Monday, June 2, 2014

Two Ways to Do the (Paintings of) Dishes

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Pitcher," 2012, Gouache on Paper, 9" x 9"

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, video composite for "Object Classification," 2014

Is the story we associate with an object pressed within its physical matter like a vinyl recording? Does it replay in our memory when triggered by our experience of the object? Can these stories be shared through the exchange or transformation of that object?  These questions are prompted by two projects I worked on this spring centered on still life paintings. Early in March I got an email from the LES gallery Lisa Cooley offering the opportunity to participate in Das Tauschregal (translated as The Barter Shelf.) It was part of an “experiment in participatory economics,” conceived of by the painter Cynthia Daignault wherein I traded an "object of value," -- an old coffee cup -- for a representational painting of it by her. About the same time that I relinquished the cup to Daignault, I performed "Object Classification" at the Last Brucennial, a monumental community art show put on by Vito Schnabel and The Bruce High Quality Foundation. In front of more than 40 people gathered in the galleries, I let go of a white, china pitcher that I had previously used as the subject of a painting. It fell to the concrete floor and broke. Sharp triangles of porcelain popped and skidded around my bare feet.

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Object Classification" performance, 2014 (photos by Kyle Morrison)

 There is a personal story associated with the cup I submitted to Lisa Cooley.  As part of the selection process I was asked to describe the object on the back of a 3” x 5” index card. I wrote, “My friend Leon Kenyon, III, had lived in New York City before coming to college in Claremont, CA. He was exotic and sophisticated about art and life. He made poetic collages and talked about the abstract power of the color blue. He would serve coffee properly in this cup when I came over to visit and talk about art and art history. Once when we were walking together he found laying on the street a page out of a magazine featuring a woman’s breasts. He matter-of-factly put the page on his refrigerator with a magnet. Somehow, over all these many years, I have kept the cup. It is small and round and creamy white. On the bottom of the cup it says “USA.” Leon inspired what I consider to be my first real work of art, this collage:

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Pink Pacific," 1978, 30" x 18", mixed media 

During “Object Classification," a video montage of layered source imagery for my small gouache still life streamed over me. Before dropping the pitcher I explained to the audience, “For over 20 years I made paintings of cups and pitchers…They were objects of reassurance. They contained my stories…But, after all those years, I wanted to be able to tell my stories, to participate in them, become them through their retelling.” The video included short clips from family trips and popular entertainment we enjoy together. Outside the gallery’s window walls, the streets of New York City’s meat packing district were flooded with shoppers and the sunshine of an unseasonably warm mid-March afternoon.

My performance was part of “Sacred Nipples: Feminist VideoScreening and Discussion.” The art collective, Go! Push Pops -- with Katie Cercone and Elisa Garcia de la Huerta -- and I organized the event because this year The Last Brucennial included only women artists: 660 in total. (Similarly, the one-day exhibition up at the same time, The Whitney Houston Biennial, curated by Christine Finley featured over 80 women artists.) Just as I had sought to get deeper inside the subject matter for my paintings, the audiences’ discussion after the videos and performances focused on transformation and choosing to challenge outdated rules. Feminism and the mechanisms of inequity within the art market were topics of interest, bringing together a diverse audience.

For the Lisa Cooley exhibition, Daignault transformed my cup and 30 other objects into small, representational paintings. According to the gallery, “Since the paintings were installed concurrently with the Frieze Art Fair, Das Tauschregal suggests an alternative art market, exploring the notions of value independent of price.” The paintings were on display from the beginning of the Frieze Art Fair, which took place on Randall’s Island and was attended by 50,000 people over a four-day period, but they were installed at 6 Decades Books located on Canal Street. While the show was up through May 31st, the store is only open two days a week. I would be surprised if 200 people saw the show. 

Cup traded for a painting

Cynthia Daignault, Das Tauschregal, installation view courtesy of Lisa Cooley Gallery 

Daignault’s expression of an alternative value system, was segregated from the mainstream art market that predominately serves institutions lead by white men. We concluded at the Last Brucennial discussion that having a large, supportive audience – in galleries, museums, in collections and in the press -- improves the chances of keeping the stories not yet given their proper due alive through their retelling.

Clitney Perennial preparations in Anne Sherwood Pundyk's studio
 included Sienna Shields, Anne Sherwood Pundyk, Katie Cercone, 
Elisa Garcia de la Huerta, and Asha Man (Photo by Andrew Hutner)

Two Months later, as a corollary to the conversations started around the Last Brucennial, Go Push Pops!, Asha Man and I lead an activist art happening at the Whitney Biennial called The Clitney Perennial. Our goal was to reinforce the existence of inequitable gender and racial representation in the exhibition. The event was inherently defiant; we did not seek the museum’s permission. We took the risk of expulsion or worse to show by example what is necessary to fight for important social changes. We were pleased to have endorsements from artists such as Suzanne Lacy and The Guerrilla Girls. We acted in solidarity with members of the Yams Collective, who had pulled their video “Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera, 2014” from the Biennial days before to protest the institutionalized white supremacy embodied by the museum. Throughout the evening, informal dialogue between participants and audience members touched on many personal examples of limiting and destructive treatment in the art world. The camaraderie we felt was fueled by the open structure of the event, the opportunity to raise awareness, and by the sense of unity bonding those who had chosen to embrace the risk of speaking out.

 Clitney Perennial at The Whitney Museum (photo by Jillian Steinhauer)

 Clitney Perennial Poster by Anne Sherwood Pundyk

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