Sunday, October 18, 2009

Newest Acquisitions: Bill Davenport "Cans"

Wow, this was a busy Saturday, art-wise. I visited nine galleries/art spaces. I had even more to check out, but I ran out of time. I'm not like the Vogels, who would sometimes check out 20 new shows a weekend. I seriously doubt that I'll be able to write it all up this weekend, but that's OK--I can just add new posts throughout the week.

I made a slightly unexpected purchase today.
Soup Cans
Bill Davenport, Soup Cans, paint on wood

Two erzatz soup cans, painted onto cylinders of rough wood. These were found in Bill's Junk, which is the store of Bill Davenport, an artist and collector of thrift-store odds and ends, especially thrift store paintings.

Bill's Junk exterior

Of course, if you saw the No Zoning show at the CAMH (see here, here, and here), you know who Bill Davenport is. He set up a miniature version of his store inside the CAMH for the duration. Now that No Zoning is done, he is back to his more permanent store. Davenport is an artist who likes to scour thrift stores and garage sales. Like Jim Shaw, he loves thrift store paintings. But he has too much junk, so the store is a way to get rid of them and play around with what's art and what's junk, and why things cost what they do. So I was looking at the stuff in the store, and chatting with Davenport, and I saw the "cans." He has a whole shelf of them.

"Wow, these are cool. Where did you find so many wooden 'soup cans'?" I asked, assuming he had found them at some garage sale. He confessed that he made them all himself. The wood was sawed sections of a round wood you could buy cheap at Lowes as garden decoration. He came up with the idea when he was teaching an art class for kids, and he wanted to teach them about pop art. This was a project they could do themselves.

At $24 apiece, it was worth it to get two. (I wonder what his gallery here in town--Inman--thinks about him selling them so cheap?)

He was a chatty and willing host. He showed me the thrift store show he had hanging next door at Optical Project. It's called "Hard Edge: Ping Pong Abstraction from Houston Thrift Stores." It's a small selection of abstract thrift store paintings, including this one that inspired the whole show.

ping pong abstraction

It looks like a hand painted ping-pong table top, but it actually is a depiction of one on stretched canvas. It's pretty brilliant. Like a pop artist, this artist painted a flat representation of an actually flat thing that is also part of popular culture (not unlike a Brillo Box, for example). But like a minimalist painter, there is barely anything there. Hell, this painting makes Agnes Martin and early Frank Stella look busy. That an anonymous painter could create a painting that so perfectly encapsulated two totally contradictory 60s art movements into one painting is amazing. Davenport apparently thought so, too. He built his whole show around this painting. The show features a real ping pong table in the middle of the room.

Optical installation 1

Optical installation 2

As you can see, the other abstract paintings are not terribly impressive. Davenport reckons that some of them were class exercises for high school/college art students. The big red-white-and blue painting dates from 1970, and seems to be a pretty serious effort (it's oil on linen, which is one reason it's lasted so well). But it's hideous. You can see the painter looking at it in 1980 and thinking, "Why the hell have I kept this all these years?"

After the ping pong painting, the most interesting in the show is this one:

minimal thrift store pinting

It is a little like a Sean Scully or Robert Mangold. We speculated what could have been the motivation for the painter. It just doesn't seem like the kind of thing that the average Sunday painter would come up with! It's too minimal! Davenport's theory is that it was actually a purely decorative element (he theorized its use in a candy store, but I think he was reaching.) I prefer to think that it was semi-naive but intentional minimalism.

Then we played a game of ping pong (Davenport creamed me 21-6).

Oh, one last thing:

real and fake Davenports

The painting on the left is the most expensive item in the store--it's one of Davenport's own paintings. It's excellent, and really much much better than the thrift store art. There really is a difference in quality, both in terms of the concept and in the execution. But the reason that there are two of them is a story that Davenport delights to tell.

The one on the left was lost by UPS. The sender, apparently, felt so guilty that she sent a jpeg of the painting to this company in China that will make oil paintings out of any jpeg. I guess people generally send them family portraits. Lord knows what they made of this, but the result is the painting on the right. The colors are surprisingly accurate, considering they came from a jpeg. But amazingly, a year after they lost it, UPS found the original painting. So Davenport displays them both--the "real" and the copy, and has a story to tell his customers when they ask about them.

optical exterior

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