Art Papers, Nov/Dec 1986
Cutting ‘Em Off at the Pass: Experiments, Diversions
and Lies, by Michael Corris. Mattress Factory Group Exhibition,
Arts Festival of Atlanta September 10-28, 1986.
Within the Festival, the enclaves of high art were entirely
in agreement on one point: they were addressing those who
don’t make art, yet purchase art. In this context,
the notion of the organicity of culture — and therefore,
the non-existence of any such lacunae in interpretation
— takes on new and significant meaning. What role
is to be played by the apparently innocent description of
diversity as an organic whole?
"If the Artist Market is the backbone
of the Arts Festival", wrote Catherine Fox in a review
of the MFG exhibition ("Mattress Group supports diverse,
bold exhibits," The Atlanta Constitution, 9/23/86),
"and this year’s Bathhouse show, with its heavy
social critique, is the brain - or, at least, the superego
- then the Mattress Group’s show must be the heart."
It seems that such casual metaphorization really has, as
its core, a profoundly disturbing, bourgeois conception
of social life. The figure is misplaced and serves to enforce
what has been for artists, among others, a disastrous split
between theory and practice, labor and management, ownership
and control and non-ownership and servitude. This is the
double talk of the cultural manager, for whom everything
is neatly in place. For those there can be no gaps, no ‘dark
shadows’ of culture.
….On the other hand, there were works in the MFG exhibition
which refused to be merely decorative or entertaining or
slight; for example, the works by Terry Boling, Michael
Jenkins, Lisa Tuttle and Victoria Webb. So while the Bathhouse
and the Pavilion appear to co-exist in an oppositional relation
to each other, the very categories upon which that judgement
is rendered prove to be unstable and illusory. There is
no denying that they do represent two differing paradigms
of art making, which, unfortunately, has raised the red-herring
of ‘accessibility’ leading to the veiled charge
of elitism or obscurantism or, at the very least, excessive
intellectualism, levelled at MFG’s efforts.
This issue of accessibility is irrelevant.
There is nothing in either of the two shows which supports
such a claim. To confuse ‘accessibility’ with
‘popularity’ is to participate in the malformation
of social discourse. To say that art is either this way
or that way is to enforce normativity. What has that got
to do with the production of meaning?
Michael Corris is an artist, art historian and arts
writer. Corris holds a BA from Brooklyn College, an MFA
in painting/media from the Maryland Institute College of
Art, and a PhD from University College London. A former
member of the Conceptual art group Art & Language, Corris’s
papers and archive of early Conceptual art are now housed
at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. He was a
founding editor of The Fox (1974–76) and Red-Herring
(1976–79). His art criticism has been widely published
in journals and magazines devoted to modern and contemporary
art including Art Monthly, Artforum, FlashArt, Art History,
art+text and Mute. Corris' most recent books include Conceptual
Art: Theory, Myth and Practice (Cambridge U.P., 2004), David
Diao (TimeZone8 Books, Beijing, 2005), Ad Reinhardt (Reaktion
Books, 2008), and A MUTE Reader.
Statement for the exhibit:
For the past six years I have been painting; landscapes,
portraits, mostly dreams of visions. Because the urbanization
of the city keeps edging the green out, I find myself using
landscapes in the dream paintings and vice-versa. For this
exhibit I chose to portray what was once a huge field of
Kudzu, home to birds and winos and a source of local mystery.
You could walk down my street into this place of rambling
trees and bushes and leaves where old mattresses lay with
flattened discarded jackets, ancient bottles, arrangements
like cheap Stonehenges. It was quiet, peaceful. Now the
Carter Library exists there with a large parking lot, well
lit at night with a guard to shoot stray dogs, people who
get too close. No more solace or mystery to it, the moon
can’t compete with buglights.