Shaping the Seen
by Philip Yenawine
Single person shows ideally allow viewers to become immersed in individual artists’ work—their ways and means of working as well as the subjects and substance of the work in detail. We have the opportunity to see change and/or consistency over time, or perhaps a deep penetration into a particular period of their output.
The usual group show offers us a different experience: curators with a point of view invite artists and select the work that best connects with what they want us to see and think about. We have a choice: we can either pay attention to the connections between images—parsing out their relationship to the curator’s overarching idea behind the show—or simply take on the images one at a time. Or both; they both offer rich experience.
Lovey Town’s organizer, the artist Michael Velliquette has, typically, given us the chance to think even more deeply than most shows do. His own work bridges the expected gap between visual and conceptual art; he manages to present ideas (often obscure, often austere) packaged instead in highly dynamic, almost hedonistically visual forms. For this exhibition—in addition to its tiny scale—Michael has acted as both artist and curator, inviting artist/friends to make new work for the show based on an idea that, as it happens, is a pun: “I can’t spell group without a you,” playing on a cooperation-building slogan, “There’s no I in team,” particularly popular with the middle school teachers. The invited artists decide how to interpret the pun and how to make something in response. Michael has therefore little idea of what will be submitted, something a more academic curator might find risky. And as result we viewers have a chance to experience a group show equally responsive to words as to visual inspiration.
That is, if we viewers want to think about what we see, using our eyes, minds, and hearts in concert to dig not only into the work but also the ideas behind a curator’s intention. And here’s the question posed by this essay: does it matter whether artists make art or curators assemble samples of it, unless viewers seize the opportunity to encounter it and use that chance to look seriously and think about what we see?
Earlier Lovey Town exhibition essays talk extensively about the pleasure and/or pain of writing and making art and how some of the satisfaction gained is in the possibly-immersive experience of creating itself. Other gratification can come when seeing finished work and in both cases the pleasure ameliorates whatever pain might have been involved. This description, however, only addresses the artist’s side of creating, as if art making were only an “I” process. But when art ends up in the public arena, a “you” is necessary to complete a circuit begun when the work is made. The artists who agreed to show in this exhibition implicitly embrace this equation. And so that leaves it up to us, the viewers, to rise to the challenge: look, think, look some more, talk about what we see with others, listen to their ideas as we probe what you artists have made for us.
This is being written while all of the “I’s” are experiencing whatever struggle or flow comes up in the making. But this particular “you” is impatient waiting to see what I’ll make of what you do, how it will make me think, what feelings it will invoke, how it will feed my spirit. I can’t spell art without both an I and a you.
Philip Yenawine, May 2014
Philip Yenawine is co founder of Visual Understanding in Education (VUE), a non profit educational research organization that develops and studies ways teaching visual literacy and of using art to teach thinking and communication skills. Director of Education at The Museum of Modern Art from 1983-93, he worked in 1992-94 as consulting curator at the Institute for Contemporary Art, and during the academic year 1993-94, as Visiting Professor of art education at Mass College of Art, both in Boston. Yenawine is the author of How to Look at Modern Art, Key Art Terms for Beginners, and has written six children's books about art.