Wednesday, December 5, 2007

thinking out, writing off the top of my brow

AccessAtlanta offers a cover story about several shows in Atlanta that reflect the Lowbrow movement's interest in less than respectable topics, combined with the bargain-basement style of transgression that Pop Surrealism champions over the refined outrages of their European forebears:
"DEDICATED TO HOT RODS, pinup girls, graffiti, monsters and other pop culture subjects not typically recognized by mainstream museums, the lowbrow movement is like the punk rock of the art scene. With backgrounds in comics, tattooing, rock music or graphic design, these artists often draw from what they know rather than what they've been taught. While high art galleries might still shy away from lowbrow and its more fantasy-based pop surrealist cousin, the movement has gradually gained national credibility thanks to artists like Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Frank Kozik, Mark Ryden and Tara McPherson."

Of course one has to add such artists as Dave Hickey's protegé Gajin Fujita. His work is prominently on display in the Las Vegas art museum that is run by Hickey's wife, Libby Lumpkin, but Fujita also has gotten ample New York gallery play prior to this presentation of Hickey's various MFAs who went off and made good, or made good money.

I guess you can have an advanced degree and still be lowbrow; my curator friend Susannah Koerber and I once wanted to do a show called "Self-Taught Artists with Doctorates." (I am one, Susannah is another, and the Polish microbiologist who did traditional paper doilies, who inspired the show, would be a third. We were questioning the stretched definitions of "folk and self-taught" at the time. "Lowbrow" seems headed in the same strange directions, just as classic graffiti artists now sell for up to six figures depending on the size of the stretched canvases on which they do their graffiti.)

My question, I suppose, is also the fine line between lowbrow and simple appropriation of childhood memories, or popular images in general. There was nothing particularly lowbrow about the 1957 encyclopedia from which Bean Summer's show at Beep Beep Gallery derives its visual raw materials; it takes on an air of hip retro irony because yesteryear's middlebrow fount of intellectual enlightenment is today's fount of amusingly innocent and/or stupid images. (Appropriating cartoons from whenever one was ten years old oneself is also a technique that dates back to Roy Lichtenstein, and followed by generations of painters since; and art history aside, after a certain infusion of Deleuze and Guattari, how much can one claim that one's borrowing of, say, World of Warcraft imagery still has a validly popular level of immediacy? when do the Mille Plateaux become Messrs' D and G's particular notion instead of...well, you get the idea.)

Bean Summer's (Ben Worley's) ironizing approach carries over brilliantly in his appropriation of a sponsors list that includes the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. He rescued the signage from the trash at Georgia State University where he is pursuing his own Master of Fine Arts degree with the work now on exhibit at Beep Beep.

I like the last-named gesture particularly; it reminds me of Kierkegaard's parable about the shop where passersby who see the sign in the window reading "Laundry Done Here" will find, if they walk in with their dirty clothing, that the shop is selling the sign itself, not the service it advertises. Here, the sponsors list is a piece of the artwork in the exhibition, not information regarding the sponsors of the exhibition.

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