Jorge Pardo with Lynne Cooke: Four Acts in One Cube
Since I became aware of Pardo’s work, it has mattered to me. The questions raised and problems struggled with in his work enter into dialogue with my own. In art generally, I look for things that are, specific, and surprising. I love work that opens up new avenues of thought, and that helps me to make sense of the world in ways that are expansive. I value work that enables experience that I’m left to wrestle with, over work that attempts to dictate the terms of my experience. Pardo’s work here at Dia has done that, and it has been richly provocative, extraordinarily beautiful, pleasurable and also annoying.
I would like to address this work of Pardo’s as if it were a play in a theatre. I understand the construction of the theater and the four acts that it has contained over the last three years to be one work, unfolding in time. Though Lynne Cooke’s name has not been on the wall together with Pardo’s, at certain junctures perhaps it should have been. I will expand on this as I move along.
Writing is one of the more difficult things I do. No body, no stuff to move around, just thoughts in a cloud unattached to anything that’s touchable. Thoughts so easily get lost. Their relationship to the world outside of themselves is not tangible the way paint, wood, plaster or furniture are. These words on the page only function as code for thoughts floating in mind. In the studio, material, things, and stuff function as code to decipher but in the studio there is also, and perhaps primarily, tangible experience, in time, together with physical pleasure. My body’s appetites are spoken to. Nevertheless, I do find that this very hard work of putting words to my experience matters, feeding back into the meandering that engages me in the studio.
I, like Miwon Kwon who spoke about the first act in this play, enjoy this work. It gives me pleasure. I, however, find this pleasure to be significant and at the heart of why the work matters. It feeds my appetites. We are not human without our appetites. They make us vulnerable. Pardo’s work speaks to our emotional, intellectual, and practical needs to have the body’s appetites engaged, ordered, and made sense of. The series of exhibitions staged in this gallery bring to mind many questions about how my need for pleasure is managed, packaged, and manipulated by the economy both inside and outside of this room. At the same time my experience with this work feeds me some of what I need to live day to day. It’s like having a good meal. I feel pleasured, satiated and entertained; the stories told here function to ritualize some of the details of my life.
I have understood my own work, and I understand Pardo’s, as growing from a dialogue that I first found articulated in print in the The White Cube published in 1976 by Brian O’Doherety (also known as Patrick Ireland.) In those essays O’Doherety articulates the ways in which art conventions are in dialogue with the particularity of context. He narrates the story of a battle between contemporary art and it’s bracket, or container, the battle with, and banishment of the frame, extreme concern for the edge and the demise of the pedestal. He describes a history where art objects in their struggle to transcend their own boundaries fall into the white cube gallery that is posed as neutral. He then goes on to unmask this neutrality revealing the white walls of galleries and museums to be full of the values and ambitions of the institutions that built them. More recently, Miwon Kwon’s book One Place after Another published in 2002 has carried on the trajectory of O’Doherety’s narrative and updated it taking account of this narrative as it is expressed today with an expanded notion of what context is.
The narrative put forward by both of these authors, more than the writing of many others, has contributed to how I articulate my own work. I am, however, in the end confused by the polarity both writers express, between, the good, radical, left wing artist who challenges the bad, conservative, right wing institution. Within this narrative the politics of all avant-garde artists are assumed to be the same, and Art always loses its battle with the institution as it is co-opted and defused.
This battle is core to contemporary art and, I find it riveting, rich, and full of intensity both as it plays out practically and in terms of metaphor. But, it doesn’t make sense to pin the artist as the radical, the moneyed supporters of art, along with the institutions, as the conservatives, and the curator as stuck somewhere in-between. I don’t see that any of us actors play fixed or single roles. I would rather acknowledge that we, in the art world have varied politics, and that we are, all of us, trying to make sense of the relationship between the larger shared frameworks we work within, (i.e. the painting frame, the pedestal, the white cube, the museum, various texts etc.). The charged and poignant subject matter of contemporary art is generated by the personal, idiosyncratic gesture of the individual and how that meets the structures, one might even say power structures, that by linking our expressions one to the other, in the present, and through time, give our output coherence. We are all in this soup together and we don’t stand to win or loose by ourselves. I, for one, am very concerned about the edge. The edges between us, and how we manage them are at the heart of how and why we live, and if we can manage to stay alive on this planet. It makes more sense to view the various forces of the battle as threads in a tapestry.
