1.4 / Review

Everything Must Go

By Genevieve Quick December 2, 2009

Rather than restricting his practice to a specific discipline or subject, as an artist, Joshua Pieper is a strategist.  Through a divergent body of work (including simple drawings and text-based images, ready-made or slightly altered sculptural objects, photography, and media installation), Pieper has created a vocabulary of practices dedicated to playfully finding insight in the mundane and seemingly obvious. As economic concerns distress retailers and gallerists alike, Pieper extends his strategy to appropriate this sense of urgency while addressing the confluence of art and commerce in “Everything Must Go.” Included in Pieper’s exhibition are a number of simple spray-painted stencil works, two sculptures, and a self-titled bargain bin.

In Bargain Bin (2009), Pieper includes a collection of several arty, although amateurish, self-portraits. Also included in the bin are a silk-screen edition titled Shark Sex, and two other rather abstract images: Basket Ball Hoop and Curve Ball. Pieper has priced the images in Bargain Bin at fifty percent off and seems to consider it as both an installation and a collection of individual works. Rather than employing the materials and merchandising of big box retailers, Pieper uses manila string price tags that seem almost old fashioned or homespun. Moreover, several images sit on the ground while some sit in a wooden box that has an improvisational sensibility.

Bargain Bin, 2009. Individual pieces, all 2009: Self Portrait with Green; gouache, ink, and spray enamel on paper; 15 3/4 x 12 3/4 in; Self Portrait 1; gouache, ink, and spray enamel on paper, framed; 24 1/8 x 23 1/2 in; Self Portrait 2; gouache, ink, and spray enamel on paper, framed; 24 1/8 x 23 1/2 in; Shark Sex, gouache on paper, 14 x 13 in; Basketball Hoop; pencil and gouache on paper; 14 x 13 in; Curve Ball; spray enamel on paper; 21 x 17 in. Courtesy of Ping Pong Gallery, San Francisco.

Pieper invites his viewers to peruse his divergent images, as one would at a flea market when looking for the hidden Antique Roadshow gem, or simply for home decor. Pieper gives his purchaser the license to display the vacuumed-sealed framed images as is, or unwrapped with the price tags removed.

Because the disparate collection of images does not appear to specifically reference the intersection of art and commerce, the images in Bargain Bin could be anything, as all artworks are commodities. While Pieper commendably attempts to demystify the contemporary art object, he refrains from pushing the work past the notion that the art object is a commodity.

Pieper’s two images titled Duplicate, which he considers individually or as a diptych, subtly plays on text and the idea of originality. In a small rectangular field recessed from the mat, the word “duplicate” is stenciled in black, while “original” appears stamped in red on the surface of the mat. Although the contradictoriness of “duplicate” and “original” appears to be the gist of the piece, Pieper has actually hand cut two stencils for “duplicate” and two stamps for “original”. Here, the work appears to be a semi-mechanically produced image, but closer inspection reveals irregularities in the lettering caused by the artists’ hand. In addition, Pieper creates a slight variation in the pieces by using a warm white toned mat on the right, and a cool white mat on the left. Pieper’s play is so faint that I didn’t notice and had to be informed about his process, as I had assumed that the variation of printed and stenciled text was a matter of the application of ink and spray paint. In the end, I am left questioning the extent to which I am satisfied with this subtle, but consistent play on originality.

Duplicate, 2009; spray enamel on paper, pencil, and 8-ply museum board; 40 x 50 in. Courtesy of Ping Pong Gallery, San Francisco.

Despite my hesitations with the conclusions in Pieper’s work, the real strength in “Everything Must Go” is the way that he uses his literalness to provoke questions. Much of the work in the exhibition, especially the text-based work, has a frankness that causes the viewer to question whether to interpret his work on the surface, or to probe deeper.

Everything Must Go is on view at Romer Young Gallery, in San Francisco, through December 12, 2009.

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