Wednesday, October 29, 2003

"Humpty Dumpty" Primary Gallery (a Primary Colours annex) at the Harrison Center for the Arts - Oct. 29, 2003 - 1 star

This installation is hardly an installation, as it is not site specific or environmentally sensitive to the gallery space in any way. It's more like a series of very rough film vignettes projected onto a portable screen about our Jabberwocky speaking Humpty Dumpty leader, President Bush. There was no artist statement about this obscure presentation. The rest was left up to the viewer - only if the viewer could endure the boredom of it all. One film segment is of a Beavis and Butthead drugstore variety fireworks spectacle played out on a table-top and another is a tape of a Bush State of the Union Address where his face is covered by a black band. Words too blurry to read were flashed in the video game images being projected next to the address. Primary is the operative term for this as its profundity is undetectable. There was nothing to draw you into the chapel turned gallery and nothing to captivate or intrigue once you viewed the piece, which was so slapped together and aesthetically blah, you can't convince me that this four person effort was art. Through November 29, 2003; 902-2772.

Of Note:
I arrived to the gallery (an former chapel) and it was not opened the hours it was indicated to be. I waited over a 1/2 hour for the gallery to open and spent aprox. 45 mins viewing the film. There was in fact no statement available that discussed this "exhibition," and no one around to ask questions of. Ordinarily when I show is this bad (I believe this was a university student show if memory serves me correct - again there was nothing to indicate who was responsible) it simply isn't reviewed. I attended this with another member of NUVO's editorial team as well.

Below is a letter submitted to the editor on November 3, 2003, regarding the above review. It was not appropriate to published. However, it was distributed by Primary Colours to the public at a Harrison Center for the Arts during a holiday open house weeks later - where I maintained my art studio - and where my artworks were on exhibit.


I'd like to thank Mary Lee Pappas for providing a fabulously bad example of art criticism, "Humpty-Dumpty," (Oct. 29-Nov. 5 issue, p. 29). Next semester my students will be writing reviews, and, while itís always helpful to provide examples that are thoughtful, effective, accurate and well-written, a piece which does everything wrong,as Pappas' does, will also prove instructive.

First, get your terms straight. Pappas says "this installation is hardly an installation, as it is not site specific or environmentally sensitive to the gallery space." Installation art may be site specific but need not be.

Second, spend sufficient time in the gallery to form an understanding of the work. Pappas' claim that no artist statement exists (when it does), and her failure to mention the presence of a live King snake suggests she spent less time viewing the work than she did composing her mostly unintelligible "review". The statement allows viewers to grasp the complicated metaphors presented in three vignettes. Two have dual video projection; the third features four simultaneous video images. These refer, using appropriations from popular culture, to the Bishops Wars of 1639 and 1640, when the forces of King Charles fell to the Parliamentarians, as well as to our contemporary situation in Iraq. The original "humpty dumpty" was a cannon in Charles' arsenal, the egg, nursery rhyme and George W. Bush came later.

Criticism of contemporary art is, of course, subjective, but it need not be inaccurate, hastily conceived and sloppily written. Ideally criticism should be written by individuals with both a background in art and art history and who are not predisposed to favor one type of art (say, painting) over another (say, installation). Nuvo should consider reviewers' credentials and potential biases, and provide enough space for a more thorough explanation of area exhibitions.

Elizabeth K. Menon*
Assistant Professor, Contemporary Art History
Purdue University, West Lafayette

*Elizabeth Mix is currently a professor at Butler University
chicago breaking david parrish 101 elizabeth mix association elizabeth menon mix angel mode butler university purdue university lisa farooque alumni imoca Indianapolis Museum of art IMA elizabeth mix dr. elizabeth k. mix lecture gender indiana modern contemporary