I find this work of Pardo’s to be engaged in a struggle with its context in ways that are rich and varied. This work is both radical and conservative. It is in love with design and style, and it is now part of the architecture of Dia. It conveys the personal vision of Pardo but eclipses his own hand. It is the work of a maverick small businessperson filling a need, a very eccentric vaguely articulated need that this space be filled. It seems that Pardo is a designer, a curator, and an architect, though he insists that he is an artist. There is much confusion as to how all these roles meet one another, and just where the edges are between them. This deliberate confusion posed as subject matter contributes to it’s being art. To the degree that the work acts as a vehicle for eccentric aims and behaves as metaphor for the thought and vision of one person it is art. Art expresses the ideas, feelings, and attitudes of individuals, and as such it is distinct from propaganda.
This work is the space I walk in; it moves my thinking around and about; my mind doesn’t stand still. But, each time I come in here, for my eyes, feet, hands and moving body the work is tangible, static, and clearly right here with me. On the other hand, I understand this work to consist of a series of events that have taken place in this room sequentially. From that point of view the work becomes a bit filmic; or like a sitcom on television. It has installments that unfold over time. The work is posed doubly as a static object and as a fluid time based event. It participates in a dialogue with work that has come before it (Judd, Richter, Agnes Martin, Mondrian all come to mind among others,) work that is posed as unchanging, as time flows and life changes around it. This very comforting fiction about stasis is often posed by visual art; that it lasts forever and poses timeless truth. Though each installment of Pardo’s work has been fairly long by Chelsea exhibition standards, it is clear that nothing about this work is permanent; even the tile walls will likely soon yield to the next show. This impermanence in the work joined to the more traditional history of static unchanging objects in art, has a new flavor about it. It is true that all art exhibitions share an element of this experience; but it is not often embraced as central to the story being told.
Impermanence is bitter sweet. It is clear that nothing lasts forever and that the hardest rock does change and disappear over time. However, the impermanence in Pardo’s work reflects a truth about the world we are making; we (the big We as expressed by our politics and economy,) are very busy constructing a disposable world around ourselves; a world where, even our buildings are planned to be short lived. The skins of everything around us change constantly to keep up with the styles posed by cars, clothes, and the housings of our electronic tools, gadgets, and toys. The housings are now as important as the machinery inside. STYLE AND DESIGN takes precedence. There is, of course, also excitement, and enormous pleasure generated with the realization that our circumstances are so primed for change and growth, and that our physical reality might be so fluid and flexible. Perhaps this fluidity demonstrated in the things around us might have implications for our mortal bodies. Maybe we can live forever.
THE RENOVATION, OR THE GALLERY, OR THE STAGE
Cooke invited Pardo to design the renovation of Dia’s bookstore, ticket counter and ground floor gallery. This renovation links all three functions so that there is not clear boundary between them. The previous white cube design of this space was nestled comfortably within the ethos of the factory workspace. It both altered and co-opted that space. It couldn’t help but be romantic and filled with nostalgia for the labor of factory work in the process. This renovation in contrast, takes hold of the reins and proposes a particular more eccentric, more contemporary or current frame for the activity that takes place here. This is not a space built for another purpose and co-opted, but rather it is a very particular, charged eccentric and evocative interior. An interior that is reflective of Pardo’s subjectivity, and of his personal sense of pleasure. At the same time it evokes the interior decorating of malls, fairs, and high-end clothing stores.
The bookstore sets a tone that permeates the whole first floor. It is at once domestic in feel and public. It’s very comfortable to sit in the bookstore. In some ways it is as if Pardo has brought his living room into Dia and proposed it as the perfect container for commerce and art. It is like an oasis in the middle of Chelsea — it provides a break from the intense commerce that is everywhere mixed up with art outside these doors. It’s ironic to feel that way inside, what is clearly, a store. It seems like a gift to sit there. Nice music playing; beautiful; warm; comfortable; inviting; furniture; and color bouncing around everywhere. The tiles do that. Perhaps commerce doesn’t have to be divorced from the valuing of human life.
