Staging Over Manipulation
At Guest Spot through March 3
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The current show at Fells Point’s intimate Guest Spot space is, and is not, a typical art show. It was curated (by Guest Spot director/landlord Rod Malin and collaborator Heather Loughran) in part as a wry commentary on art as brand and brand as art. Not all of the work from the four artists involved—Julie Benoit, Eric Doeringer, Jenny Drumgoole, and Kim Llerena—neatly addresses that theme, but the best of it does, and in intriguing ways.
One of the most visually arresting pieces comes from New York-based artist Eric Doeringer. The large color photograph “Untitled (Cowboy)” focuses on a man in a cowboy hat and vest, his head bowed as he reaches down to adjust his leather chaps. Another presumable cowboy leans over a fence behind him, holding a lariat. The entire scene is suffused with not only the golden glow of an archetypal Western clime, but also the slightly enlarged grain of a blown-up photograph. It’s the sort of image familiar from advertising, and that’s because that’s what it is—an image appropriated from the long-running rugged-cowboy campaigns that peddle Marlboro cigarettes. Not only is Doeringer appropriating advertising imagery, he’s appropriating another artist’s appropriation of such imagery: The piece is subtitled “after Richard Prince,” the artist who first began exhibiting his photographs of advertisements in the 1970s, most famously images of Marlboro men.
Likewise, Doeringer’s other pieces in Staging Over Manipulation go “after” other famous works by well-known artists. A small shelf displays three softcover books—Real Estate Opportunities, Records, and Some Los Angeles Apartments—each filled with images of their title subjects (various Los Angeles properties for sale, assorted old vinyl LPs and their covers, apartment buildings both grand and modest), each modeled after similar books with the same titles created by Ed Ruscha in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Doeringer’s “I Got Up” and “I Went” are both “after” On Kawara pieces: sending a daily postcard stamped with the time the artist woke up each morning and tracing the artist’s daily route on a map each day for a year, respectively. The racks of postcards have a pleasingly tactile, mosaic-like quality as displayed at Guest Spot, but it’s the slim binder containing just 12 days’ worth of Doeringer’s year-long “I Went” documentation, red pen lines marking his exact routes on photocopied maps of Manhattan or Amsterdam, that transcends a winking feel for something closer to sincere homage. Doeringer is revisiting the ideas of other artists, but his dedication to his work is no less deep.
Baltimore-based photographer Kim Llerena exhibits several large color photographs of depopulated home settings, both idealized and less so. One is an image of what appears to be a Pottery-Barn-ed-to-death living room of a “model home” in a suburban development; a flat screen over the just-so fireplace exhorts make big plans of your own today. Another depicts a living room in a very different state, its floor trash-strewn, its furniture ruined, its ceiling peeling paint. Putting the two together, one directly above the other, seems a little too on the nose for an otherwise fairly sly show. Llerena’s other model-home images are more successful. “Model (bookshelf)” depicts a bookshelf filled with artfully arranged books and family photos, yet something about the impersonality of the library (popular fiction titles and no-name nonfiction, all stripped of dust jackets as decorative books-by-the-foot tend to be) and the context raises the question of whose family, exactly, is that in the photos, and whom this sort of sterile hominess is supposed to appeal to/fool. “Model (throne)” captures an oblique, high-angle rendering of a pristine toilet in a tiny mini-mansion alcove, its unused sacrosanctness and pure potentiality telegraphed by a sanitized-for-your-protection-style ribbon wrapped around the lid. A brown ribbon. The wit of these images and the eerie inhuman environment they capture linger after you head off to your own messy home.
Baltimore artist Julie Benoit’s eight-minute video piece “Two Views With Mirror” depicts various depopulated locations around Baltimore with their literal mirror opposites inset thanks to a small square mirror, e.g. a static shot looking down at the seat of a park bench featuring a central square of sky, bare trees, and the occasional passing bird. Polished and meditative, it nonetheless can’t help but be overshadowed by Jenny Drumgoole’s “Q&A With the Real Women of Philadelphia,” a 35-minute video piece that functions as a wormhole into the state of contemporary public media culture.
Though the setup isn’t necessarily clear from the piece itself at the outset, the video arises from the Philadelphia-based Drumgoole seizing on the idea of entering recipe videos in an online contest sponsored by Kraft, the manufacturer of Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, and folksy TV food personality Paula Deen. Drumgoole’s videos, theatrical productions involving surreal recipes and a running Rambo theme (as in a rough cream-cheese mold of Sylvester Stallone’s head), garner approving feedback from more straightforward contest entrants and from Deen herself. As the video unspools and Drumgoole involves herself further in the contest (with her mother, a devoted Deen fan, in tow), she further builds her own half-real televisual personality (it involves Rambo, hair flips, an ever-present drink with a straw, and holding a cat) even as she explodes Deen’s own TV image. It wouldn’t do to spoil it too much. You should go see it for yourself.