Dirtier Words at Guest Spot reviewed by Terence Hannum

The more that I think about it, a sad poop emoji is the perfect statement for the purgatory that is our era of art. Thankfully there is a 16”x 16” painting of said emoji rendered in acrylic paint by artist Allison Wade in the text based group exhibition Dirtier Words at Guest Spot at the Reinstitute. This piece, titled “Sad Poop,” bridges the scatology of Piero Manzoni with contemporary art’s typical appropriation.

Dirtier Words forges a bizarre love triangle between profane, playful, and ironic uses of text. If the origins of text based art reside in early correspondence art of Ray Johnson and the ‘cut ups’ of Brion Gysin to more social and conceptual investigations we arrive at Dirtier Words via the boudoir or perhaps the comedy club.

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Joe Namaste’s animated GIFs on tablet Gesture for GIF (Jerk) and Gesture for GIF (Penetration) take the charged hand gestures of both a pumping fist and a finger pointed through a circle formed by the thumb and pointer fingers of the opposite hand. They are brief gestures infinitely looping. Of course our read of the gesture and their level of profanation add to the irony of our pictorial language and vernacular, the jerk-off hand gesture is typically one decoupled from a sexual gesture and linked more with boredom or annoyance.

A similar flip happens in the work of the late Robert Attaanasio (he died last year) where the word “ass” is discovered in the inverted letters spelling Baldessari (once you see it you kind of can’t not see it anymore) in his piece Baldessari, or the word “art” removed from the word “masturbate” from his 2012 drawing Masturbate. These works find the profane within the banal as well as something banal within the profane.

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“Lick Me”, “Suck Me”, “Rub Me” direct to us from the walls in Marta Buda’s polyurethane relief sculptures. The text is bulbous and situated in organic drip like formations kind or somewhere between Ed Rusha and Lynda Benglis.

The stain-like form combined with the palettes of mint green, pink and silver begins to remove the context of the phrases. The pieces tend to refer us toward a directive from someone intimate or from the objects themselves and their materials for a moment make you maybe ponder what they would taste like.

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Classic lipstick color titles from Revlon and L’Oreal are painted in a tight serif font by Karen Mainenti. The three red, pink and “nude” paintings with their white copy beckon us with phrases like “Ravish me red” or “Gentlemen Prefer Pink” but it is the wall of collages in the back room that really pose the twist.

Sure, the text in these paintings do more to establish a modest reflection on patriarchy but the collages, cut from vintage pornography, suture gum, candy and coffee in tight placements – no nudity is shown because of a clever “Product Placement.” These paintings and collages may be separate but they’re having a dialogue about perceptions of feminine beauty and control.

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If the other works engage and disengage from sexual content, Michael Scoggins No More Fucks to Give appears more as a curse forged from frustration. The oversized lined paper he is known for, here as six overlapping sheets crumpled and torn over and under each other as if piled in a corner by some irate giant. On each sheet is a set of lines and on each line is a graphite scrawl spelling out “Fuck” over and over again. Perhaps the funniest part of this is not the word itself, or its repetition, but the comma between each word as if the indignation was somewhat forced yet with correct grammar. This establishes a temporal map overlaid on the emotional map – the handwriting never changes, it isn’t writing ”Fuck” that makes the author frustrated rather something happens after writing all of the text to generate the act of destruction.

This brings me back to Allison Wade’s “Sad Poop” — not that it is a great painting or inherently profound but that it relates more to the ambiguities in our contemporary experience of text, and therefore of language, that which we would once have called the written word and delivers us to the emoticon as language. Remember emojis are text based images – not images themselves. Wade adjusts the smile we find on our phones and turns the frown upside down which to me express a certain unease.

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To me there is a lot of unease when working with text. The audience is demanded to do more than just look but to read and think. Of course it is similar to what paintings and sculptures require, looking is looking, but the looking is different. It contains certain detriments, for example once something is read its potency has a tendency to wear off.

Do you really need to reread the ironic quip again? This happens with established artists like Christopher Wool, the artists in this exhibition as much as it does on a bumper sticker. The tendentious nature of the works in Dirtier Words gets us along the lines of literal one-liners but some pieces get over that hump toward some more thoughtful language play.
DIRTIER WORDS was on exhibit at Baltimore’s Guest Spot at the Reinstitute from February 20, through March 26, 2016. The exhibit featured works by Robert Attanasio, Marta Buda, Karen Mainenti, Joe Nanashe, Michael Scoggins, and Allison Wade.

Author Terence Hannum is a Baltimore based visual artist and musician who performs solo, with the avant-metal band Locrian (Relapse Records) and the dark synthpop duo The Holy Circle. Hannum is an Assitant Professor of Art at Stevenson University. He has had solo exhibitions at Guest Spot (Baltimore), Western Exhibitions (Chicago, IL), Stevenson University, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Gallery 400 at UIC (Chicago, IL).  And in group shows at TSA (Brooklyn, NY), sophiajacob (Baltimore, MD), Allegra La Viola (NYC), City Ice Arts (Kansas City, MO) & Jonathan Ferrara Gallery (New Orleans, LA).