For the uninitiated, Western Exhibitions is not an easy gallery to find. It lies at the end of an anonymous hallway, up a flight of stairs, and around a corner, in a relatively unmarked former industrial building. Rough concrete floors paired with pristine three-quarter height drywall renders the space a factory-and-white cube mashup.
The flawless installation in this converted space seems serious about its subject, with only a professional amount of pretension. Divided into three galleries, the current show features collages by Mark Wagner, sculpture by Peter Downsbrough and Jeanne Silverthorne, and artist books by Emily Blair. While dissimilar in subject and method, the three sections hang together well.
Mark Wagner’s work is displayed in the largest of the gallery’s three sections. The room is dotted with a mixture of framed collages, constructed out of carefully dissected one-dollar notes, sketchbook pages in plastic sheaths, and so-called “studio sculptures,” built out of the whimsical detritus of the artist’s practice. Although these pieces are also for sale, the studio sculptures and scribbled notes function like an illustrated artist statement, illuminating the artist’s personality, working conditions, techniques and conceptual process.
It only takes a moment to realize the collages are, in fact, made out of genuine U.S. legal tender. Wagner’s technical skill and imaginative use of all parts of the dollar bill for the formal realization of his projects demands the viewer take a closer look. The compositions do not disappoint when viewed at close range. As with the ornate negative area of Cutting Corners, 2008—made with scissors and patchwork—elements of the dollar, with its surprisingly Victorian decoration, form minute details. The delicate textures of object and space are surprisingly effortless in their reformulations. One almost wishes the pieces weren’t under glass so their authenticity could be determined by the smell of glue and money.
While Wagner’s cleverness is captivating, his message is ambiguous. The political commentary implied by the destruction of U.S. currency is somewhat offset by the jokiness of many of the collages, sculptures and notes. Marxism, 2008, for example, depicts a portrait of Groucho, not Karl, within an oval frame against wallpaper, inventively articulated out of script. More than a sly critique of capitalism, one gets the feeling that Wagner is advocating for the imaginative and inventive appropriation of everyday things in the name of fun and subjectivity.
In gallery two, John Neff has curated an installation that contemplates the ever-present problem of connectivity through diverse contemporary studio practices. Neff juxtaposed sculptures
by Peter Downsbrough and Jeanne Silverthorne sculpture.
Silverthorne’s contribution hangs on, and plugs into, the gallery wall, spilling off onto the floor in a tangle of encaustic high voltage cables, cords, transformer boxes, plugs and switches. A computer keyboard and power switch seem to invite the viewer to use this makeshift contraption to make a virtual connection to something outside the gallery walls. However, the lack of letters on the keys and the melted quality of the objects make the machine seem inert and out-of-date. Or perhaps it suffered some sort of disaster.
Nearby, Peter Downs-brough’s reserved expression cleanly slices the room. The installation consists of two vertical
black rods that don’t quite intersect, one pushing up from the floor to hip height, the other a few inches lower, and slightly to the side, descending from the ceiling. First engaged, then nudged off-center, the installation
situates the observer in a world where reality and communication is outmoded.
Finally, in a parlor at the back, we find Emily Blair’s “peep show” artist books, tucked into the Drawing Room Gallery. This side-lit, small space seems appropriate for the intimate experience of Blair’s text and image-
based constructions, which deal with issues of interiority and perception. Peering through an opening in the front of a box, the viewer is met with a false sense of perspective, as theatrical scenes recede through four or five planes in physical space. Each tableau is accompanied by a text that, in a refreshing reversal, illustrates the visual project. Romantic and estranged, Blair’s artist books are a thoughtful exploration of the subjective interweaving of image, text and artifice.
Gallery 1:Mark Wagner: Creative Accounting
Gallery 2: Dead Center / Marginal Notes: Peter Downsbrough / Jeanne Silverthorne
Drawing Room: Emily Blair
1821 W. Hubbard Street, Suite 202
through May 17