"WORKS ON VIEW" AT JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY

“Works on View,” curated by gallery director Katie Rashid, is a diverse show of work by Vito Acconci, Lee Lozano, Sterling Ruby, Michael Snow, and William Wegman. The exhibition highlights a group of works, created from the 1960s to the present, that are prone to interpretation. From Vito Acconci’s stab at transsexuality to Lee Lozano’s diaristic marijuana and masturbation experiments to Sterling Ruby’s crack-pipe burned bench and pink Pelican Bay, the relationship between pieces floats among a variety of themes, including “language, humor, gender, and an underlying tension” according to the handout.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is met with a number of early pieces by William Wegman. The group is characterized by simplicity and humor, such as the case of He Lost His Balance (1973), a straightforward description of the slapstick gesture performed in the photograph. Another piece, He Tried on a Wig, It Made Him Look Younger (1971-72), follows with a spin of gender play echoing Vito Acconci’s less subtle Photos From Conversations (I,II,III) (1971), a series of photographs documenting his literal attempt, by burning the hair off his chest with a candle and tucking his penis between his legs, to become a woman.

The Wegman pieces take a turn for the darker in an initially comical short film, Treat Bottle, in which his dog is presented with the rat-maze conundrum of a treat placed inside a glass bottle. The dog paws and noses the bottle across a cement floor for a few minutes, eventually causing it to break, spreading shards of glass across the floor.  This provokes a shudder-inducing scene of the dog licking and biting broken glass with no intervention from the silent cameraman. The relentless action found in the Wegman video is taken up in Sterling Ruby’s video, Cartographic Yard Work: Dog Behavior in which as series of holes are circuitously dug and filled, bringing up the anxiety-ridden Sisyphusian behavior of dogs once again.

A similar sort of activity-related anxiety can be found in Lee Lozano’s Grass Piece (1969).  This experimental study takes the form of journal entries and traces Lozano’s artistic production while using marijuana on a daily basis. Similar experiments from 1969 are included, such as No-Grass Piece and Masturbation Investigation. Self-reflexive text is found again in a Vito Acconci poem from the same year, “I am moving at a normal rate” in which Acconci describes his physical actions, “I TURN TO LOOK STRAIGHT AT YOU. I say, ‘I TURN TO LOOK STRAIGHT AT YOU.’ I TURN TO TALK STRAIGHT AT YOU”—another attempt at pseudo-scientific objectivity (linguistic in this case).

As the themes diverge and intersect, Rashid’s provided entry-point of “simple gestures and concrete actions” is an excellent way to view the exhibition and each individual piece, whether it is Wegman’s slapstick photos or Lozano’s objective-forward studies. This idea works as a simple platform to jump into the complex relationship of media, technology, and theme the exhibition presents while maintaining a view the bigger picture (so to speak). Michael Snow’s varied and progressive work also provides a frame of reference, a structure of visual and conceptual cues to navigate the presented pieces by Acconci, Lozano, Ruby, and Wegman.  A somewhat daunting show at first, these guidelines help flesh out an exhibition worthy of effort.

 
-Brandon Johnson