Jack Carney and Curtis Rhodes at Monroe-Brown

by John Link



Installation shot

Image by Nick Anderson, 2017


Now that the show is over, I am going to write about what stuck to me.

It was not a show for brainiacs. Like all that is up for viewing, it did not need to be "understood", just liked or not. But it actually resisted being understood, despite "influences" that could be referenced in the case of each artist, influences which are plenty friendly to intellectualizing. You know what I am talking about, the fodder of docent gallery tour ramblings. Or the stuff you remember from art history class when you were not sleeping. I think this happened because the pictures from both artists are so blatantly visual.

My eyes are bossy and uncharitable. They don't like my brain. They don't like anyone's brain. They demand direct satisfaction from what they look at or they get pissed. They take no orders except those they themselves provide. Dates, titles, media, movements, trends, all that stuff, is beside the point when they tell my brain whether they are having any fun or not. I don't "decide" if they are having fun, they tell me how that is going, in spades - and that is all there is to it. If my brain objects, the only court of appeal is to take them back for a second look.

So when I went to see Jack and Curtis's show, I just let them go any way they wanted. I was hoping they would not freak me out by disliking what they saw because these artists are such dear friends. But I went in knowing just about everything I had seen in the Monroe-Brown Gallery in the past was unsatisfactory, not really in itself, but because the gallery sucked so much into the vast emptiness that hovered over the ground floor. Why, my eyes would ask in the past, is the title of this exhibit a stupid 40 feet above the floor with nothing in between? Why, my feelings were asking as I walked in, are you taking such a chance with stuff done by a couple of your best friends?

I looked at Curtis's pictures first. Brilliant color and twisty details. Green even, which I hardly ever like. None of them exactly the same size, but they controlled the space like proper uniformed soldiers, marching in perfect cadence to fight off distractions, even the green ones. They had their own back. The emptiness I was afraid would soil them was nowhere in the space they claimed. My brain was relieved his pictures were so splendid. My eyes just said, what else did you expect? (They never understand how anyone can disagree with them.) Color on the make. Drawing on the prowl. Writ large, on paper no less. Such a joy to behold. There is no need to say anything else here except: Thank you Curtis.

Now for Jack's gigantic photographs. I am biased in favor of black and white. Not for any philosophical reason, but because the majority of the good buzz I have gotten over the years from photographs has come from black and white ones. Their only generic problem is when too much light is focused on them, the black parts reflect the light and hide whatever is there. This did not happen in Jack's show, despite black being the most abundant color. Not a pure black though, but a black rich with tightly managed small contrasts, the kind of black my eyes told my feet exactly where they had to stand to fully apprehend. Certainly, Jack's stuff seduced many in the crowd to settle for the striking way it also presented severe contrast. It could have seduced me too because I liked them at the distance as much as anybody, but the physical compulsion to be more careful around them said to try harder. The full experience took place within a rather specific range of distances. So be it. The reward was compelling. Thank you Jack.

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Greenberg described apprehending really good art as "feeling like you are dancing three feet off the ground". Apprehension is by pure stand-alone feeling, enjoying the suitability of its object for the act of apprehension itself. It is a time-out from discursive thought, from moral judgement, from historical precedent, from depression and sadness, from friendships that worked and friendships that didn't, from anything that does not dwell entirely in that specific present moment, the moment of the feast that good art provides, displacing the details of daily life, but fully within the context of real living. This show was abject eye candy, the kind of art Greenberg's statement delineates. It required nothing more and nothing less than open, unfettered looking.

The curators, Indra Lacis and Mindi Bagnall, have conquered the devil that once dwelled in Monroe-Brown Gallery, levitating over everything it damaged. I don't ordinarily go for installation shots, but that is all I am providing here because it illustrates so well how the curators put this thing together. They divided the space straight down the middle, giving each guy room to have a one-man show, which each one took. The only way to say how the two went together is to say they didn't have much to do with each other, which is the characteristic they had in common. Trish Hennessy once told me her theory of interior design: If the stuff you put into the space is good enough, it will all come together. That's how this show succeeded.

April 7, 2017

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