September 2011: Not The Way You Remembered @ Queens Museum of Art



p { margin-botto Agathe Snow, Paper General, 2007, mixed media assemblage. Courtesy of James Fuentes L.L.C., New York. Image credit: Takahiro Imamura

Queens Museum of Art
New York City Building Queens, NY 11368
@ Flushing Meadows Corona Park
April 10 through August 14, 2011


Remember that old box of dog-eared photos sitting in your parents’ basement? Or perhaps that collection of lackluster little league trophies shoved somewhere in the back of your garage? It is exactly this kind of old, forgotten, nondescript “junk” that takes on a brand new meaning in Curator Jamillah James latest exhibition, Not The Way You Remembered.

In this multifarious group show James elevates the age-old aphorism “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” to modern heights, re-defining long-forgotten collections of ephemera as valuable, significant, and furthermore, as art. Not the Way You Remembered features the work of Taylor Baldwin, Clifford Borress, Barb Choit, Brendan Fowler, Ted Gahl, Rashawn Griffin, Faten Kanaan, Zak Kitnick, Jason Lazarus, Lauren Luloff, Dave Murray, Amanda Ross-Ho, Jean Shin, Hayley Silverman, Agathe Snow, and Bryan Zanisnik. The 16 participating artists come from a broad range of personal backgrounds and artistic disciplines, displaying works as distinct and individual as the memories and collections upon which they were inspired.

 
 
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Ted Gahl, Paternal Pile (Don’t Touch My Stuff), 2008, acrylic, oil, enamel, and graphite on canvas

 

The parameters of memory are quantifiably tested in Ted Gahl’s mixed-medium painting Paternal Pile (Don’t Touch My Stuff). Here, Gahl relies entirely on painting from memory to re-create the seemingly forgotten “treasures” of his parents’ garage in acrylic, oil, enamel, and graphite. The liveliness with which the weathered guitar, archaic television, and decrepit stuffed animals readily project themselves out from the canvas transforms what would otherwise be regarded as a hoarders-style nightmare into something with considerable aesthetic merits.

Brendan Fowler’s Fall 2009 (2 Screen Flower Print...) also deals with familial memories. His piece features a trio (and a half) of silk screen ink and enamel chromogenic prints which appear to have literally collided into the crushed plexiglass that contains them. The lush--and decidedly complimentary--green and pink hues which pigment Fowler’s floral photo tribute to his mother’s garden satisfy our desire for subliminal beauty, while simultaneously confronting us with the possible maelstrom that memories carry. Fowler’s use of photography in his examination of collection and memory also corresponds with John Lazarus’s Too Hard to Keep. Lazarus’s interactive project is centered around a mosaic of photographs which visitors to Queens Museum have submitted themselves through a drop box, bringing a strong sense of community to the exhibition.

By the same token, Agathe Snow’s mixed media assemblage, Paper General, 2007 uses collection as a specific function in the creation of communal memory. For this piece Snow gathered “artifacts” such as scraps of newspaper and bits of earth from the multitude of debris scattered near her New York East River apartment, fashioning these fragments into a piecemeal “Paper General” to serve as a self-contained historical artifact of New York City. Likewise, artist Barb Choit examines the assembly of historical items in her Accessioned Object, Summer Inventory Project, The Division Museum of Ceramics and Glassware photo series. Choit utilizes her professional background as a museum curator and archivist to create a mock-inventory of discarded ceramics and glassware, presenting a witty commentary on the methodology used by institutions in the acquisition, collection, and display of art works.

As a whole, Not The Way You Remembered exudes a charming quirkiness, much like that which one would expect to find in the cluttered but artfully arranged attic of an eccentric relative. The sense of universal familiarity and “homeyness” that this exhibition produces, provides an insightful explanation as to why people collect things in the first place, leaving us nostalgic for the memories embedded beneath the chipped, plastic, stuffed, and scratched surfaces of our own collections of “junk”.

