The Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center
by Katrina Kuntz
I admit, when I went to see the Hellenic Museums The Art of the Artists Statement, I certainly imagined being inundated by text. I thought I would find statements about the mission of the museum, the mission of the exhibitions curators, the missions of the artists. What I was not expecting, however, was an absence of text. Based upon their own experience of writing artist statements, co-curators Georgia Kotretsos and Maria Pashalidou invited fourteen artists to create artwork in any media to present a Îvisual commentary on the subject of artist statements. From the artists interpretations in this show, it is obvious that the artist statement need not be textual.
The work runs the gamut of media from Juan Wm. Chavezs expressionist charcoal drawings, made while watching televised soccer matches, to the aptly titled Inarticulate, an installation by Sabrina Raaf of 2000 tongue impressions made in wax and an accompanying photograph of the artist kneeling, her head plunged into the pile of petal-like impressions. In fact, this feeling of ineptitude or ineffectiveness captured by Raaf is present throughout the gallery in Kika Charalambidous hanging laminated texts that overlap and become indecipherable when stirred and, most notably, in the mounds and bumps of Ryan Swansons Things You Tell Yourself. At first, I found myself amusedly side-stepping the incongruous carpeted mounds but quickly began to tire of the game of negotiating both Swansons installation and the gallery crowd.
It was then, I realized, that this is how the artist statement most often functions, as a go-between, a negotiator or interpreter between artist and viewer. The co-curators and five other artists, curators, and academics÷Candida Alvarez, Adam Brooks, Michelle Grabner, Adelheid Mers, and W. F. Garrett-Petts÷acknowledged this in their panel discussion on March 4. The value, legitimacy, and power of artist statements were other issues addressed. Those present argued whether the statement has become a tool of the artist to manipulate the audience or a manipulation of the artist by the audience; all panelists agreed that the artist statement should never just describe the work. The written statement has been institutionalized and is unavoidable. As such, its craft and necessity will continue to exasperate artists, professors, art historians, critics, curators, and viewers alike.
As a viewer, it was unsettling not to have the comfort of supplementary wall text or some sort of exhibition catalogue to physically hold. These texts reassure me if I do not get the work visually, I have the chance to understand it verbally. Without a written statement, I was required to react, think, and feel on my own. Actually, this new responsibility was quite refreshing.