This eccentric container is itself contained by this old industrial building which has so comfortably housed the works that Dia is know for collecting. Minimalism was produced in dialogue with the industrial production of the time. Artists had studios in buildings like this one. Artists “produced” their work with material that they handled, and the artwork was clearly an object separate from the architecture, and mobile — or so we thought. Minimalism opened the door to theatricality in art, as described by Michael Fried, and it turned all of our heads to the space next to the art work; the space our bodies occupy and then to the buildings housing the work. Now it seems as if minimalism needs this kind of old factory space and so we have Dia Beacon. In so far as Pardo’s work is in dialogue with minimalism. It makes sense to see it here housed by Dia’s history, and by this defunct industrial building. His work exists in the space between the object, the architecture and the institution, in the space opened up by minimalism. The redesigning, or redecorating, of this space speaks to the shift in means of production in the west and how art intersects that shift. The gap between Pardo and the production of his work mirrors the exportation of the production of our goods to Hong Kong and India.
Pardo designed this gallery/bookstore/museum entrance. Some trades people built it, or perhaps some other artists who work here at Dia did. They built this shell inside the white cube as a proposal for an alternative to the white cube. An alternative that poses an individual’s subjective notion about another kind of structure to hold art. This room is surfaced with tiles. It all fits right into normal home and building construction practices. There are no eccentric means employed to this eccentric end.
The tiles were manufactured in Mexico by craftspeople whose names we don’t know. They are beautiful and desirable; I would like them in my house too. Mary Heilmann, a NY artist, uses this same craft to make her tiles. I love her tiles; they too are beautiful and desirable. But hers are framed quite differently. They are seen alone surrounded by white wall that serves to highlight and underline them. As a result they become active as characters, full of line and gesture. They function as locations for a kind of narrative that points back at their author. The Mexican tiles are here used as raw material.
Pardo’s design of this new cube for art is, perhaps, the most provocative part of the “play”, more provocative than the series of exhibitions that have taken place within it. He and Cooke together have proposed an alternative to the white cube as a container for art.
Cooke as the curator is responsible for the structure of the exhibition space. Here she invited Pardo to take over, or collaborate with her and propose a radical change to the nature of the art bracket. The job of the curator moves between structuring venues for art and responding to the needs proposed by the art. The curator is thus moving between roles, between being creative, like the artist, and being a facilitator for the artist. The artist too moves between roles, filling a need as posed by the curator and insisting on new circumstances as demanded by the progress of the work. The relationship between the two parties and these four different roles is of course complex and convoluted. It is further complicated by how these roles are socially valued.
The artist occupies a peculiar place in class structure. Working with our hands we are laborers. But we also often find ourselves in the position of boss over other laborers working for us. Unlike the curator who rarely gets his hands dirty mucking around with the physical world, the artist often does. As we artists gain recognition we often decide to keep our hands clean. Pardo has made this choice. Historically, art making has been tied to working with material. Working with material is a kind of thinking; a thinking that is full of richness and operates quite differently from thought generated while seated at a desk. Desk thinking floats free from the resistance and logic of time and space in the material world. The two kinds of thinking need not be divorced from one another. It is tragic that the rich thinking that grows from physical labor has been relegated to the bottom rung of our ladder. The artist functions at once as a dirty déclassé laborer and as a god. Either way the discomfort associated with mucking about in the dirt is pushed far away.
Given this class structure it is not surprising that artists, like everyone else, desiring success, often hire out the production of the product thereby mirroring the means of production this country thrives on. The artist with clean hands is left designing and currating. Nevertheless, the role of art remains eccentric, ever changing, and unpredictable, making it necessary to spend time gazing at the lines between art, design, and architecture more than ever before. The clashing of roles played by people and objects in the various movements and unfolding of time in this space, that Pardo has orchestrated, enables rich, and rewarding gazing. I use that word, “gazing,” with some pleasure, aware of the weight it carries in relation to Lacanian discourse about the imaging of women. Our vision is here weighted, in relation to the pleasure it affords us, and in relation to how looking is intertwined with our appetites. From a hedonistic point of view, these appetites are necessary to good living. This weighted gazing is here brought to bear on our mechanisms of economic survival as demonstrated by Jorge Pardo, the person, the entrepreneur, and the artist full of expression. We are after all in his sales room; the room that is presenting his product and advertising what he might do for others. We are appreciating and engaging in how he makes sense of the world. And we are simultaneously presented a room that proposes an absence of personal expression, and rather contains a layering of style and design emanating from a myriad of producers, some named and others unnamed. Our gaze moves heavily over manipulated evocations of style wafting off of the economic machinery that we all participate in, out of necessity, and by choice, and often, with pleasure. i.e. Buying cars, decorating our homes, engaging in hobbies.
Art making seems to reflect the means of production, particularly in sculpture; given the difficulty of defining sculpture now, perhaps that could serve as part of its definition. We are further removed from how the things we need and use are made then ever before. Most of us don’t understand how a computer works. Our cars are full of little computer parts. Hi-tech machines and materials surround us. That we can speak to each other on cell phones and that whole essays and pictures travel from my computer to my AirPort 15 feet away is unspeakably amazing. I have no idea how it works. (Why not believe in life after death given this amazing demonstration of incomprehensible occurrence!) Hand made things have become quaint. Where does that leave art making?
Art making, has traditionally been the placeholder for the continuation of learning through making that we all engage in as children. We need this part of our human selves to be reflected in the culture or we are left in a very awkward relation to our bodies.
Artists used to be understood as craftspeople. Art was an object made by hand. Perhaps art was the repository of the more eccentric impulses generated by making in the flow of making the things needed for life – soap, toys, furniture, houses, all made by people locally with available materials. Now we are aware of very little, if any, of the making of what we need. It happens elsewhere, often overseas. There are definitely politics to how things are made. We have many things because we don’t pay for them what we would charge if we were the makers. It is of course a great pleasure to have all these things and to be able to engage with such an enormous pool of significance and stimulation in the stuff around us. But it is also painful to be so divorced from the making of things and from those others who make our things. Our art today reflects this distance. And so, a lot of art seems to be, on the face of it, not about making; it is more curatorial in its impulse. To collect a bunch of things and arrange them is a respected form of activity across the board. Art is mirroring our lack of production.
Instead of using labor and skill, time and sweat, and hands and body to make objects, now many of us, instead, like the corporations and paper pushers around us, buy from others and direct the orchestration of material in space. We have become curators of objects bracketed off in the exhibition space. And often, art is no longer so far removed from the world outside the door. In the absence of understanding how things work, style and design have become tremendously important and often divorced from function. So the two, design and art move closer together from both sides of the divide. And the space that Pardo’s work sits in gets smaller and smaller.
ACT I – PROJECT, 2000 (SEPTEMBER 13, 2000 – JUNE 2002)
For the first act in this series of four exhibitions Pardo placed some objects in what is now his space. He placed a 1995 Volkswagen Beetle prototype made of clay, and a wardrobe designed by Alvar Aalto.
Pardo in that first act, currated the exhibition of those two objects in relation to his own peculiar exhibition space. Because Pardo’s redesign of the exhibition space has been proposed as an event separate from the exhibitions it contains, some currated by Pardo and some by Cooke, the curatorial gesture has been given greater weight. That the “play” takes place under the auspices of Dia also gives it weight.
The Volkswagen prototype, made of clay is curious in this context because it is a hand made object. It is a one of a kind thing…just as we assume art objects are. But it’s also the prototype for a car. A consumer good produced in enormous quantities. We are urged both to express our uniqueness and to align ourselves with others by buying this car. The design of the car aims to provoke our desire. Like Pardo’s design of this exhibition space, and like his lamps in the gift shop, it gives us pleasure.
Alvar Aalto, a well-known architect, designed the cabinet. Part of what this cabinet brings with it into Pardo’s gallery is a pointing to the crossing from one discipline into another that Aalto engaged in, and mirrors that slippage between disciplines in Pardo’s work. The Aalto cabinet and Pardo’s lights have a similar function in the world. I spent some time looking at Aalto’s work as I was preparing this lecture and I imagine that Pardo feels some affinity to his work, that he is one of Pardo’s influences.
