Though art in the past century has often sought to lay bare its own production— displaying the artists’ inspirations and ephemera , making the circumstances of creation part of the work , parodying the commercial infrastructure of the industry —one subject that has largely been avoided is the complex, sometimes fraught, relationship between an artist and his gallery. A new exhibition at Brooklyn’s Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery is trying to expose this symbiosis by making the show’s planning process—e-mails, sketches, drafts—a part of its display. The exhibition’s organizers have also archived the whole project (and thrown it open for discussion) on the Internet .
In May, Dam, Stuhltrager selected two young artists that it wanted to promote. One subsequently dropped out; the remaining artist, twentysomething Jerry Blackman, spent the next weeks preparing for a show under the gallery’s aegis. The e-mail that he and the gallery’s staff exchanged during this period—a fascinating chain of aesthetic discussion , logistic back-and-forth , and passive-aggressive notes —now hangs on the far wall of the gallery, opposite Blackman’s central work, ” Anchor (gradient) ,” a three-dimensional cutout that plays with the difference between icon and representation.
This is hardly the first time business and logistics have been unveiled together with the work—Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been blazing paper trails for decades . But the risks of such an undertaking in a small gallery space are particularly steep. For one thing, there’s the danger of a reality-TV-type Heisenberg effect: How illuminating is this correspondence, really, if some of it was written knowing it would be displayed? (Gallery owner Leah Stuhltrager, for what it’s worth, pooh-poohed the possibility that such self-consciousness influenced any of the e-mails.) There’s also a risk that all this emphasis on process distracts from the work itself—a threat that Blackman, understandably, seemed quite aware of. When I asked him about the wall of e-mail printouts, he promptly redirected my attention to his working sketches for the anchor. The printouts, he said, were chiefly the gallery’s project. Meanwhile, Stuhltrager told me the e-mail display had been Blackman’s idea. The crossed wires seemed to say as much about the artist-gallery relationship as anything hung on the wall.
Photo of Jerry Blackman sculpture, courtesy of Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery