‘A Consuming Vision’ 

The current exhibition at the Jepson is a sampling of a wide range of contemporary art from outside Savannah, although most of the artists are active in the U.S. There are the expected minor works by major names: David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. 
Each artist here is represented by one piece, making for an eclectic show. This is probably satisfying for the general viewer, but for the artist/viewer, the most satisfying exhibitions are always those which show a large body of work by one artist, in which her particular “consuming vision” becomes clear. But at least we can enjoy the samples we have here of many excellent artists whose work we would like to know better.
I have my wish-list of future Jepson one-artist shows, and other viewers will have theirs. Of the painters on display, only two appeal to me as ones I would like to see in one-person shows.
Gajin Fujita was born in Los Angeles in 1972 of Japanese parentage. Living in LA means he has been exposed to Latino graffiti art and he has combined the images of Japanese Ukiyo-E prints of the 18th century – samurai, Kabuki actors, erotic couplings, etc. with the lettering and tagging and spray paint of graffiti art. The strength of his paintings is in the dialectical play of these elements, order and chaos.
The painting in this collection, “Ride or Die” shows a Japanese warrior on horseback charging into a barrage of flying arrows on a field of graffiti. The figure has the skillful detail and bold coloring of the familiar prints.
Kojo Griffith’s subject matter is power; the relationship is usually between two doll-like figures, sometimes with animal heads, that are acting out a human drama against a background of mathematical symbols or DNA diagrams. He’s been working in this manner for years and is represented here by one of these untitled works. 
Recently, he came to the Jepson and spoke about his work and made a drawing over the period of several days, which is also on display at another place in the museum. In a market driven art world where creating a specific “brand name” style is vital for success, any change in that style is a risk. 
The new drawing shows two large heads, one male, one female, each resting on a twig-like construction. They are joined by their senses – eyes, ears, nose and mouth - through primary color coded conduits. It seems that they are on a beach, surrounded by hills and behind the hills there appears to be a skeleton structure which could be read as electric generators. 
To some, this has been a vast departure. But it is clear to me that his main preoccupation with power and human communication and various technological circuitries has not changed. I have even seen his early figures referred to as “cute.” Nothing in this new drawing rates that denigrating epithet. Maybe that explains his new departure. 
Deborah Butterfield has for several decades concentrated on one subject: the horse. Butterfield’s interest is not in the horse’s swift movement or in its great muscular strength or beautiful flesh, but rather in its quiet repose and essence. Her piece “Ahulani” looks at one and the same time like a reclining horse and a pile of carefully assembled lengths of driftwood. In fact, it is made from cast bronze and then given a patina to look like the original driftwood model. 
Sometimes the artist’s obsession is not with a subject, but with a material and a process. Chakaia Booker only works with discarded tires as material. Here she is represented by her work, “El Gato” 2001, (the Cat) which is made from numerous lengths and widths of tires, some parts fringed with a knife to stand up, reminding us of fur.
The painters and sculptures that we have just discussed continue in the Western art tradition of the Gaze. That is, art as an object that is viewed; one looks at it. Traditional gallery space is designed for this: sculptures on pedestals and paintings on walls. The installation artist wishes to subvert that space and draw in the viewer so that she is actually somehow living in the artwork. 
For instance, Marco Maggi’s work, “Great White Dialogue”, is a floor piece made of stacks of white paper (24,549 sheets in total) arranged in a square. Each square stack is topped by a miniature paper sculpture that is difficult to decipher from the viewer’s vantage point.
Although Maggi may not describe himself as an installation artist, I sense that if I saw a roomful of his works, I would be drawn in to his vision and not remain outside, looking. 
William Christenberry describes his work as photography and sculpture. Christenberry dropped abstract expressionist painting when he saw Walker Evans’ photographs of Hale County, Alabama, where Christenberry spent his childhood. This inspired him to devote his work to photographing the dilapidated, humble dwellings he saw in Hale County and recreating them as sculptures that stand in the earth taken from the site. What makes this seem like an installation is the relationship between the photographs on the wall and the sculpture presented on a pedestal, which has transformed the space into a coherent narrative that the viewer can enter. 
From the piece here by Magdalena Abakanowicz, “Sage Y”, a seated, headless, hollow figure, and the one by Christian Boltanski, “20 Dead Swiss,” enlarged snapshots from obituaries, side by side in one frame, the viewer can have no idea of the true meaning and impact of the work of these artists, which gains in profundity as it is allowed to grow in expression, filling a room with their vision of identity and mortality, human suffering and loss. 
A Consuming Vision: Selections from the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art In Kansas City, Missouri’ is at the Jepson Center for the Arts through June 10.

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Bertha Husband

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Connect Today 10.28.2016

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