Parker's Box | April 23 – May 2
It’s not for nothing that psychologists refer to the first four or five years of childhood as the formative years. In tandem with the development of motor skills and the ability to use language, a child cultivates a sense of self—the nascent stage of forming a personal identity. The same might be said for an art gallery. Those early years establish a foundation from which its character may emerge. Revisiting that history can be a revealing exercise, apt when birthdays come around.
This year Parker’s Box celebrates its tenth anniversary—no small feat for a Williamsburg gallery—with a three-part series of exhibitions commemorating the artists represented by the gallery over the last decade. Part I focuses on ten artists who showed work during the first five years. (Part II will look towards the second five years, again with a ten artist roster. Part III will expand to include a wider girth of artists selected from all over the ten-year program.)
In terms of materials, the work runs the gamut from installation to painting to photography to video to drawing. The artistic approaches are just as varied. Yet rather than a mash-up of diversity, the artworks seem responsive to one another. They stimulate a dialogue about imagination, the possibilities of transformation, and the desire to explore.
These qualities also happen to represent the highlights of childhood. Childhood, however, isn’t just sunny bliss, and in many of the works there is an undercurrent of critical acumen that punches through the dreamer’s naivete. Steven Brower’s scaled down spacesuit, “Unfinished Study for Conrad Carpenter’s Training Suit,” would fit a toddler. Conrad Carpenter, a fictitious character of Brower’s creation, was in the rotation for the Apollo Space Program. His little beige outfit would be an easy launch pad into the world of make-believe were it not for the unattached patch protruding from a cargo pocket that reads, “Obsolescence Apollo,” rendering the whole affair as outmoded as the Olympian deity himself.
In juxtaposition to Brower’s spacesuit tacked up on the wall, a large color photograph by Mike Rogers called “TP” turns the conversation in another direction. It is an image of a teepee (too slender to really be inhabitable) floating on a lake near Thomas Paine's home, which resembles nothing more than a typical suburban neighborhood. The teepee is constructed out of pages from the Wall Street Journal. It looks like the sort of thing a crafty parent would build for a child to play Cowboys and Indians. The elements—WSJ, teepee—recall Paine’s pamphlet on agrarian justice in which he noted that poverty is absent among indigenous tribes, that it is rather a phenomenon created by civilized life. Again the rug is pulled out from under the realm of fantasy to expose the critical insight of a founding father.
Other work in the exhibition picks up the theme succinctly. Samuel Rousseau’s “Canevas Electronique (Enfant)” is a kitschy cotton tapestry of a child with the eyes cut out and replaced with roving pupils on an LCD screen. Tere Recarens presents a series of drawings titled “Panther and Monkey” that very convincingly mimics the doodles of a youngster. You almost think they could really be a child’s drawings until you come to the last image, where the monkey is apparently engaged in some sort of oral sex. The stick-figure aesthetic continues with Joshua Stern’s photograph, “The Wall (after King Kong),” depicting a group of headless figures made of sticks. They’re holding torches (actually matchsticks) and look very much like an angry mob.
Picasso once said that all children are artists. The only problem was how to remain an artist when one grew up. The artwork summarizing the first five years of the Parker’s Box program offers this suggestion: let your critical insight become your compass when exploring the boundless terrain of the imagination.