Aron Namenwirth: Penny Liebman Contemporary Art, New York, New York
I arrived at Aron Namenwirth's opening with my invitation in hand--a picture of a moving truck being towed away--and was given a small painting with the word "ride" written in loopy cursive script across the front. Turning it over, I found a snapshot photograph taped to the back, a shot of the Williamsburg Bridge, the kind of shot you'd get if you held the camera out the window of a moving vehicle--a truck, let's say. The dual aspect of the painting and photograph back-to-back made the entire object a little tricky to handle: Which side is the front? What do I do with it? The whole thing, painting and photograph, was trussed up in plastic bubble wrap.
At first, the bubble wrap was a little puzzling. Had the paintings just been dropped off at the gallery? Were they being shipped out? If the bubble wrap could be read as signifying transportation or mobility, then it provided the first clue to the overall scope of the work, a larger project which the artist calls "Art Moving."
Namenwirth does move art, but unlike other artists who moonlight as carpenters, bartenders, web site designers, etc., Namenwirth doesn't discriminate between terms like "art" and "employment" or "art" and "artwork." Art moving is both art and business. For instance, the "Art Moving" truck (with "art moving" written out in the same cursive script across the side) doubles as a mobile gallery. When Namenwirth lost the lease on his Williamsburg gallery last summer, he moved the gallery into the truck instead of closing down. This year there have been three shows in the truck, piggybacked on the openings of other galleries.
Inside of Penny Liebman's small upper west side abode, Namenwirth installed piles of small, LP-sized word paintings covered in bubble wrap, like the one I had received at the door. Further in, a shelf had been built along the length of one of the walls, ready to receive the word paintings--an overblown Scrabble game or refrigerator poetry set. A sentence was forming: "hope . . . business . . . lucky . . . sucker . . . ." The paintings overflowed the shelf--onto the floor, window sill, into the bathroom--almost everywhere except the walls. I deposited "ride" across the room next to "free." Free ride.
Other words included: "feel," "mother," "move," "John," "Jack," "time," "violence," "home," "fellatio," "work," "weird," "stupid," "mouth," "anger," "zero," "different," "warped," "insurance," "Barbara," "thing," and my personal favorite, "sucker." What seemed to be an extremely personal lexicon of words and names--the handwriting made it even more so--managed, nevertheless, to draw the viewer into its game of free association. No longer tied to the logic of grammar and complete sentences, the meaning of the words resided in what you brought to them. I stopped trying to group them together (like refrigerator poetry, it gets old pretty fast) and let them prompt my own individual associations. Some words, however, like "what" and "is," refused to play the game. I began to suspect that the choice of words was less than determined, more open to interpretation.
On the other walls of the gallery were vertical and horizontal rows of snapshot photographs--pictures of trucks, people, boxes and bubble wrap--and a video of an earlier performance by the artist. This work might have been interpreted as simply documentation of "Art Moving" activities. On closer examination, however, the photographs and the video refused to tread the line of "objective" documentation or documentation-style artwork, a practice that's more than a little worn out. Intelligent, but uninhibited, Namenwirth managed to navigate the treacherous waters of documentation-style art without getting sucked in. Granted, there were shots of trucks carrying artwork, of art movers and artists. But there are also pictures of sunsets, landscapes, and city scenes. These are the shots of a photographer who isn't tied to a particular theme or subject, who doesn't look for pictures to take, but takes them as they present themselves. There's no definitive narrative, no bigger picture to these pictures.
The alternative presented here is a loosely "curated" collection of words and images which eschews easy associations, even as it suggests them. While the word "Jamie" is a clear reference to the person in the snapshot on the back of the painting, in other cases, the word had no apparent connection to the picture taped to the back. The relationship between word and image was too obscure, or simply not there. In another instance, the word "insurance" was paired with a pleasant view of children in a playground. Sure there's meaning there, but you're reading it in the context of your own individual experience.
Brooklyn, New York