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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

THE ART OF OBSESSION, by Katie Whitney

What if you woke up one morning and realized that you couldn't stop noticing red pants? You notice them everywhere--that bag lady's sweats, that kid's corduroys, that girl's tight jeans--red pants, red pants, red pants. You even noticed when they weren't around, and worse, you missed them. You felt compelled to grasp at the moments you had together. Would you keep it to yourself? Tell a friend? See a psychologist?

Chris Schneider seems to suffer from this quirk, and he's made his own cure in his "Red Pants Project," a series of 382 snapshots of people wearing red pants. It's one of 27 works in Obsession, on display through April 12 at Gallery Project. Individually, the shots suck: the photography's often blurry, with haphazard compositions and no attention to white balance, not to mention subtlety. They're simply records of the artist's compulsion. But when put together, in a dizzying wall of neat rows, they form something awe inspiring: an archive--measured, organized, deeply satisfying--of one small slice of this person's experience (a major raison d'etre, one could argue, of the blogosphere). I was surprised to find the artist has priced the photos to sell separately, or in small groups. They have very little aesthetic value on their own, and I doubt someone would buy just one--even if it were a Picasso (or maybe especially if it were a Picasso, considering the recent Yves Saint Laurent auction debacle).

The power of repetition and scale forms the greater part of the intellectual content of this exhibit. Besides the photos and one other piece, the entire exhibit is abstract--and most of it is doodles. One artist has simply drawn tiny circles of varying sizes in a circular pattern over a large piece of paper. It's intriguing. Taken together it looks almost cell-like, a tiny organism, multiplying and expanding. But ultimately, it's pencil, paper, and little circles: the art is in the patience. And this theme runs throughout most of the exhibit. Patterns emerge--not just in individual pieces, but between different artists' work: a fondness for forms that echo bones, cells, innards, never quantifiable or exact, but often with an unsettling plant-animal hybridity.

There are two pieces that make me want to go back to see the show again, and both are not only skillful, but subtle and meditative. Thom Bohnert's "One in a Hundred, One of the Same" is a set of 100 drawings of the same bird. They look like small, pointilised Audubons on old-looking yellowish Kitakata paper. You could play the Sesame Street game of figuring out which ones are not like the others, but it's far more satisfying to bask in the serenity.

The other piece, Namin Kim's "Circles," is an installation on the floor of terracotta sticks piled on top of actual sticks in a circular pattern. (There's a version in the little back room done in porcelain.) I don't really know what it means, and I don't really care to know. Its just lovely in its simplicity and vague evocation of nature, altars, and solitude.

In both of these works, the artist is in complete control of his or her obsession. That passionate energy for one quirky subject--contained, directed, molded, and transformed--is something to behold.

posted by Katie Whitney at 4:46 p.m. | 0 comments


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