Workshop-as-Collaborator: Uncommon Practice at the Tampa Museum of Art

1660596_10151870842296447_802949080_nUncommon Practice sees an overdue collaboration between two of Tampa’s principal art institutions: Graphicstudio and the Tampa Museum of Art.   Opening its doors over forty-five years ago, Graphicstudio is a workshop and studio based on the University of South Florida campus that has developed a reputation for making advancements in printing and innovative approaches.  A number of legendary artists – from Rauschenberg and Rosenquist to Mapplethorpe, Marclay, and Close – have collaborated with the studio to create their artwork.  It’s this important word – collaboration – that proves to move the exhibition beyond a simple survey of an atelier.

It’s thus that Uncommon Practice, curated by Jade Dellinger, avoids all of the potential pitfalls. Though it includes some of the latter half of the twentieth century’s most recognizable artists, it never simply becomes a parade of art celebrities. Neither does it afford undue attention to Graphicstudio’s boast-worthy technical skill and expertise. Rather, Uncommon Practice sharpens its focus on the products and potential of great collaboration.  The atelier works at expanding on an artist’s vision and giving it new vehicles through which it can evolve.

While perhaps not as dramatic as the larger pieces within the exhibition, this role of workshop-as-collaborator was especially striking for me in the work of Iva Gueorguieva.  Her particularly complex compositions can often be tied to her work’s process and materials, her mix of painting and collage.  However, Gueorguieva’s pieces that are included in the exhibition feature some techniques new to her work, some even new to her.  Smartly, they don’t appear as impositions on her overall body of work but instead add depth to it.  Gueorguieva’s 51 ½ inch by 35 ½ inch print collage piece Rolling Anvil, for example, is distinctly hers.  Yet, it has textural qualities (as well as color choice) unique to this work, thanks in part to its direct gravure, woodblock, and silkscreen components.  (See the piece here.)

On the other hand, printmaking in a more conventional form plays a sort of conceptual role in Allan McCollum’s Each and Everyone of You.  Created in 2004, McCollum researched the 600 most common female names and 600 most common male names according to the US census bureau, printed each name individually as white text in a black field, and finally framed all 1,200.  The names hung as an enormous grid at the center of the museum’s second floor galleries.

Though the digital ink jet printing process is fairly straightforward and common, it plays an integral role in the artwork’s conceptual weight.  Walking beside Each and Everyone of You, the installation quickly reveals a strange contrast.  The pragmatic challenges met by the artist and studio in creating a large number of pieces that are unique yet mass-produced perhaps reflects the much more personal sociological challenge of asserting and holding onto individual identity within an ocean of others.  You can see this on a smaller and comparatively trivial scale hearing others invariably whisper “I can’t find my name” while scanning the prints.

Elsewhere in Uncommon Practice the work of Christian Marclay seems to interact with Abstract Expressionism – a style not often associated contemporary art nor print workshops.  Still, the pieces feel as if they are executed with both wit and weight.  This visual connection to Abstract Expressionism is most explicit in the two pieces Splorch Splash and Whoop Swoooosh Spish.  The pieces are two proper abstract paintings on paper.  However, printed over the paintings are onomatopoeias  as the act of painting may have sounded had the work  been vocalized; these are works of art if they had existed in a comic book universe.  Further, here we may find Marclay’s clever way of giving a nod to both a school of thought and its antithesis.  Further, like in much of Marclay’s work, the artist explores ways in which sound can be incorporated in visual art, and maybe unintentionally highlight how much it had been overlooked in the past.

For many, a highlight of the exhibition will likely be Christian Marclay’s Allover (Rush, Barbara Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others) [see the image featured in the TMA banner above].  At over four feet high and eight feet long, Allover is an especially large cyanotype – a bright blue and white composition similar in appearance and process to blueprints.  Cassette tapes and their insides of musicians listed in the title are strewn about the composition.  The artist names on the cassettes (some of them visible in the print) and the physical means playback definitely recall the music behind the print (and personally remind me of sitting by my stereo, lovingly creating hours of mixtapes.)  However in some ways, this piece to seems to vaguely point back to Abstract Expressionism.  The long strips of magnetic tape criss-cross the print as if confidently flung off the end of brush.  Allover’s imposing size is also reminiscent of the style’s expansive canvases.  Yet, instead of pained and personal brushstrokes, Marclay’s print is made from layers of unexposed paper left over from pop music cassettes.

These are only three artists of the forty-five included, just few of the artworks of over 100 in Uncommon Practice.  Yet, the examples of Gueorguieva, McCollum, and Marclay illustrate Graphicstudio’s inventiveness, not only in terms of craft but conceptually as well.  They also demonstrate the potential of artists and artwork tapped when provided great collaboration and support.

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