Tag Archives: Phillip March Jones

Arts

Studio Visit with Robert Beatty

Floating approximately halfway between California and Hawaii, spanning more than half a million square miles, is an “island” made up of mostly microscopic plastic. “Island” is in quotes here because the mass is mostly imperceivable to the naked eye and rarely impedes marine traffic but is nevertheless deeply impactful to both human and animal life. The waste that makes up this invisible island, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes primarily from the populations of three continents (Asia, North America, and South America) and is held in place by what’s known as a gyre, a relatively fixed system of ocean currents that collectively create a vortex of force that is difficult to escape. Across the globe, there are five such gyres. In each one, a similar whirlwind of trash swirls without end.

Studio Shot with Robert Beatty, photo by author

The phenomenon is relatively new. Most of the garbage patches were first observed in the ’70s and ’80s, about a half century after plastic was originally invented, and have continued to expand since. Although methods are being devised to clear them, little headway has been made to stymie their source: largely single-use consumer plastics and packaging materials, of which somewhere between about 1 and 3 million metric tons enter the ocean each year. The tiny bits of waste are the remnants of our water bottles, plastic bags, and other detritus worn by the sun, wind, and the waves but still permanent and active in our planet’s ecosystem. The bits are found ingested by marine and avian life in increasing concentrations as you move up the food chain. The chemicals that are byproducts of their decomposition affect the makeup of the ocean and its life. The comparatively uncommon but still present large pieces can choke or otherwise constrict body parts of those same animals. 

It may be an odd way to consider it, but I think of these massive, dispersed, nearly intangible islands as uniquely contemporary monuments to – and a record of – our way of life. If a population is measured and understood by what it leaves behind and seeks (consciously or not) to make permanent, then this is our Stonehenge, Great Wall, Chichén Itzá, or Great Pyramid. If those places held significance because of their function as sites of ritual or as indicators of state power, then the Great Garbage Patches reveal the altar at which we worship and the offices we are subject to. They are invisible, collectively and unconsciously made, more a stain than a mark, and more permanent than we could hope to be. They are a wonder of the world, maybe a terrible wonder, but a wonder nonetheless. 

Studio Shot with Robert Beatty, photo by author

These hulking and ghostly masses came to mind after a recent conversation with artist, illustrator, and musician Robert Beatty in his apartment and studio, both located in downtown Lexington, about his work across mediums. His apartment, upstairs in a 19th century building near Gratz Park, is a kind of gyre of its own. In his office, books on esoteric practices, ancient archaeology, and electronic music are stacked high on TVs and soundboards. A large computer monitor displays a commercial project he’s working on, surrounded by records, more books, a few coffee cups, and print projects published in the New York Times, the Oxford American, and elsewhere. Robert’s chihuahua, Blue Velvet, rests delicately on a cushion nearby, and follows us into the kitchen for tea.

Robert’s chihuahua, Blue Velvet, photo by author

Robert Beatty, ‘Place Holder’, 2019, a multimedia installation at 21c, Lexington, photo credit: 21c Museum Hotel

We start our conversation with a discussion of Robert’s most recent exhibition, Place Holder, which remains on view at 21C Lexington through January 2020. The exhibition spans one room on the first floor of the main street hotel, and is comprised of a large central plinth with closed circuit camera footage of the same room projected on the surrounding walls. On the plinth are small cement sculptures arranged in a city-type grid. Some of them are brick-like. Others are more organic. All of them are rendered in a medium, industrial gray. Security cameras surveil the scene from above and feed the footage directly to the walls around them. Although some of the cameras are broadcasting in color, the projections read as nearly monochrome. The small sculptures are reminiscent of architectural models. If rendered to full scale, they might bring to mind the blocky, imposing Brutalist style of the mid-century. Another look and they feel a bit like gravestones. Two of them are pyramids, so perhaps this is the scale model for a mausoleum, or a place for spirits to inhabit after they leave their bodies behind. From above, they seem like the brainchild of a dystopian city planner. The scene is devoid of human life. It could be a ruin or a scene from a future of which we are not a part. When seen through the lens of the security cameras around them, the structures become somewhat uncanny, rendered inhabitable by the confusion of scale until you as a viewer intrude on the frame to provide reference. 

