Space-Domestic in the Washington Post

Amze Emmons
Discarded Personal Ephemera
graphite, gouache, acrylic on panel, 20 x 24, 2006

Jessica Dawson reviewed Space-Domestic in Saturday's WaPo:
"Space-Domestic" looks like an exhibition I've seen before. Its themes -- suburban and societal alienation -- are well trod. Its images, too, represent what's in vogue for a certain younger generation enamored of drawings and drawing-like paintings. And as with the last show with these kinds of pictures and ideas, I didn't find much to grasp on to.

The exhibition is the brainchild of talented artist Jiha Moon. It's her first show as a curator, and her performance is unsteady at best. It was a mistake to include the work of her husband, Andy Moon Wilson, and to give his work pride of place. No matter that his installation conjuring an adult's adolescent angst (rather too convincingly, I might add) fits perfectly well as installed inside the exhibition's front door. When it comes to nepotism, the best strategy is to avoid it.

On the surface, the rest of the show looks okay. Amze Emmons's works on paper using graphite, acrylic and gouache are delicate renditions of big box stores and Jersey barriers that sound uninteresting but look quite the opposite. (One image could be something of an in joke: The shipping containers and folding chairs Emmons depicts remind me of the beachside exhibition spaces that the Art Basel Miami Beach fair is known for.) Lily Cox-Richard's trio of images recasting screen views from Web sites asks prodding questions about the Internet's public-private boundaries. Still, after considerable looking, I'm unconvinced that "Space-Domestic" says anything much new.

Though I haven't seen the show yet, I think Dawson is way off-base with her nepotism charge. To me nepotism means someone getting something they don't deserve because of good connections. AMW's work not only fits the theme very well, it's good work, which she even admits looks great in the space. Moon included work in the show by people she knew who fit into the idea, and the person whose work she knows best, her husband's, fits well. If his work didn't work, or was bad, then ok, nepotism. But the art world is full of connection after connection - it's taken me 10 years out of grad school to realize it's all about connections once you have good work.

Dawson's other point hits the mark more though. Again, I haven't seen the show so I can't comment on the other artists work, but I know what I sent to be hung. Dawson probably looks at a lot more contemporary art than I do, so I believe her when she says this show's idea might be well-trod. One wrinkle might have been to note that this show which features several works about or inspired by the suburbs takes place in McLean Va, part of the huge suburban sprawl around Washington D.C. Another angle is to mention that a few of the artists are from outside the U.S. (including the curator) and might therefore have a different relationship with the suburban idea, or that some of us actually live in the 'burbs right now.

When she mentions the themes of suburban isolation and the popularity among younger artists of drawing - that cuts to my bone. She's right, and it's something I've struggled with. Drawing has been my main way of working for 15 years, long before grad schools started pumping out baby artists who do lots of drawing for lots of reasons. Some are valid and sincere, but a lot seem to be riding a lazy wave, letting a red-hot market pump their scribbles into "masterpieces."

The suburban angle hits home with me too - again, around 15 years of my mining this vein can be tossed out with all the other middle-class MFAs drawing their nostalgia. I like to think I'm adding something different - an engagement with art history, a perspective from living in the 'burbs right now, a genuine love that goes with the hatred of sprawl, but I may be fooling myself.

So what's an artist to do who believes they've arrived at a place in their work sincerely though long hard work, but finds himself smack in the middle of hot trendy crap? My answer I come to every few months is - KEEP DRAWING. Find better ways to say better things that are more me and less zeitgeist. Drawings hotness will fade to be replaced by installation or video or whatever. I can do better at conveying my place in the burbs (which I believe I have in some of my comics), or I can dispense with that subject altogether (which I've been planning to do after my show this fall).

UPDATE: Review in local paper here, and on Thinking About Art (J.T. Kirkland) here.

No comments: