at Red Arrow Contemporary through October 18
by Todd Camplin
It must have been eight or nine years ago when Gary Sweeney visited the University of
Texas at Dallas. I was in grad school, and during a slide show of his work, I became
increasingly excited about his brand of art. I had already been reading a few books
on DADA and I was enchanted by the works of John Baldessari at the time. I even tried
my hand at bold faced ironic art, but my jokes fell flat. I didn't have the tenacity of
Gary Sweeney to stick with the gags. After his 40 years "Overview" at Blue Star last year,
Red Arrow Contemporary has extended some of the tour to Dallas. I was familiar with
some of the work, because he talked about them in his lectures so many years ago,
but I was getting to see many of the works in person for the first time.
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|I say jokes and gags, but really Sweeney is smashing the institution of metaphors. Those tricky,
distrustful foes of the Post Modernist, the metaphor has been taken down a peg or two by
the discourse of philosophers and artists. Sweeney is also pushing off a cliff the overused
images of 50’s and 60’s style ad art and illustrations. Retro dipped in irony. And yes, I just
mixed some metaphors. In the case of “My Mother-In-Law’s Sloppy Joe Recipe as Written
by Abraham Lincoln,” he smashes the cultural meaningfulness of someones hand written
letters and converts them into the personal and mundane. At the lecture, long ago, Sweeney
gave me a card with an image of his work. The card depicted Georgia O'Keeffe's signature
from consecutive years as she got much older. Her signature became less and less legible.
It reminded me how time changes a signature, so a signature is really a snapshot of a person
at that moment. One got a real sense of time and aging from the image. I just wish it was in
I remember Sweeney talking about his assemblage of old outdoor signs and letters.. He would
trade old signs for new ones he made. He started to have quite a collection of those outdoor
fragments. I am reminded of how archaeologists will take fragments and piece words together
in an attempt to make a coherent messages. However, Sweeney took the words of the public
space and repurposed them into new messages. I think his quotes about art using these signs
make a playful gesture to the high minded quotations. At Red Arrow, there was a photograph
of one of these works. I don’t know if the piece still exists and the photo is the piece now, or if
both are separate from one another. Simulacrum can be confusing, especially when it is
coming from an artist. Why is Joseph Kosuth popping in my head just now?
|Well Sweeney is a conceptualist. It seems his images just slap you in the face with the obvious,
but somehow not so obvious at all. You might snicker or laugh, but you will also think and
consider. For me Sweeney’s images might be read with ease, but then they sink in and you
start thinking about them more and more. You want to revisit them and draw something
else out of them. Red Arrow will give you till October 18th to see Gary Sweeney’s show.