"IDEAL POLE part two: All Words Destroy" Exhibition

Y Gallery (319 Grand St.)

poster for "IDEAL POLE part two: All Words Destroy" Exhibition

This event has ended.

All words destroy:

What is the purpose of coming up with a title for an exhibition when you have finally reached the point of believing that words don’t mean much anymore? What is the purpose of the exhibition itself when all primary channels of social communication have shown themselves to be exhausted, contaminated by commodification, and corrupted beyond repair? What is the value of relying on modes of communication that have been abused by commerce to the point of total alienation?

Writing of Art Brut, Dubuffet said that "those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses - where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere - are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professions. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade." This “exalted feverishness” is, of course, the fever of madness. Consistent with his positive evaluation of the condition is Dubuffet’s theory that many psychotics deliberately "choose" madness as a means to escaping from an arid social life or as a way to short circuit participation in a culture of drought.

In his landmark Outsider Art book, Roger Cardinal expressed a similar appreciation for art-works produced outside of the corrosive framework of officially sanctioned “culture;” maybe its time to re-evaluate these terms.

The initial concept of this project was that the ideas, practices, and experiences of the artists included were as or more important than an analysis of the “Outsider” nature of the resulting objects. The whole idea was to simply open an art studio to a group of strangers who are, by some standards, mentally disabled, who had zero attachment to the art world, no art education and no attachment to the art market, and to work with them in lieu of traditional studio assistants on an upcoming exhibition. These strangers were offered access to a “professional” studio environment for the sole purpose of creating art works. I was also curious to see how much this would alter my own studio practices; the result was that I was so profoundly affected that I almost completely re-circuited how I usually work; leaving the big gestures out, I started painting on small canvases.

After a while, the group became more confident, they felt more at home or comfortable, and things started to happen in the studio that were quite amazing. Within the large number of works produced during the duration of the groups’ stay are several distinct iterations; the art therapy members suddenly began to conquer large canvases, they started painting on mine, they started making works that were more personal and less pleasing to the eye. The transformation was abrupt and immediate enough that it reminded us all of the real power of art, it reminded us that if one is granted access to good tools and a place to work safely, there is no limit to what can be accomplished. Though the initial idea was to create collaborative works, in the end I often did not feel compelled to insert myself into the process; what the group had accomplished independent of my intervention was enough.

These works, which will be exhibited in my upcoming solo show at the ICA together with a project I have collaborated on with the Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta, are a constellation of works made to show what art can be when we eliminate the need to theorize or explain; they serve as evidence that art is at its most powerful when it is allowed to reside in the realm of pure creativity. Though many of the artists included in this exhibition initially expressed fear or hesitation, they came to work independently from me and without the burden of seeking for approval. It is difficult to explain how exciting it has been to see my own work inscribed with the energy of a raw language uninflected by the influence of the art world.

The group was comprised of patients selected by Dr. Annetina Miescher, the former head of Bellevue's department of Psychiatry. Of primary importance to the project was the fact that Annatina herself participated in the studio work as well; her inclusion in the process helped to establish a guiding principle that there was no hierarchical arrangement and no exploitation of marginalization. At a certain point in the project, it became apparent that these "outsiders" had become "insiders," that they were suddenly the makers of meaning rather than the passive recipients of it. The power that became so evident in the studio brought back a sense of freedom that I had long lost touch with.

In short, this group of works was produced thanks to an exploration into how one might pervert the traditional studio setting in New York by exchanging assistants with a group of artists who were not influenced by the culturally plastic works supported by museums, galleries, and art schools. This was not an innocent or innocuous situation, but one that resulted in artists creating and fighting for their work in a way that felt dangerous and exciting and fresh.

- Bjarne Melgaard


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