 


Brendan Fowler, Fall 2009 (2 Screen Flower Print, Flowers on Walk with Andrea/Terry/Cindy 1,
Flowers on Walk with Andrea/Terry/Cindy 2, Flowers in Terry/Cindy’s Garden 1)
, 2009, digital C-prints, silk
screen ink and enamel on paper, frames, and Plexiglas. Image courtesy of Andrew Ong and Untitled, New York

Jamillah James, a native of Chicago who later re-located to the East Coast, established herself in the Baltimore art scene with the lauded digital exhibitions After Image (2010), Altered States (2009), and Agenda: Queering Popular Media (2009), and was awarded “Best Curator” by Baltimore City Paper in 2009. After re-locating to New York in 2010, James was named this year’s Art Van Lier Fund Curatorial Fellow at the Queens Museum of Art.

Interested to learn more about the intricacies of the curatorial process for Not The Way You Remembered, I asked Jamillah to dish out some of the details.

Allison Ioli: I am curious to hear more about what inspired this exhibition's theme for you?

James: This exhibition takes up a little where the one before it left off. Last year I did an exhibition in Baltimore called "After Image" that considered the slippage that occurs between embedded memory and objects when they are re-presented in different, unexpected ways. It dealt a lot with language play, perception, and cognitive confusion. Not The Way You Remembered deals with memory in a more concrete, connective way. It encourages the viewer to engage with the work in a way the earlier exhibition did not (for better or worse).

Ioli: When organizing this show did you intentionally seek out artists from a wide array of mediums and disciplines, or was that more so a secondary result?

Jamillah James: The diversity of media on display in Not The Way You Remembered was somewhat a consideration, if only as an exercise for me to push myself as a fairly young curator. I’m primarily interested in video and performance, and my earlier exhibitions really highlighted this. However, NTWYR only features one video (Bryan Zanisnik's Preserve); with this show, I wanted to break away from a heavy dominance of video, and allow the central idea of the show to really develop in whichever physical form it took. Since the idea of collecting is the central premise, it was open-ended enough to allow for diverse approaches, and each work exhibits, to various degrees, an accumulative quality. From this idea, I started to think about what defines junk--for me, it mostly takes on a physical presence, but for someone like Hayley Silverman, it took shape as something immaterial, only existing virtually (the blind carbon copy data comprising BCC). So I guess, the visual character of the show really formed on its own. Since memory forms in different ways for different people, it was important to show an array of media, so to allow as many points of entry for the viewer as possible.

Ioli: So how did you go about the artist selection process?

James: In preparing for this show, I started with artists whose work I knew dealt with issues of memory in relation to the material world. I had read about Jason Lazarus's “Too Hard to Keep” project--he was someone whose work I had always had an awareness of, both of us having lived in Chicago at the same time. Some of the ideas of that work served as the thematic baseline for the exhibition. Jason was actually the first artist contacted. Working with Rashawn Griffin was also essential to the exhibition, as his practice is explicitly about the embedded history of materials. Lauren Luloff's approach is very similar to Rashawn's, but her own subjectivity informs the work in a wholly different way. Bryan Zanisnik's videos and performances also articulated some of what I was interested in examining, as did Taylor Baldwin, Barb Choit, and Amanda Ross Ho's use of taxonomy and indexing. With Choit in particular, I was really interested in how, once an object loses its use value, it can be recast so it retains some worth or significance, be it emotionally, commercially, or otherwise.

Ioli: Was there a specific collective memory that triggered the process of putting together this exhibition?

James: I guess for this exhibition, site is also important. It was important for me to incorporate some of what makes QMA unique into the planning of this show. The Queens Museum lives in one of the last vestiges of the World's Fair. There are a significant amount of memories held in this place--the Museum's permanent collection is largely comprised of memorabilia from the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fair, an entity that no longer exists in the United States.

 

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Barb Choit, Accessioned Object DM.0065, Summer Inventory Project, The
Division Museum of Ceramics and Glassware
, 2009, digital C-print  

 

Although Not The Way You Remembered is the “exhibitional” ending of James’s work as Curatorial Fellow at QMA, it is certainly clear that this insightful, versatile curator has a lot more to offer the art world here in New York.


 
Allison Ioli is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has previously appeared in Roux Magazine, Cooper Point Journal, and other art publications. Allison holds a Master's degree in Art History from the City University of New York, Hunter College.


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