Adam Crosson’s exhibition Soft Wax, currently on display at Pump Project, in Austin, Texas, reminds its viewer of the precarious reality that certain mediums can become so iconic of a given artist, or time period, that they lose their capacity to be reused anew. Using florescent lights, cement, copper pipe, and various other building materials, the exhibition overtly references the rebellious aesthetics of the 1960s that sought to break down the distinction between the fine art object and the everyday object. During that time, such and act had traction. It was an era of contesting the institutionalized art world in service of defining a new area of aesthetics labeled “nonart.” And, it was an agenda that dovetailed with mainstream society as government policies and social injustices were challenged by a rebellious population that had had enough of the overcasting shadow of those who were in control. But that was then, and this is now.
Now, some of these injustices are still present, and there still exists that want to right the world. This drive to better us, and protect our global home, would appear to always be present, captivating the human spirit. But how we do this has changed. Yes, we still march; but the way we march, the way we organize, rally, and present ourselves has modernized in the face of technology. Twitter feeds have replaced rally posters pasted to the side of buildings. The call to action still resounds, but it echoes differently in different ears.
In the face of such contextual changes, Crosson’s works read like 5th generation, malformed and mal-considered reboots of their former, and relevant, selves. For example, the exhibition’s centerpiece, Czech Hedgehog, is composed out of three florescent light fixtures lazily leaned together. The object itself is so precarious that during the opening reception it was nearly knocked over several times as it sat there on the floor, attracting flies. And that would have been an improvement.
The fixtures appear to be literally just out of the box, as if Crosson decided at the last minute that his show needed a focal piece, ran out to Home Depot, and decided to be clever. Yet, that cleverness was clearly not thought out. Why a Hedgehog? His artist statement gives the viewer a history lesson about the form itself, about its origins as an anti-tank defense structure used during World War II, but can’t our phones provide us with that information already? Why use florescent lights? Is it really just for demonstrating how the Hedgehog form is capable of “reconfiguration” while “casting light in multiple directions” as he claims? Does he really think no one will question the Flavin connection (a connection that is also noted in Caitlin Greenwood’s exhibition review in The Austin Chronicle)?
In the 1960s Dan Flavin’s art career was solidified using florescent tubes as sculptural forms, and, as such, they became iconic of him, and his legacy in the art world. Using them now, and not mentioning Flavin, or his agenda, anywhere, is akin to a guitarist playing the Star Spangled Banner through a series of distortion petals, and pyrotechnics while apparently believing his, or her, audience has never even heard of Jimi Hendrix. In both instances, the loss of the original context, coupled with the lack of any forthcoming (either realized by the artist or not), is severely detrimental to the work.
Dan Flavin. greens crossing greens (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green), 1966
-Adam Crosson. Czech Hedgehog, 2015
The rest of the pieces in the show reveal the same neglect. One Leg to Stand On, although supposedly a partner piece to Czech Hedgehog, echoes the raw aesthetics of Richard Serra, and the ambiguous photographs of a window, and a subway tunnel, are reminiscent of the mundane moments captured on film by Bruce Nauman.
However, to be clear on this issue, the exhibition does not need to be an art history lesson, nor does this review seek to claim that an artist could never revisit the ideologies of the nonartists. Instead, the salient point here regards Crosson’s choice of a mediums altogether. Assumingly unknowingly, Crosson reveals the authority of the medium, and the longstanding history it evokes. It reminds us that in our current age of appropriation, we still appropriate because what we take, and reuse, reminds us of something else. As with the “retro” filters our camera phones come with now, we use them because they look like our parents and grandparent photographs. Thus, if anything, this exhibition should serve as a warning to artists to think very carefully, and critically, about what they manufacture their artworks out of. An oversight like Crosson’s comes across as an ignorant mistake, and it is a mistake that contributes to furthering the separation between art and society. It reduces the former to a mere curiosity of the latter, turning it into a thing that is to out-of-place to care about.
Posted 18th February 2015 by Arnold, H.C.
Original Comment posted by Seth Orion Schwaiger:
While I agree with this clever review to some extent, and very much appreciate you linking the exhibition with it’s clear historical precedent, as a counterpoint I’d say the argument is on par with claiming that no one is allowed to use corporate branding in contemporary art because it was a trademark of Andy Warhol. Fluorescent lights are not the sole territory of Flavin. There are plenty of other artists (emerging and celebrated — and who aren’t just working in the 60’s) who use fluorescent tubes: Martin Boyce, Robert Irwin, Jeff Koons, you mentioned Bruce Nauman, and others. Seems like it’s open season on fluorescent tubes to me. Now, could Grosson have done something new and exciting with the medium, or invoked a more clear and relevant symbolism in his work? Absolutely, and that would have been great, but I don’t think you have much ground to stand on dismissing contemporary art based on it’s component materials — regardless of who used them first.
Still, it’s a solid review, and I very much value the conversation it brings up. It’s appropriate to the exhibition. So Thanks!