AS YOU WILL: A MIXED MEDIA EXHIBIT BY MARTY WEISHAAR
Arte Povera in the 21st Century
Marty Weishaar, a Baltimore-based artist, opened a solo exhibition at the Rice Gallery on September 25, 2014. Weishaar’s work at this exhibition was limited to five pieces, yet their immensity in size and purpose are enough to fill the room and occupy the viewer’s attention. In the center of the gallery is a large installation, surrounded by the other four pieces. These abstract creations– part painting, part sculpture– are comprised of an assortment of familiar objects, such as duct tape, tarp, and cardboard, assembled in unfamiliar ways. The neo-classical gallery space provides a bizarre contrast to the contemporary, deconstructed works; one could argue this contrast contributes to the unconventional nature of Weishaar’s exhibit. Weishaar, however, provides an alternative space for viewing the art in his installation, No, Inside I am Made of Glue. This piece invites the viewer to step inside and view the art and the gallery space from a more fitting perspective, juxtaposing the two worlds.
An important movement, crucial to understanding Weishaar’s work, is the 1960’s Arte Povera movement. Artists of Arte Povera, as part of the development of abstract expressionism, questioned and often rejected the typical limitations of the 2-dimensional painting.[i] We can see Weishaar’s exploration of these parameters in the above works, wherein he suggests that painting and sculpture exist in the same way. Moreover, Weishaar has detailed his methods in the studio as a continuous process. As his paintings fall apart, he glues and staples them back together. In relation to Arte Povera, this reaction to time and the physical world is part of the stylized assembly of paintings and sculptures.
While all his work examines the relationship between medium and space, his installation (No, Inside I am Made of Glue) further explores the Arte Povera movement by controlling how a viewer may interact with the work.[ii] Inside the installation, the viewer can find a 5’ tall, mostly-cardboard sculpture as well as another mixed media painting, similar to those outside the installation walls. The viewer has three options of observing these works: through the green translucent tarp, through the triangular cuts made in the black tarp, or by stepping into the installation. Some may consider these multiple viewpoints a liberating way of interacting with the piece, yet they are calculated and limiting. Even the mere separation of space is made to point the viewer towards the sculpture, controlling the viewer’s understanding of the work in a methodological way.
Weishaar’s exhibition revives one of the archetypal origins of modern art. In presenting the subject to an audience of the 21st century, he calls our attention to the reimagination of everyday, massed-produced items, such as 1”x3” pine, staples, and painter’s tape. He gathers together hardware store objects and recontextualizes them in such a way that his audience begins to question the very nature of art. In reformulating generic objects, Weishaar poses the questions “When does this object become art?” and “When does this object stop being art?” Probing the depths of expressionism and questioning the nature of art in the 21st century is a necessary revitalization. Studiers of modern and contemporary art will be familiar with the theories posed by Weishaar and movements, like Arte Povera, yet the casual gallery goer will perhaps find his art off-putting– and with good reason. Art created for the sake of questioning art, for pushing the boundaries and exploring the definitions, has yet to become commonplace. There is still room for abstract expressionism to gain footing among the masses. Someday, Weishaar’s work, and similar pieces, will become stale when the majorities within Western societies accept that a glued stack of cardboard and acrylic paint is a significant part of the art world. Until then, we will hear our friends, as we reluctantly drag them to the show, sighing, “I could have done that.”
–– Katherine Stein, 28 September 2014
[i] Cathrine Veikos, “To Enter the Work: Ambient Art.” Journal of Architectural Education (1984-). 59.4 (2006): 72.
[ii] Ibid., 80.
[ii] Ibid., 80.