Studio Shot with plastics and cement, photo by author

Studio Shot with plastics and cement molds, photo by author

Robert tells me his process for making the sculptures, of which I was totally unaware despite seeing a few iterations of this body of work in the last year, first at the Parachute Factory in an exhibition organized by Alex Brooks, and then at the Atlanta Biennial held at the Atlanta Contemporary curated by Daniel Fuller and Phillip March Jones. The monolithic pyramids, three-dimensional trapezoids, and somewhat colonic tube structures are not, as I thought, cast from artist-made molds, but instead are created from plastic blister packaging. Even if you don’t know what blister packaging is (I didn’t), you’ve certainly dealt with it before. It’s the close-but-not-exact-fitting, often clear, interior packaging element encasing things like batteries, headphones, appliances, speaker cables, toys, and so on. The resulting shapes are remarkably abstracted and unrecognizable, a negative image of the byproducts of our culture’s consumption. Robert notes that what initially drove him towards these forms is their availability. As an artist who works regularly with technology both new and old, he has a lot of gear, and all of it comes wrapped in this stuff. When we move to his studio later in the conversation, he pulls out two large containers brimming with them, big, small, and everywhere in between. 

I mention to Robert that I recall seeing he had recently taken trips to the Great Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio, and to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Both of these landmarks have potential astronomical and ritual significance and somewhat indeterminate origin stories. It’s not clear how or, ultimately, why they were built. Also up in the air is who is responsible for building them in the first place. Much of Robert’s work, including what’s on view at 21C, is similarly enigmatic and esoteric. He mentions that both places also served as inspiration for that work, and that the forms and their arrangement are meant to mirror archaeological sites somewhat, though the forms are of course derived from contemporary objects. 

Robert Beatty, Atlanta Biennial, 2019

Robert Beatty, Atlanta Biennial, 2019

A related body of work displayed at the Atlanta Contemporary is made up of small stone-like objects also cast in concrete. On the surface of the stones in low relief are squared, pixel-like arrangements that are reminiscent of written language but completely illegible. In the exhibition, they were arranged on a bright orange background meant to echo the way artifacts are commonly presented in museums. Similarly suggestive and inscrutable are a pair of flat plates with metallic etching. The language-like elements are replicated, along with linework making them appear as oversized computer chips or, as Robert mentions, Lakhovsky plates used in radionics (a form of alternative therapy that uses electromagnetic waves to diagnose and treat disease). Those plates are just one of a number of pseudoscientific or quasi-spiritual practices that interest Beatty, though not because he believes in them per se. In fact, at one point in the conversation he posits that perhaps he is drawn to the strange and arcane because he feels jealous of the ability that some have to commit so deeply to something so unobservable.

As I get up to leave, we discuss how we think our time might be remembered through an archaeological lens. What judgements would be made about us and what conclusions would be drawn from the things we leave behind?

“And that’s the thing– most of what’s going to be left when we’re not here anymore is going to be plastic. That’s what people are going to find, all this trash. It’s weird that that’s what will outlast us. And that’s part of it, a kind of tongue in cheek thing of taking that stuff and filling it with concrete, giving some weight to it… I really love the way artifacts are shown in a museum. The way that they’re presented. They’re mounted on the wall in these plexiglass cases, this stuff that was probably just trash. But it’s old trash, so it’s… important for some reason?”

Arts

Kentucky Artists at the Elaine de Kooning House

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with the curator Phillip March Jones, a dedicated and tireless ambassador for regional artists as well as Outsider Art, that genre of self-taught makers with limited contact with and access to commercial galleries and institutions. Over the past nine years, Jones has fostered a community of artists, writers, and musicians around Institute 193. The relationships formed have resulted in new bodies of work and collaborative projects that we were excited to exhibit at the Elaine de Kooning House.

Guy Mendes,” Marble Creek Nude”, 1998, gelatin silver print, 16 X 20 in.

