposeful presence. They emulate form, color and texture that push the well-greased buttons of commercial design and contemporary aestheticism (and this is unmitigated by the modest pine, which is now more sequitur than non: the expected gambit) but also have an honest nonsense that truly is an unexpected interruption of the visual status quo.
Red in Particular also questions our propensity for categorization between visual mediums but ultimately does so more absurdly and with a sneaky, almost repulsive profundity. Is it a gimmicky, art-nerd exercise with unforeseen attributes or a high-concept installation effort that finds some traction despite its loftiness?
Either way, both exhibitions ultimately remind us that the responsibility for art’s meaning and value lies with the viewer more than with the artist.
The advice written between the lines in both exhibitions is this: Stop thinking about looking at “art” and just look.
RED IN PARTICULAR
Through Dec. 28
Through Jan. 4, 2009
1050 Old Pecos Trail