Monday, March 19, 2007

Andy Moon Wilson: Business, The Curator's Office

Sharon Servilio

There is a Dana Carvey sketch in which the comedian plays an auctioneer at Sotheby’s. Rather than being accommodating and encouraging toward his potential buyers, Carvey’s character indulges in outright mockery of them. As he sells items from the Kennedy estate, he imitates how he believes the buyers will act at home, privately enjoying their purchases. “Ooh, look at me,” he sneers between bids. “I’ve got JFK’s rocking chair! I’m JFK!” or “I’ve got Jackie O’s necklace! I’m Jackie O!” The bidders are clearly uncomfortable, but nevertheless they buy the items for typically extravagant prices. We laugh at the absurdity of Carvey’s insinuations until the camera cuts to a scene in which a winning bidder is sitting on his porch, rocking in JFK’s rocking chair, gleefully shouting, “Look at me! I’m JFK!”

The question of buyership and the relationship between buyer, work, artist, and dealer has been a subject of interest for artists who want to criticize the art market or use its absurdities as objects of play. I was reminded of this issue in several DC galleries recently. In a group show at the Adamson gallery, Enrique Martinez Celaya shows a piece called “The Dalai Lama.” Sold in an edition of thirty, this work is a small diptych consisting of a mundane digital print of a lightning bolt on one side and a mirror on the other. Whatever content the artist actually seeks to impart, my one persistent thought is that of the buyers at home admiring the work, and consequently themselves. “Look at me! I’m the Dalai Lama!” The idea of becoming significant by association, of buying one’s way into some kind of intellectual or artistic community, is certainly an intriguing way to think about buying art.

Quite a different idea about buyership pervades Andy Moon Wilson’s exhibit, Business, currently showing at The Curator’s Office. The show consists of hundreds of pen and ink drawings, mostly business card size, with a few larger pieces maxing out at around two feet. Subject matter includes space age architecture, weaponry, wallpaper-type flourishes, grotesque heads, grids of letters and numbers, and sarcastic cartoons that include both text and image. There is nothing particularly special about these drawings. They are skilled in and comfortable with the style they inhabit, which sees to be predominantly the Cartoon Network aesthetic. A few of the cards could stand alone as drawings, particularly some from the group of alphanumeric grids, which take varying shapes and seem influenced by crossword puzzles, wheel of fortune, and Alfred Jensen paintings. The question of audience comes up immediately, being that the drawings lack what typically engages an art audience: formal innovation, a conceptual edge, poignant content, a sense of risk-taking, exploration, or development. They mostly come across as well-executed doodles, probably most appealing to high school and college age boys, or a general public sufficiently impressed with attractive drawings.

So what is the message here? Is Moon Wilson trying to show up art world elitists by showing amateur-style work for an amateur audience in a professional gallery setting? The business card drawings are each priced at fifty dollars, making them accessible to those who would like to buy art but can rarely afford it. Two weeks into the show, nearly thirty cards had been sold. In addition, the business card as material seems to reference another trait of Moon Wilson’s probable buyership, DC professionals who work 9-5 jobs. This imagined audience is also likely to have a somewhat dorky edge, considering the sense of humor evident in many pieces, such as one that lists the top lessons to be learned from Robocop. Unlike Rob Pruitt’s Art for Teenage Boys series, which was clearly tongue-in-cheek even if rooted in real desires, Moon Wilson seems to revel in the teenage-boy aesthetic without really questioning it.

I applaud Moon Wilson’s idea to subvert the evil art market and make his work accessible to regular people. However, once his work finds its way into their homes, what is it going to say to them? Currently it risks simply verifying the general public’s misconception that art is only about something that looks cool on your wall. Of course, enjoying looking at a work of art is a better reason to buy it than the desire to be an important art intellectual, but that doesn’t excuse the artwork for lacking substance or depth.


Anonymous said...

I have absolutely no idea what the Dana Carvey reference at the beginning of the review has to do with anything. It's like you remembered an SNL skit, decided to describe it, wrote about something else, and then decided you had better set about writing a review.

You have completely missed the entire point of the exhibition. I don't see how Moon Wilson could have have been any more tongue in cheek about his adolescent references, beyond posting a sign at the door pointing out that yes, he is trying to say something beyond "monster trucks are cool". He is examining the indentity-shaping tropes forced into our collective consciousness through the media. He is examining the duality of a society that, on one hand, completely denies violence on the personal level, yet glorifies and sexualizes it in popular culture. He is railing about the dehumanizing effects of technology, the workplace, and the ongoing fall of America.

The elaborate patterning you mention is there because Moon Wilson is a professional textile designer. Designing patterns is how he makes his living. He went to school, he has an MFA, but he has to pay the bills. So now he "doodles" in his office, on the sly, making the work you see in the show. "Business" is about maintaining identity as an artist while being an adult and having to deal with what that means. The work has nothing to do with being commercial, it has to do with trying to stay true to one's self, despite incredible pressures to the contrary.

Accusing this work of being commercial is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

This smacks of the artist defending himself in the third person. I hope that I'm wrong, and that Mr. Moon Wilson has actually matured since his hotheaded public rant here:

I enjoy his work a great deal, and hate to see any artist doing themselves a disservice by airing rants that paint them as someone unable to accept criticism.

Anonymous said...

I can understand the confusion over what is commercial but I do agree with the level of reporting/critical analysis. To make sweeping judgments on work without true investigation points out deficientcies in the author, which also passes the same judgement onto her own work (Lacking investigation and depth).

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is getting nasty, whoever wrote that last comment should post their identity. At least she has posted her name when discussing Moon's work. Whoever is attacking the author and her work should have the balls to reveal themselves.

Anonymous said...

Good call, David!

Anonymous said...

I can't apologize for my opinions, as they were honest and the result of serious deliberation. A review by nature is one-sided, being only one person's read of the work, and it's clear from these comments that other viewers have completely different opinions and reads of Moon Wilson's work. To the artist's credit, I only review shows that capture my interest, even if I have problems with the work. In this case, out of all the DC galleries I visited that day, Moon Wilson's work raised the most interesting questions in my mind.

I did not intend to accuse the artist of only being concerned with selling his work. The culture of art buyers, the relationship of artist to buyer, and the limitations of the art market are issues that all artists today have to deal with, whether we like it or not. It's more complex than just being commercial or not commercial. Do we ignore the market? Play it? Comment on it? I interpreted Moon Wilson's exhibit as commenting on it, or as rejecting an elite culture of art buyers for a different audience, though this may not be what he intended to do.

Anonymous said...

"There is nothing particularly special about these drawings"

- well, I think his subject is really wide but very specific. I know his style is resemble to amateurish high school note book, but that is actually a starting point for him and how he develops.

How do you distinguish someone's drawing as amateur or professional?
Style is matter of that artist's choice and it should be based on the context. Before you discriminate between certain styles, you have to see why artist is using that style.

Well, doodles, youth culture, even flower parttens are based on his observations which have specific meanings. They are blunt, in your face and sometimes acting silly but they have all importanat roles in his Project, and so do business cards as material.

Sorry that I am away from your question of buyer and market issue, but I wanted to put my comment.

Jiha Moon