“The Plant Portrait Series”, Elaine de Kooning House, installation view with works by Lina Tharsing

He and co-curator Maia Ferrari’s exhibition proposed both local and universal notions of community, demonstrating the effects that a space dedicated to the exchange of ideas can instill upon a group of individual talents. Their show entitled Summer Song: Institute 193 at the Elaine de Kooning House featured works by Robert Beatty, Jessie Dunhaoo, Mike Goodlett, Lonnie Holley, Shara Hughes, Guy Mendes, Adam O’Neal, Aaron Skolnick, Lina Tharsing, and Mare Vaccaro. A selection of Institute 193 publications was also on view.

“Summer Series”, Elaine de Kooning House, installation view with works by Michael Goodlett

Our collaboration was conceived of and tailored for the Elaine de Kooning House, the artist’s historic home and studio in East Hampton.

In 1975, when artist Elaine de Kooning was reconciling with her husband, Willem, she purchased a traditional saltbox house on Alewive Brook Road in East Hampton, N.Y. Elaine later added the studio where she created her final series of paintings, “Bacchus” and “Cave Walls”. During this time she also made portraits of her sister, Brazilian soccer player Pelé, and art dealer Aladar Marberger. Her work had been featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Young American Painters (1956-58).” She continued to make portraits during a formative period of American postwar art when, for the first time, the most radical new painting was happening in New York. Back then, the thought of an Abstract Expressionist concurrently adhering to a traditional genre was considered taboo by many tastemakers and the paintings themselves retrograde. Today, her studio practice seems prophetic: Many artists are able to create divergent bodies of work without the constraints of dogma or critical mandate.

“Summer Series”, Elaine de Kooning House, installation view with works by Adam O’Neal, left, Aaron Skolnick, right.

After de Kooning’s death in 1989, the sculptor John Chamberlain purchased the house, followed by painter Richmond Burton. Each artist made changes and modifications to its design. In order to capture the light at a specific time of day, Elaine would often work in the sunroom. Chamberlain used the ground floor studio as a darkroom and for archival purposes. The main studio has 18-foot ceilings with angled skylights, a private entrance and is connected to the house. When I bought the house and studio in 2010, it seemed animated with stories about renowned artists from previous generations. Elaine’s well-documented generosity toward other painters, curators and writers was legendary.

It was inspiring to be showing in a place where some of our greatest artists lived and worked. Thanks to Institute 193—specifically Phillip Jones and Maia Ferrari– we were written up in Hyperallergenic, and our work was posted on the Art News website. I’ve been exhibiting and publishing for 50 years, but I’ve never had a photograph reproduced by Art News before. Just as it has for nine years now, the Institute gets the word out. – Guy Mendes

Since 2011, the Elaine de Kooning House has hosted events, exhibitions, and informal artist residencies with the artists Charles Andresen, Aaron Aujla, Katherine Bernhardt, Lizzi Bougatsos, Joe Bradley, Jessie Dunahoo, Chris Duncan, Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Mike Goodlett, Sedrick Huckaby, Kim “Mudman” Jones, Laura and Rachel Lancaster, Sadie Laska, Jose Lerma, Liz Markus, Adam Marnie, Scott and Tyson Reeder, John Riepenhoff, Celeste Dupy-Spencer, Jerry “The Marble Faun” Torre, Michael Williams, and Anke Weyer.

The painter and photographer Katherine McMahon has made the ground level space her permanent studio. Katherine is ARTnews’ Creative Director and her presence has allowed each of the visiting artists to feel at home and become acclimated to their new environment quickly. (I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing her own work develop and projects come to fruition.) While the residence still functions as a private home, its main purpose, both now and in the future, is to nurture artists and the groups that support them.

“Summer Series”, Elaine de Kooning House, Installation View with work by Jessie Dunahoo

Our hope was to foster this spirit by making the space available to Institute 193’s artists, all while preserving the original structure and its history. Summer Studio has served as a resource for many of the activities at the house. We were happy to host a benefit for the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit as well as the launch of Art21’s new streaming experience Art21.live.

