Weathersby's "ES Inaugural Retrospective and Storage Loft" at Rotenberg Gallery is an office/clubhouse/loft built in the gallery, with a computer desk, business cards, photos of past "shadow drawings," home-improvementy videos (including work at the home he's moving into in Medford), a jam jar filled with dirty water (purported to be from washing the kitchen in gallerist Barbara Krakow's home), a hose, coiled phone wire, and a giant yarn God's eye. Climb up the stairs into the loft and you find a manual typewriter, an empty aquarium, piles of drawings and typed-on paper, a lamp, an oscillating fan, and a video of an aquarium with a chandelier reflecting in the glass. Life-size photos of Weathersby's home office cover two gallery walls. Environmental Services invoices are stuck on everything in the photos — each with an image and description of a job (cleaning, art moving, installation).
A third wall features photos of ceiling lamps (emphasis on the glow they cast) and various places he's worked (puddles in warehouse-like rooms, a demolished kitchen filled with debris). They seem to be an argument for meditative attention to the beauty in seemingly mundane junk.
Weathersby's project is sometimes described as an investigation of class (blue-collar labor versus art), patronage, and close observation. But the objects here feel like a random survey of his art and his cleaning business. They don't coalesce. A tour guide can help decipher some coded meaning — but even then it feels as if Weathersby were talking to himself, not us.
Witkin's "Others Among Others" at LaMontagne Gallery presents minimalist unpainted wood chairs, a desk, and tables with books or artful arrangements of rocks on top. A stereo shuffles randomly through dozens of different recordings of the folk song "Stagolee." Some printed books line the gallery counter. Twin broken mirrors lean against a wall. And four racks of white T-shirts zigzag across the room. It looks like an arty dry cleaner's place.
The shirts (and the tops of the pages of one of the books) are printed with seemingly random phrases and notations, among them a quotation attributed to British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead: "One definition of intelligence is, 'the ability to select from those signals that are in any given instant.' " Witkin's obsessions revolve around collecting, listing, noting rhymes and echoes, intuiting glimpses of order.
At the ICA's Foster Prize show, Witkin offers an installation resembling a high-end boutique-furniture showroom mated with an art monk's hermetic cell. It looks like an argument for the perfectly tasteful lifestyle and thoughtfully arranged home décor as an art in itself. I don't exactly enjoy it, but I appreciate the fully realized force of this persnickety vision. The LaMontagne installation, though, feels slight, like exercises and riffs that don't jell.
Some religions call for turning your every act into a prayer. These projects by Witkin and Weathersby make a similar argument for collapsing the differences between art and life, for internalizing art to the point that everything we do becomes art and leads to enlightenment. Or something.
Both installations demand a lot of time and attention from the viewer. I expect few will dig deep because the work is difficult and tight-lipped and boring. It's the kind of stuff that makes you feel you'll never be smart enough to get it. Dedicated visitors who wrestle with these pieces will be rewarded with wisps and crumbs that don't add up to much.
Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal.