Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Note on John Henry at Sonja Roesch

John Henry, sculpture in front of Sonja Roesch Gallery

John Henry is an abstract metal sculptor, belonging pretty much to the same school of sculpture as Anthony Caro and Mark Di Suvero. Henry is ten years younger that Di Suvero and twenty years younger than Caro, and presumably is a lot more active than these two. Still, it feels like he belongs to art history now. If you like welded-metal abstract sculptures (and I do), then this is a show worth seeing.

That said, I noticed something strange on opening night. You see this a lot at openings, and I know it sometimes infuriates artists and gallerists. You see people not looking at the art.

People carefully avoiding a red John Henry sculpture

The sculptures inside the Sonja Roesch Gallery were more-or-less the same scale as the people in the gallery. So it's like they were the uncool kids who were being excluded in junior high.

Blue John Henry sculpture being ostentatiously ignored

What's up with this? I go to openings and sometimes I feel like I'm the only guy looking at the art. But usually there will be at least a few others checking the art out. But at this show it was brutal the way the sculptures were universally avoided.

Yellow John Henry wallflower, hopelessly waiting to be asked to dance

I felt a little sorry for them.

One other amusing thing about the John Henry exhibit was his truck.

John Henry's pickup truck

I think pretty much every sculptor back to Bernini has had a pickup truck. It's simply the most practical vehicle for them. But I have never seen one like this, with information painted on the side. It's as if John Henry is some tradesman--a plumber or electrician. So if we accept that premise, then John Henry is a prole. Maybe that's why all the bourgeous at the opening were ignoring the sculptures--if you were a dinner guest at a friend's house, it would be considered odd if you spent your time chatting with the gardener.
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  1. No one goes to a opening and looks at the work....it's all about socializing and drinking. Hasn't changed in years. When you adervitse on your vehicle it's a tax decution.
    I never liked big macho welded metal; it looks a dated now, very 70's however well done.

  2. Oh I know--I am usually one of the few checking out the art. But this one was especially funny because the way the pieces had been arranged meant that not only were people not looking at them, they had their backs turned to them!

    Mark di Suvero and even Anthony Caro are still around. (Caro will be 87 in March--an artist well worth raising a birthday toast to.) But Caro's work has a different feel--and he doesn't even always work in metal... John Henry has kept it "pure."

    (Good point on the truck!)

  3. I know this is a very old post but... In the first photo of "people not looking at the art" it should be noted that that is a photo of two of John Henry's crew members that had just finished installing the show earlier that day (I am the one in blue). As the fabricators, painters and installers of his work, we had looked at it a lot and know it in ways that few can imagine. As for the truck, I can see the humor for sure, but I know a lot of sculptors who have that stuff on the side of their work vehicles, it's a tax write off. Believe me, that's not what John drives.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I had heard about the tax write-off angle after I wrote this. It makes sense. But actually, even if that were Henry's personal vehicle, I'd think it was pretty cool. Supposedly Ed Kienholz once had a truck that had "ED KIENHOLZ--EXPERT" stenciled on the door!