Harrell Fletcher, Peter Gallo, Mathew Sawyer, and Aline Bouvy/John Gillis at Wendy Cooper Gallery
Most Sincerely Yours, a small group show in the Wendy Cooper Gallery Project Room, presents the work of Harrell Fletcher, Peter Gallo, Mathew Sawyer, and collaborators Aline Bouvy and John Gillis. Curated by director John McKinnon, a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the show’s work follows in the footsteps of artists such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres by taking on the issue of relational aesthetics, as first proposed by theorist Pierre Bourdieu and more recently by Nicolas Bourriaud. According to such thinking, an artist’s role is not to reflect social surroundings, but instead to create and complicate situations that will generate new understandings of how we interact as human beings. Two works in particular expand the standard “collaborative” notion by forging new types of relationships with strangers.
Harrell Fletcher’s “Proposal” (2006) takes the form of an email to the gallery director pinned to the wall, in which he discusses the small technicalities typical in everyday gallery-artist correspondence, such as potential artworks for the show itself and how to ship them. The email concludes with Fletcher’s idea for a project in which a collector could send him a photograph which he would then render as a painting. The collector would keep the painting and Fletcher the photograph. He wonders openly about the price for the project (“maybe something between $500 and $1000”) and his email address and website (learningtoloveyoumore.com) are visible. Is the email an invitation to initiate correspondence with Fletcher? If this were true, no gallery or middleman would be necessary to complete the photo-for-painting transaction. Fletcher lays bare the inner workings of the business of making and selling art, and intensifies the relationship between collector and artist. This relationship, often purely financial, becomes in this project a personalized exchange of memory, embodied in the photograph, a private artifact of individual existence.
Mathew Sawyer’s “Untitled (Warren Lane Properties Ltd)” (2005) tells the story of how, in the lobby of an apartment building, Sawyer took a letter out of a mailbox, steamed it open, added a postscript detailing his father’s death, and resealed the envelope, returning it to where he found it. The original letter’s content is irrelevant, as it was found by chance, but it is interesting to consider that it pertained to a tenant’s rent. Sawyer inserts an intimate narrative into the impersonal sphere of financial exchange. Sawyer’s piece could be viewed as an invasion of privacy, and he has most certainly broken the law. But ultimately, it is a confessional gesture to a stranger he will never know. The piece itself is black and white collage. Taking cues from poststructuralist photographer Victor Burgin, Sawyer’s collage consists of images of the letter, the mailbox, and an envelope, which give nothing with which to construct a narrative of the scenario. Thus we can only project our own notions of privacy and vulnerability onto Sawyer’s neutrally presented and open-ended attempt at emotional generosity.
Although varying wildly in approach and result, each artist performs small, individual acts which will hopefully contribute to a larger sense of “goodness” in the world. This idealist notion relates to the modernist sentiment that society is corrupt and we must look inward to find our own truths to live by. The individual in these contemporary works is presented as less important than the relationships he or she exists within. Impromptu or unconventional gestures are means to manipulate and question the links that connect us.
In his curator’s statement, John McKimmon writes, “The artists have created or proposed intimate interactions, which are characterized by a trust that their gestures will be reciprocated.” An expectation of reciprocity on the viewer’s part in response to an artist’s emotive gesture raises complicated questions. Is it the viewer or the collector who completes the act which an artist initiates? Since an artist can almost never know whether his or her emotional gesture will be acknowledged or returned, how can this type of work succeed in its aims?
Image courtesy of Wendy Cooper Gallery and the artist.