The mural paintings on the walls of the gallery and the bookstore seem to function independently of the objects. They are computer generated, and thereby distanced from the hand and the body. They at once look like “paintings”, and like graphic logos or signs. Perhaps they are signs for paintings. Perhaps they exist in the same ballpark with Laura Owens or Clifford Still; and maybe not. They are signs advertising the show. Maybe they are logos for the maverick business, for the Pardo store. I like them but they are floating too high above my head to focus on. They are in both the store and the exhibition space, suggesting yet again sameness between the functions of the two. They hint at an experience of overload as found in the supermarket, or Times Square, in this space which is otherwise quiet, calm, and enabling of contemplation.
This tiled exhibition space, the Volkswagen prototype, the Aalto wardrobe, Pardo’s mural paintings, and the glass lights in the bookstore, each in their own way collapse the private personal impulse to make things with shared conventions and public space. Taken together, the collection of these gestures is aimed at the individual situated within a large public audience, all of us together are involved in the consumption of mass produced goods, even while we are drawn towards an appreciation for, interest in and maybe even valuing of the person alone with one small vulnerable and eccentric body.
ACT II – REVERB (SEPTEMBER 19, 2001 – JUNE 16, 2002)
Cooke again invited Pardo to make something in this tiled space, this time in relation to Gilberto Zorio’s work from 1969. Pardo was not involved in this curatorial gesture. He made some curtains. These, though they are “sculptures” are also an architectural element. They’re curtains. They make me think of Jasper John’s flag painting as they pose the question, are they curtains or representations of curtains?
The work of these two artists was contained by the eccentric subjectivity of Pardo’s cube, in place of the white cube we are accustomed to. What an outlandish curatorial idea! Perhaps the authority Dia has accrued muffles the playful wackiness of this gesture. We all take it very seriously. Because there are only three parts, or players in this exhibition, unlike the Utopia Station show in the Venice Biennale this past summer, there is clarity about the space between them, even while they are absurdly mixed up together. Within the context of this play “Four Acts in One Cube,” Cooke’s curatorial gesture here in Act II, is on par with Pardo’s curatorial gestures from Act I. At this juncture, Cooke and Pardo are engaged in very similar activity.
ACT III – REFRACTION (SEPTEMBER 4, 2002 – JUNE 15, 2003)
Cooke invited Gerhard Richter to show some of his work spanning from 1966 through 2002. Pardo was not involved in this curatorial gesture and the show did not include any of his objects. Richter presumably made this body of work with the white cube in mind, consciously or unconsciously, as we all do. This work was not made with this space in mind or conceived of as a “show.” We are in the habit of focusing intensely on the “show,” as opposed to the single and individual works within it. A focus that has grown from the dialogue between the artwork and the space as spawned by Minimalism
And yet, as Richter’s work is not about color, it was not disrupted by the intensity of color in this space. In fact it was not disrupted at all. It seemed to be quite self-contained; I imagine that this work could function in many different kinds of space. It seemed not to participate in a dialogue with the history of minimalism as outlined above. I took great pleasure in this Act of the play. It was wonderful to have the air taken out of my sails. As I traveled down the white cube conversation stream; it all of a sudden seemed to matter not at all what the context of the work was. The rug was pulled out from under my feet. Richter’s work creates and explores the private obsessions of one single person and makes them available to me. It seems direct, like reading a book; the form is taken for granted. Cooke’s decision to put this work in this space opened the door for our conversation to take another turn. Might it be possible for us to find some conclusion or stasis in this battle between art and it’s context? Or perhaps, the degree to which Richter’s work is at once so embracing of its surroundings and at the same time, independent from them, is indicative of an alternative strategy. This work functions like the glass partition between the bookstore and the gallery. It straddles the neutral space that has been assumed for it and the fullness of the space we find it in, while maintaining a coherent sense of wholeness.
ACT IV – PROTOTYPE (SEPTEMBER 17, 2003 – JANUARY 11, 2004)
Pardo is once again invited by Cooke to put some work into this space, the particularity of which they together arrived at. During what might be the final act of this play, there are changes within the gallery/show room during the course of the exhibition. We are privy to the artist’s process. Is this indicative of the process being valued, harkening back in time? I’m not sure; or perhaps Pardo has become so comfortable occupying this space that he has had access to for three years, that he is treating it as his studio.
