The first gallery experience that I can remember is seeing Guernica when it visited Iowa City. I was around eight years old and my father took me to see it at the University of Iowa. The painting seemed humongous and I was particularly struck by the bull and the horse. I honestly don't know why the memory has stayed with me. It's a powerful painting and perhaps the reason is as simple as that. Maybe it's because it was something that I did alone with my dad--an unusual occurrence since I have two sisters and it was not that long after my parents divorced. As far as I can tell it didn't have an influence on my art or my decision to become an artist... but who knows?
Many years later I was visiting my friends Ben & Esther (this is the same Ben who would later collaborate with me on Anthroptic) in Basel, Switzerland. This is not long after I had returned to making art and, at the time, was focused on stone carving. Ben took me to the Jean Tinguely Museum (Basel was Tinguely's home town). At the time I thought Tinguely's work was pretty cool, but not very relevant to my art. It wasn't until years later when I was half-way through graduate school that I realized the impact Tinguely's work has had one me. The piece to the right is a Tinguely machine for automatically making abstract expressionist drawings.
Shortly before going to graduate school I took an introduction to sculpture course at UC Berkeley. I ended up dropping the course, but before I did the class visited SFMoMA. The museum had a show that explored automatically generated art. It included Roxy Paine's SCHUMAK and Karin Sander's Persons 1:10. SCHUMAK generates plastic out of extruded plastic. For 1:10, Sander invited people to be scanned in 3-D, from which a small plastic figure is made and then painted. Sander doesn't pose the person or dictate what clothes they wear... she doesn't create or paint the figure. Her art is in setting up the system, after it runs on its own. At the time I found Sander's work troubling, thou
gh I have come to love it. SCHUMAK, on the other hand bothered me more over time (though I certainly appreciate it on its own terms).
When my Email Erosion piece shown, I included a statement which contrasted it with Roxy Paine's work. Here's an excerpt:
Later this month, Roxy Paine's PMU (Paint Manufacturing Unit) will be installed at the Portland Art Museum. Paine's art-making installations create beautiful works of art and also offer an interesting contrast with the piece Email Erosion installed here. Paine's machines exhibit a kind of self-sufficient solipsism: they have no line of communication, with the viewer. The result is a stillness in the installations: the machines spend most of their time allowing plastic to cool or paint to dry, frustrating the viewers' natural desire to see them at work. Perhaps Paine's art-making mechanisms mirror an artist's fantasy of uncompromising, wholly internal creativity, but the result for the viewer seems to be a machine in a sad and lonely existence. In my work, the goal is to have the machines be lively and engaged with the viewer, collaborating in the process of making art.The final show in my list is Work Ethic which was at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2003, not long after I started graduate school. Here's an ArtForum article about the show. Essentially it looked at conceptual art through the lens of work... whether the artist was creating work for herself/himself (such as Richard Serra catching lead), avoiding work (such as the art generating machines of Roxy Paine), managing work (such as Warhol's factory), or creating experiences (such as Edwin Wurm's One Minute Sculptures). The timing of the show could not have been better--the experience of it launched me in a direction in graduate school that I'm still following today.
An Honorable Mention goes to Tim Hawkinson's Whitney show a couple of years ago... I was going to include it, but it's been a busy week and I decided to cut the list short. If I was to be fair, I would've cut Picasso and kept Hawkinson, but having Guernica as a first art memory is too cool not to include.
Any shows stand out for you? If so, please let me know in the comments!