That’s not a rhetorical question. One of the most vital preconditions to making art is having the resources available to do so. It’s impossible not to wonder, as one browses “Piece Work,” about those who can afford to have such incredible labor hours go unremunerated. (A good chunk of this stuff is unsellable, typical for festival shows.) One of the marvels here is the overwhelming collective display of freely apportioned labors that, for a variety of reasons, certain artists are able to invest while others cannot. If you believe (as I do) that creative expression is a fundamental term of existence, maybe even a human right, then this question of who gets to labor over aesthetics becomes a sort of natural corollary to any collective display of art objects, less about the individuals here than a reminder of the tilt of privilege within contemporary art writ large. I cannot fathom the hundreds (thousands?) of hours it took Fensterstock to construct “Ha-ha,” her massive, historically considered installation of black cut paper, formed into an indoor garden framed by Plexiglas and split in a ribbony chasm down the middle. It’s a truly spectacular piece, but along with her technical skill and considerable creative energies, the sheer presence of Fensterstock’s dispensable hours are an inextricable element.
Are the hours spent bringing art into existence intrinsically beautiful? Can you look at these frames, canvases, and sculptures as ledgers measuring the way one constructs a life? At times, “Piece Work” seems to imply that yes, you can. I’m not sure that’s true across the board, but the most interesting moments of this particular exhibit enable us to see beyond the visual forms and into the rituals, choices, and experiences of their makers. That’s very humanizing work, and well worth the price of admission.
Ultimately, “Piece Work” is just a guideline. Viewers will know when to abandon it and judge the works on their own terms, and many are up to the task. Alison Hildreth has been making parchment tapestries of imagined topographies for years now. They don’t neatly fit this or any theme, yet the five shown here are among the most marvelous in this collection. Ditto with Justin Richel, whose ceramic sculpture transposes images of precariously stacked domestica, for years the grammar of his cartoonishly humorous paintings, into the physical world. And of course, it’s impossible to slap a label onto the incredible Amy Stacey Curtis, whose diaristic, rigorously methodical video project “9 Walks” is scattered throughout the museum’s hallways and liminal spaces.
* This story has been updated to clarify the type of work by Joe Kievitt that is on display.
It’s good the museum has stopped giving out awards, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow suit.
Most Easily Passed as a Halloween Decoration Marguerite White’s “The Passenger,” a sound and sculpture installation embedded inside a dark corridor off the main gallery room. A collection of silhouettes, diaphanous nylon netting, and recorded voices, White’s piece is intended to be an immersive environmental passage into memory and loss. But its moody lighting and soundtrack of creepy intermittent cackling amid the ambient chirps of nighttime felt a little rote and conventional. Maybe I’d feel differently in January.