REALLY QUITE DEFINITE “Maybe,” by William Pope.L, mixed media, 2009-2010.
William Pope.L folds his finished works and the detritus of their production and conception into a simmered whole with a haphazard yet strictly curated collection of sculpture, drawings, and scraps spanning 20 years. "The Process Show" is neither a recreation of Pope.L's studio, nor an explanation of his practice; rather, its aim is to be a portrait of the artist's headspace. While the work is saturated with his usual themes of class, race, consumption, and identity politics, it seems the overall issues Pope.L refers to are intention and responsibility as an artist. The intimate 37-A Gallery is transformed into a sort of womb, a projection of the artist's incubating connections and unresolved questions.
A self-proclaimed provocateur and wielder of contraries, Pope.L extends his distrust of façades and the pristine to the format of a gallery. Eschewing clean white walls and traditional presentation, he abandons modes that imply art is sacred, or that it exists in truth. He opts for accessibility and transparency, baring his materials and tools, as well as his inspirations and jumping-off points. He tacks note-ridden crumpled clippings of Toni Morrison reviews to the walls, seemingly out of pocket, leaves work buckets, hardware, and trash on the floor of the space, and juxtaposes one raggedy half of a found ping-pong table with original sculpture and drawings. The result is refreshingly gritty.
Treading a line between intention and mishap, scrutiny and apathy, Pope.L's physical presence is very tangible in the space. This is most accessible in the 2009-2010 installation "Maybe," installed on the back wall of the gallery. An unfinished grid composed of empty sardine cans is arranged on the wall. Pink paint is splashed carelessly on the work, and the materials used in the piece's construction are splayed out at the base, seemingly left behind, including nails, a pencil, a plastic bag, and an electrical cord. A blueprint of the work itself is taped directly to it, interrupting the sardine-can grid. Upon a closer look, every missing can in the grid is marked as such in the blueprint, and there is are clear instructions for a plastic bag, nails, and a pencil sharpener to be arranged just so under the work. Scribbled on the piece is Mies van der Rohe's quote, "God is in the details."
Pope.L is known for incorporating unconventional, often toxic or offensive materials into his visual work: manure, mayonnaise, rat poison, peanut butter. Here he uses more humble, mundane media, but captures the same visceral end. He uses Bic pens, markers, and acrylic on napkins, Post-its, and maps. The most charged material is perhaps white-out, used in portraits of Patrice Lumumba, the first elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, murdered during the 1961 Congo Crisis. Perishables are not omitted, however; the room is overwhelmed with piles of potatoes painted black, described by the artist in his statement as "symbolic of a condition which inevitably shows itself in all of us but may not be apparent upon first impression." They resemble both diseased organs and rubber waste, more man-made than organic. A cheap food is given the weight of stones, and the heaviness of poverty.