Offal, Salon des Refusesby James Kalm
Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery
Arthur Danto in After the End of Art speaks of Postmodernism as the state in which art and its perception are beyond the "pale of art history." Now we have art that has been withdrawn from the pale, the garbage pails, of Williamsburg’s art galleries. Dumpster diving, or garbage gazing, till now was a device used by brash paparazzi, or sleazy private dicks to cull clandestine information not forthcoming in polite conversation.
Breuk Iversen and Jan McLaughlin’s "Offal, Salon des Refuses" is an exhibition that is part satire, with parodies of park signs, part urban archeology, with its sculptures fabricated from cast off junk, and part Dada-style provocation, as in they’re selling money at half price. They’ve even got a name for their movement, "Offalists." Additionally, they subject Williamsburg’s galleries to the focus of sarcastic scrutiny, while also paying them homage. By selecting these establishments as subjects for archeological/anthropological study, Iversen and McLaughlin not only incorporate the galleries as players in the piece, they codify them in what is properly speaking a portrait of the Williamsburg art scene circa fall 2003. The most controversial piece in the show is a grid of eighteen panels, each two-by-two feet square. On the panels are small piles of trash sealed in resin which the artists, using covert means and undercover agents, harvested from the gallery’s trash cans over a two day period in October. Later, a photographer, also working covertly, returned with a cover story about free publicity, and took pictures (strangely cropped) of the gallerists or whoever happened to be tending the spaces. The resulting "accumulation" amounts to a documentary style forensic portrayal of the galleries, and reveals perhaps more than one might want to know.
Isaac Newton nearly poisoned himself with toxic fumes trying to alloy the mythical "philosophers stone," the mythical substance that could render shit into gold. Dumb Isaac, Marcel Duchamp, and contemporary philosophers, through the manipulation of language and deconstructivism, have created a metaphorical equivalent. They did it without a whiff of heavy-metal vapor, though there is a reek, conceptually speaking, to much of the "artistic" gold their disciples proffer to the public. "Consumed" by David Shapiro at Jack the Pelican is an installation of two years worth of bottles, bags, and boxes, all neatly cleaned and stacked, as if in a small supermarket, representing everything the artist "consumed" since October 2001. Purportedly this installation presents an image of the artist through his selection of brand name products.
Comparatively speaking, though sharing similar sensibilities, Consumed presents a "time consuming," and minutely detailed record of an individual’s activities and habits, while Offal relates to a series of snapshots, taken on a specific day, in a particular season, and displays similarities or differences between the various locals.
Danto claims that another task of the observer of postmodernist art is to distinguish between the work of art and the "mere things" they may resemble. What magic is it then that can elevate disposal problems into the realm of "art"? This must be its artificiality. Art must be aware of itself as artifice and different from nature (mere things), and what could be more artifice than the image one might want to create of oneself or one’s establishment, particularly in the case of contemporary myth makers, the artists and galleries. Through the efficacy of advertising, the public has bought into the idea that we can create ourselves through the products we buy. These products are no longer the sustenance of life, but props that signal a composed identity to our community. Consumerism as artistic practice. Image is everything; we are what we shop.
JAMES KALM has written extensively on the Brooklyn art scene. In 2006 he began posting video reviews of local art exhibitions at his two YouTube channels that have generated over six million views.