The first time I came to see this show there was a little bit of this kit structure and there were some lamps on the floor. They formed a circle of glass on the floor; they seemed odd, vulnerable, and out of place. If I remember correctly, they were not working lamps. They seemed arbitrarily plopped down as placeholders for something. They functioned like a fireplace, or as an alter in a temple, as an alter to design and craft, and perhaps to the missing hand made thing. They were luscious, vivid and full of allure but alone in the space. In some ways these lamps and the graphics on the wall act as cartoons of “expression” in their relationship to being exhibited. The curtain, this time painted on the walls of the gallery, uses four different colors of green, all of them different from the three colors of green in the tile. The floor and the wall are clashing with each other; they are superbly odd. Two systems that don’t sit well together at all. Both are modular as is the kit creature looming over me. The curtain of paint is not beautiful. It’s like a cartoon. A cartoon of “expression.” Of the hand made.
This painted curtain now obscures the view through the glass partition separating Pardo’s work, the things he made, from the bookstore. My experience in the gallery space is now more internal; my gaze is not directed outward. There is an emphasis on fiction. The painted curtain is not also a real curtain as it was in Act II. The “kit” monster/house is alive with quirky narratives played out against the backdrop of the painted and tiled set. The kit is like real life Lego for grownups. Here, this time, Pardo is not contrasting his own products with those of other people. He is inviting us whole-heartedly into his own place of narrative.
The next time I come to see the show I find the glass lamps are gone and this “kit” structure is more developed. It is like a big animal or a model for a dinosaur. It, like the curtain, is made up of planes. It’s like a drawing; it’s portable and reproducible. It is like an eccentric Ikea product. The design world that this work grows out of places high value on the skill and craft that have become suspect when expressed by the hands of a lone artist.
I, of course, enjoy the relationships between the flat painted curtain and the real curtain in the back office. I am startled by the bit of painted curtain that runs over one plane of this animal house structure. All together, my experience in the gallery now is filled with a bit of nostalgia for all that has passed here. In contrast to visiting the Pierre Huyigue show upstairs, experiencing this work is now like putting on worn cloths.
Art is alive; it is an activity just like getting to work every day, Art and making sure that the subways work and the roads are maintained contribute to our sense of well being. It is of the moment. It has value right now. It contributes to describing our world for us so that we know what to do everyday. It is easy to lose sight of this very immediate function that art has when we are busy judging it and struggling to understand it as valuable historically. We, all of us, strive for genius; we want to make the best, be the best, own the best, and know the best. Maybe in the end that’s not what is most important in art.
I’m sure making things original or having original thoughts can’t be the ultimate end. Nevertheless, I continue to judge works of art for their originality. There is, however, a difference between what is new for me, what the culture experiences as new, and what is actually new. Each one of us moves through life beginning as young, naïve, and unknowing, we move through to middle age and, and then, though I’m finding it hard to accept, we all die. What I find cliché and overworked may indeed provide a world opening experience for someone else, or visa versa. This can’t be discounted. I don’t believe in progress. Art isn’t better now than it was a hundred years ago. Art serves individuals on our journeys through life. Our notion that art should change season to season and continue to be always new, mirrors and feeds capitalist economy, and at the same time stresses our connections to one another, acting as cultural glue.
The complexity raised by the layering of roles and references in this Pardo Play opens up some room for the author to be just a person living amongst the contradictions the work evokes, not a genius on a pedestal.
An artist, one person, one subject, arranges things in the gallery. If someone else makes these things, that person’s name tends not to be on the wall of the gallery, just the artist’s. The value of what the artist does is understood as an orchestration of significance. I am loath to say that we don’t value making, or that we don’t understand it to be full of significance in its own right. That is not exactly true. It is true, however, that there is enormous tension and struggle around the question of how we are to value craft in art. Should art embody technical skill? How do we determine if something is well made? What is the difference between art and craft? Do we look to the trades; should it be made like a kitchen cabinet? Or is something well made when it appears to be machined with no evidence of the hand. And how do we enjoy the evidence of our hands making, embodied by objects, without having them become quaint and “primitive” seeming? Perhaps abstract expressionism has become taboo in light of this struggle. To discount abstract expressionism as self-involved and exclusive of the larger world seems to be itself a very conservative gesture devaluing the individual in favor of the collective.
Nevertheless, we celebrate the work of individuals, show the work of individuals and experience ourselves as individuals. I wonder why then, so much of the discussion around contemporary