I saw Joe Davidson's show at Barbara Davis a couple of weeks ago, and meant to write about it then. The show closes on April 16, so if you get a chance, swing by and see it. This work is fun to look at but it's also a prime example of a genre of art that I call "stunt art." The idea behind stunt art is that the viewer is utterly amazed that an artist can make artwork out of some unpromising or even absurd material. It makes me think of the famous sexist quip by Samual Johnson, quoted by James Boswell in his Life: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." He may have been wrong about women preachers, but the idea applies perfectly well to stunt art. In the case of Joe Davidson, it might be paraphrased "like an artist producing a landscape out of scotch tape."
Joe Davidson, Untitled (Landscape), Scotch tape on vellum, 2010
Joe Davidson, Untitled (Landscape) detail, Scotch tape on vellum, 2010
The thing about stunt art is that it is usually quite difficult to create. Far more difficult than using traditional drawing or painting or photographic tools. So perhaps that's the value in it--it is the result of an often tedious, slightly crazy process. And knowing this adds something to the viewer's experience of the art. But still, it is easy to see how this art becomes sort of a circus act--the main thing about it is how ridiculously difficult it was to create and how unexpected the materials are. I think that is the balancing act--go too far, and your art becomes little more than a Ripley's Believe It or Not entry.
I think that because of the hazy white and gray landscape, like mountains seen through a snowstorm, Davidson skates on the art side of stunt art. In other words, there is more here than just the stunt.
Joe Davidson, Sunday Shakers, scotch tape, 2005
And here he maybe stays on the right side of the stunt by recalling the austere still-lifes of Giorgio Morandi. The spareness of these pieces could be said to recall the postwar existentialist spirit of Morandi and Giacometti. Still, when one common reaction to these pieces is, "Oh my God! It's made out of scotch tape! Amazing!", you know you are in the presence of stunt art.
Joe Davidson, Sunday Shakers detail, scotch tape, 2005
Funny, I made art out of scotch tape (well, all kinds of tape really) in high school. Maybe I should have stuck with it (sorry, couldn't resist).ReplyDelete
There's probably only room for one master of scotch tape in the art world.ReplyDelete
Stunt/Gimick/Fugitive art etc. This work and too many others like it will not last.I am reminded of the recent Schwitters show and the fading colors and materials; beautiful sensitive work slowly disappearing away. The early Rauschendergs that were so full of life now look faded and diminshed. Another 50 years they will be invisible or just mumified. A huge DADA ha ha! It will keep conservators busy and employed.In 50 years it won't make any difference. Just stuff stuffed in museum storage units.ReplyDelete
I was told that Davidson applies a coat of varnish to seal the work. But I had the same thought.ReplyDelete
That said, I will be very very old in fifty years (if I am still alive), and I don't really care if it lasts. Permanence if a valuable quality, but not an aesthetic virtue. How long does a dance last, for example. How many beautiful Greek drawings on paper (or papyrus) are we missing from museums? All of them, pretty much. But I think we can be certain that many of them were beautiful. In short, I think these things should be judged in the here-and-now.
"Permanence is a valuable quality" I mean to write...ReplyDelete