In July, the Beach Painting Club (co-founded by Scott and Tyson Reeder) painted together on Sammy’s Beach, located just down the road from the Elaine de Kooning House. This annual event gathers artists and friends to paint together, followed by a cocktail reception and display of the resulting work at the house. Our guests have included the art historian Gail Levin, Jess Fuller, foundation director Helen Harrison, the collectors Anne and John Mullen, and painters Laura Owens, Chuck Webster and Joe Bradley.

As Institute 193 collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to produce exhibitions, publications, and projects that document the cultural landscape of the modern South, our goal was to create and merge with a larger network. The installation became an opportunity for these artists to gain well-deserved broader media exposure, initiating connections across the globe. We look forward to continuing and fostering these relationships.

More about Phillip March Jones: A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Jones graduated from Emory University in Atlanta but also attended Auburn in Alabama and the Sorbonne in Paris (his French translating skills helped subsidize some early aesthetic endeavors). In 2009 he started Institute 193, a small project space near the University of Kentucky with the intention of exposing contemporary artists from the interior who were unknown on the coasts. Two years later he became the inaugural director of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Souls Grown Deep was a labor of love for collector Bill Arnett, who had a missionary zeal to preserve, document, display and promote the expressions of living self-taught African American artists in the Southeast and elevate them to the level of the blue chip insiders. He succeeded. Works from the foundation are now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One of Jones’ most anticipated upcoming projects is his organizing of the Atlanta Biennial with Atlanta Contemporary Art Center curator Daniel Fuller.

About the author: Chris Byrne is the author of the graphic novel The Magician (Marquand Books, 2013). He is co-chair of ART21’s Contemporary Council and serves on the board of directors of Institute 193, Dallas Contemporary, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Arts

Congratulations Phillip!

UnderMain sends heartfelt congratulations to Phillip March Jones on his appointment as the new Director of the Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Edlin and Jones have a long working history with ties to Lexington, Kentucky where Jones opened the Jones Shop in 2006. “The Jones Shop, a curated exhibition space and retail store, existed only briefly on Maxwell Street in Lexington but culminated in an exhibition at Andrew Edlin’s Chelsea gallery in 2007. I’ve worked with Andrew in different capacities since that time: as an artist, curator, consultant, and now director of his new space which opened this past week at 212 Bowery. It’s a long way from Maxwell Street but feels like a very natural place to be working on new ideas and engaging a wider audience.”

In all things, Jones remains dedicated to the notion that important work in the field of contemporary art happens in many places be it New York City or Lexington, Kentucky – where he remains Editor-in-Cheif of Institute 193.  As Phillip March Jones continues to build connections in art markets hither and yon, UnderMain and Lexington wish him well.

The Andrew Edlin Gallery is located on 212 Bowery between Prince Street and Spring Street.

Institute 193 is located at 193 North Limestone Street in Lexington, Kentucky.

Photo Credit: Louis Zoellar Bickett

Arts

Do the Write Thing: Read Between the Lines

by Paul Michael Brown ~

October 30-December 21, 2014
Christian Berst Art Brut (Klein and Berst)
95 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002

The desire to communicate with others, to externalize thought in some way that is cohesive or comprehensible, is deep and universally human. Language provides a vehicle by which to do so, albeit in imperfect and often frustrating one. The 19 artists on display in Do the Write Thing: Read Between the Lines, the inaugural exhibition at Christian Berst Art Brut’s NYC location (helmed by Lexington’s own Phillip March Jones), engage with the necessity and inadequacy of language in the form of text.

The methods and materials employed by the artists in the show are wide-ranging, reflective of the disparate challenges encountered in the attempt to make oneself heard. In her introduction to the extensive catalogue that accompanies the show, critic and poet Lilly Lampe groups the works into three broad and overlapping categories: predictive or communicative, cataloguing or mapping, and asemic or wordless writing. It is worth noting that many of the artist’s work straddle multiple categories, or occasionally deal with themes outside these three most immediate groupings.

