Joy found in Williamsburg

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Post by Brent Burket

Following Artblog’s tip I hopped the ever-aggravating G train Saturday afternoon to see the tiny but rambunctious show, Precious Moments, at Joymore in Williamsburg. I was rewarded for my trouble. In these days of praise for the likes of Jay Leno and President Dumbass it was about time somebody praised the god that has underwhelmed us: Mediocrity. All praise the moderately dark lord.

A photograph by Walead Beshty from his Dead Malls project kicks things off. Another excellent photograph of another bad plan. His piece is a nice contrast to the shiny and glowing altars and videos by Shana Moulton. Her hyper-giddy arrangements of new age paraphernalia and knick-knacks radiate a caustic and desperate vacuity. Having fun yet?

For a little relief there’s Brian Belott‘s photo albums of found photographs. It’s not a new idea, but to be quite frank I can’t get enough of this stuff. It’s the most Warholian thing this side of C-Span. Andy himself used to ask his drug store for pictures that people forgot to pick up. Lately found photographs have been showing up in coffee table books. There’s something wrong with that. Belott gets it right though. He places the photos in crappy albums that look like they were found in somebody else’s basement. Enshrining them in a format as careless as the pictures themselves gives all involved what they need most: Nothing. (top image is a different Belott book project shown at Canada Gallery. Thanks James Wagner for the image and information)

As much as I enjoyed Bellot’s work the real highlight of the show is Philadelphia artist Liz Rywelski. Oh, man. Deep and empty. Her idea is so good it would have killed even if the execution had fallen short. Not to worry. She nails it. Rywelski went to K-Marts around the country to have her portrait taken by the in-store Olan Mills photographers, using a $100 gift card to buy her wardrobe at the Big K. Sharing made-up stories about her life with the store staff she enlisted their help in choosing her “look”. By doing this Rywelski addresses the flattening of taste and culture with a sense of sadness, anger, and compassion. The void is not below us. It’s right here, in the middle. (image above and next two are Rywelski in the Olan Mills photos installed at Joymore)

In comparison to lesser artists mining a similar vein her deft touch reminds me of David Mamet‘s exquisitely brutal mirror in contrast with the ham-fisted finger-pointing of Neil LaBute. Like Mamet, Rywelski seems to be saying, “Pay attention. This is who we are, just in case you weren’t looking.” Also like Mamet, she doesn’t quite go so far as to ask, “Now what?” The viewer might walk down that dark hallway on their own, but they’ll do so without the bossy insistence of an artist god pushing them along.

This is where compassion enters the room. The image of the artist dressed in a business suit holding a beach ball is wicked and surreal, but it is also touching. I couldn’t help but think of the people who believed Rywelski’s story that day, how they made the decisions that led to this photo. Not every picture is this internally incongruent, but all the works draw the viewer in like that. How did we get here? This is not my beautiful wife.

Nope. Not at all. She’s at home taking pills; chasing the gauzy distance of the middle, far away from the edges of feeling, thought, and memory. These are the things that move us forward as a culture, and they’ve been bought and sold. The world isn’t going to end in fire or ice. It’s going to end in a store with low prices and bright lights. At least—thanks to this fine show—we’ll have pictures.

[Ed. note: Precious Moments was curated by Josh Kline aka Josh OS (see post and post). Kline often collaborates with Rywelski on projects — like the Apex Art project they did for the Mauritzio Couldn’t be Here show (they did a lecture for the Harrell Fletcher Come Together day]

–Brent Burket, artblog‘s New York correspondent, is a writer and art collector based in New York. Check out his blog Heart as Arena for more New York art commentary.

Tags

brian belott, features & interviews, joy, reviews, williamsburg

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