Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Insane Shocking Beauty

I did intend to write today. Really.

Much of the day was spent searching for a sketch book with a story that I started back in 2007 or 2008. I wanted to finally wrap that thing up. I felt like I had it in me.

Well, it was nearly thoroughly beat out of me after several hours of scouring sketchbooks all around my home. Not one of them revealed the mystery story. After giving up several times, it was found in an obscure pile of magazines and info from the last Whitney Biennial.

I'll avoid the nuances of the story here. As with much of this blog, if you want the whole story you might have to buy me a beer. I'm a cheap date.

It was all worth the effort, though. Case in point - about the sketch book, not me being cheap - when I turned to a random page searching for the story I stumbled on the fact that I scribbled the following words: "The world is full of insane shocking beauty. Typically all you have to do is be aware."

That's a good concept.

An example of that concept would be found in the work of Man Bartlett. He recently had a one day solo show at the now shuttered Flatfile Galleries here in Chicago. I've thought hard about the statement I'm about to make, but, after deliberation, have decided that it's true: Man's show was the single best usage of that gallery space ever. I say that with some humility considering the fact that I assisted, curated and directed that space over the course of nearly six years and I had nothing to do with Man's show. The really great thing, though, is that no one had anything to do with Man's show except Man. Well, I mean, once Man was done, you had everything to do with it, but concept wise, it was an exciting pure glimpse into a very creative soul.

I was lucky enough to see it just after installation was finished. Man, with his hat tipped just so, was shooting images (included in this post) and it was just us. Among the larger spaces in Chicago, Man's work occupied every square inch with it's breath. It was, of course, sharply minimal and nearly empty in terms of visual information, but trust me, it was full. That's part of what made the experience so valuable for me. As a curator, I'm not sure if I'd have the balls to allow that much room for work to sit. As I saw it finished, though, it was an unmitigated success.

Upon entrance, you were immediately stuck by the lightness in the air. Earth, a small mound of dirt with a white marble atop, drew your eyes down. From it, I would later learn, emanated the smell of white spruce oil, which filled the gallery with an unusually pleasant outdoor note.

From there your eyes would raise to transmission III, a work on canvas that held the entire long wall of the gallery. Sixty feet of wall this thing commanded. It was a brave and wise choice. One I'm nearly sure I never would have made, but hope to have learned from.

The project room contained the installation piece The Seven Transmissions. Again, I was confronted with a choice that would have kept me up at night second guessing. Seven bowls of water, each with a small orb of glass weighting down gold leaf - on the floor. The thing is - well - I used to hate those damn floors. Painted plywood. Dirty. That particular room torn to shreds by Wafaa's work years earlier. Oh, how I hated those things. Bouncy. Uneven. Yet. Here were these unassuming works. On the floor. Inviting you down. Not pushing you away. The treat, of course, came with the middle bowl. Shimmering on the surface and wafting up was the smell of rose oil. Honestly, and I can't tell you why, so satisfying as to nearly bring me to tears.

The photographer in me fell for his adorable, approchably-sized-but-placed-sort-of-off-limits Nile Relief. It was mounted on the brick behind the desk. With it's hot spot light, though, it cut quite the figure. It makes me love this world. Quite a statement considering some of the nihilistic existentialist stuff I've been ranting lately.

There is no doubt for me. Man is one of the greatest artists I know. I realize that people are going to look at some of this and say, "What art? Where is it? I don't see it." I get that. I think Man gets it. And he's ok with that. And I'm ok with that.

Man stands in no ones shadow. He creates his own light.

Installation of Man Bartlett's work at Flatfile Galleries

transmission III (coronation), oil stick and graphite on canvas, 2008 & Earth, dirt, two marbles, gold leaf, sage, white spruce oil, 2009

The Seven Transmissions, water, glass, gold leaf, rose oil, 2008-09

Nile Relief, photo mounted on panel, 2009