Of special interest to me were the works that fell into the last category. Asemic writing, by definition, is work that has no observable semantic consequence, at least in the way we are generally trained to ingest information from text. It is wordless, bypassing traditional methods of signifying through recognizable characters and instead uses forms reminiscent of language to communicate in novel ways. The asemic art in the show can be further divided into two modes, works that begin with legible text that is eventually obfuscated by other forms or marks, and works using marks that resemble text, but are nonsensical; in these works, meaning is either destroyed, erased, or not present in the first place.

Harald Stoffers
Brief 160, 2009
Waterproofed Feltpen on cardboard
19.67 x 27.5 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Brief 338 (2014) by Harold Stoffers is an expansive work, spanning the vertical length of a thin wall towards the rear of the gallery. It is made up of tightly packed groups of parallel horizontal lines resembling muscle fascia that obscure text written in jerky cursive script, often addressed to the artists’s mother. The work is comparable to the structure of a musical staff, allowing reference to both written and musical language simultaneously, but not functional in communicating either in a traditional sense. It draws the viewer near with its intricacy. Varying densities of line, text, and free space pace the speed at which it is taken in. The accelerations, decelerations, and breaks encountered while ‘reading’ this work are not unlike those signaled by punctuation, paragraph, and page break found in more traditional texts.


Beverly Baker
Untitled, 2014
Ballpoint pen on paper
16.25 x 23 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Likewise, Beverly Baker, of Lexington, obscures her original text, but to an even greater degree. Baker’s works in ballpoint pen start as legible writing, copied from a small number of source materials. These fragments are layered one upon the other until the paper is completely covered and the content of the text is rendered moot. Baker’s methodology is analogous to that of Zhang Huan in his work ‘Family Portrait’ (2000), a series of photographs tightly cropped in on his own face, increasingly obscured by the names of his family members until his visage is entirely blacked out by ink. Baker’s use of ballpoint pen, coupled with the force of the marks utilized, form divots and peaks, creating a variegated and even three dimensional abstract landscape of dense color and surprising intensity, a suggestion echoed in the horizontal presentation of her work in the show. 

Yuichi Saito
Mo letter (Doraemon), circa 2005
Ink on paper
15 x 21.5 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Yuichi Saito utilizes superimposition in similar ways to Baker and Stoffers, repeating the titles of his favorite TV shows over and over until they converge into densely populated clusters of characters against a stark white background. The effect here is a bit like what occurs when one says a single word aloud repeatedly until it loses meaning and begins to dissolve into its phonetic constituents, warped and distilled by repetition .The work is also an exercise in documentation, as Saito creates the each piece the day that the show airs.  They are restrained in composition, the clouds of text compliant in the chaos they make up, bearing mild visual reference to animal herds, birds in flight, and other natural phenomena (linking them to the grandiose landscapes of Xu Bing rendered in Chinese text).
 

Jill Galliéni

Jill Galliéni
Untitled
Colored ink on paper
9.45 x 6. 3 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Blocks of differently colored inks made up of lines of cursive like curley q’s make up Jill Gallieni’s work. According to a statement provided by the gallery, she began to create these works as prayers with meaning only discernible by her, addressed to Saint Rita, patron saint of lost causes. The brightly colored inks conform to blocky shapes often configured into abstract compositions that look somewhat like crochet or weave. The more heavily fragmented pieces bear unlikely but adequate resemblance to Coogi sweaters, a material used by Jayson Musson (aka Hennessy Youngman) in some of his recent work. The lines of text are continuous, interrupted only by the limits of the page. Gallieni’s prayers are ceaseless, constrained, and intensely private.

Although not in the way we expect, these works communicate strongly. Within them, compulsions to express, document, copy, obliterate, and even to enact divine intervention, can be found, all without the utterance of a concrete word. Here we find language, stripped of its explicit functionality, being used as a completely experimental and untested tool. These artists operate outside of normal syntax to establish new patterns of (a)textual expression, creating enigmatic and nonsensical readings that provide openings for us to push what and how we communicate, a necessary and admirable endeavor.