Rodney McMillian’s installation, Untitled, currently on view at Artpace, is an invitation to a dialogue on time, institutions, and personal historical perspectives. Five graphically strong paintings stretch from floor to ceiling in intervals on the surrounding walls, with columns of old framed photos filling the spaces between. In the center of the room, a dilapidated chair sits on a used area rug, both coated with red latex paint. Papers, remnants from an opening-night performance, are scattered on the rug in front of the chair and a paper sculpture hangs above: a cathedral-inspired vaulted ceiling. A purposefully displaced sound composition, “Pelicans in Texas,” by musician Stefan Tcherepnin fills the gallery space.
The paintings are violently disembodied landscapes, with poured red and black paint covering and revealing glimpses of buildings and mysterious silhouettes of bodies. The compositions are visually powerful not only due to their scale, but also because of their strong gestural quality. They anchor the installation and help mitigate the struggle between the architectural history of the gallery space and the environment the artist would like us to experience. Standing in front of any one of these, it is easy to fall into the forest-like landscapes and experience a sense of decay and threat.
The stacked photos, sought out from antique stores and homogenized in size by McMillian, form smaller columns that play nicely off of the tall, straight lines of the canvases and place emphasis on the concept of structure and institutions. The old photos, anonymous and random, including babies, soldiers, young women, boys, and elderly couples, cast a wide and general historical reference for time and people passing. The scale of the photo columns is human, reaching just around 6 feet and openly inviting the viewer into an act of counting or measuring with the tools of age and time so perfectly placed in neat segments.
The assembled sculpture in the center of the room unfortunately falls short of its surroundings. The chair and rug, though decrepit, fail to connect to the photos in a historical or narrative relationship. The poured red paint is stiff and reads solely as its function, a visual connection to the far more engaging paintings on the walls. The paper ceiling, designed to be dwarfed by the paintings, is also disproportionately small in relation to the vignette below and is obsolete in the installation as a whole. It is physically awkward and distracting, which I suppose could be intended, but it left me questioning its resolution within the work. With the pile of papers, I believe these elements most likely served as a fitting stage for the opening-night performance, but remain unresolved as a part of the existing exhibition and installation, with the exception of their allusion to the concepts of history and documentation.
This exhibition, as well as the other resident shows currently at Artpace, point to an interesting trend, and, sometimes, dilemma, in contemporary art. Each featured some form of a performance element in either the process of making or initial presentation of the work. One can argue that the performances are of and about the moment and not the same as the remaining installation, but why not display documentation during the run of the exhibition? Technology makes editing and production readily available and possible in short time constraints. When work is meant to discuss broad social and political concepts, it can become problematic that key elements of the work are presented only in the elite environment of an opening reception. That said, I do not want for anyone to be distracted from the ambitious scale and successful elements of McMillian’s or any artist’s installation by a TV and our conditioning for easy entertainment. •
IAIR: Rodney McMillian
New Works 08.11
Through May 11
445 N. Main Ave.