The AunqueJanuary 29, 2013
Artist Amanda Curreri defines The Aunque as an “even though” space, one populated by outlaws and motivated by desire. Now on view at San Francisco’s Romer Young Gallery, her articulation of The Aunque creates a visual and theoretical field whose edges are difficult to pinpoint.
Beginning with Curreri’s summary definition, the idea sounds poetic beyond reach. Yet for the past several months she has been attempting to define its limits in visual and textual terms. The concept gained some traction for me when I visited Curreri at her residency at Royal Nonesuch Gallery in Oakland this past August. Her workspace was partitioned off from Telegraph Avenue by an American flag and was littered with gentlemen’s magazines as well as the works of queer French authors Jean Genet and Violette Leduc, noble outlaws famous for their desire-driven alternatives to social norms.
The question that Curreri faced then was how to visually instantiate or at least articulate a space whose basis was theoretical rather than tangible; even to call it a space is to employ a metaphor. During her time at Royal Nonesuch, Curreri was working on canvases woven from denim fabric, but she expected these to fall by the wayside as “process work”—an intermediary step in developing and exploring her concept.
In the exhibition now on view at Romer Young, only the suggestion of weaving remains, seen in two paintings whose overlapping brushwork appears as woven. Playboy magazine, Genet, and Leduc, however, are all there, summoned by the artist as characters in a quasi-theatrical piece titled Jean Genet in the Aunque (all works 2012). Consisting of a selection of quotes by an array of figures including Francisco Goya, Eileen Myles, an unidentified Black Panther, and Pussy Riot, to name just a few, Jean Genet in the Aunque is a collage-like script that reads more poetically than conversationally.1
As opaque as it is, this text stands as the fulcrum of the surrounding body of work, which includes painting, video, cocktail napkins, and a silkscreened flag. Taking their titles from the script’s constituent passages, Curreri’s simple but vibrant canvases present themselves in relation to her literary collage, offering an attendant, perhaps analogous domain of visual poetry. To grasp The Aunque in its totality, it seems one must “read” both.
It is a bold and somewhat risky move on the part of the artist to ask viewers to read literally as well as visually, especially when the sought-after object, The Aunque, remains elusive.
The exhibition statement describes it as “a space of possibility, a space of ‘even though.’” From there, it leaps to the Genet-inflected formulation, calling The Aunque “a space for reflection on power, identity, and desire in the face of the violence of contemporary social life.” But apart from the inscription in the eponymous gouache Aunque/Violencia es Total, the subject of violence appears to be altogether absent from the visual works, which range from pleasurable investigations of color and formal balance to a serene and ecstatic video of a sunset vista framed by female bodies.
One quote by Genet in Jean Genet in the Aunque seems to illuminate the relationship of violence to possibility, furnishing the corresponding visual conceit that Curreri employs throughout the exhibition. He writes:
The transitional space that Genet describes is framed by the shifting borders of day and night and is home to the possibility of metamorphoses—perhaps phantasmagoric, perhaps real. Such an open zone, where the potential for change zooms into focus, could theoretically serve to frame anything from sexual identity to radical politics. All of the voices in Jean Genet in the Aunque—from drag queen superstar Yara Sofia to the guerilla activists/performers of Pussy Riot to incendiary poets such as Myles—stake a place in some such transitional zone. These figures are poised to oppose the violent constrictions imposed by established social structures; they alter the boundaries.
Myles evokes this spirit of opposition when, upon being asked why she continues to write, she proclaims, “We need our perverts.” Not coincidentally, Curreri attaches this sentence as the title to the painting that most clearly embodies Genet’s metaphor. The acrylic on canvas work consists of a painted brown frame, within which two rectangular fields—one teal and one pink—overlap to produce a violet tone. Compositional asymmetries produce a sense that the planes are in motion; their positions and the resulting color distributions constantly shift to mirror Genet’s dusk. Even the surrounding frame, rendered in a sort of off-burlap tone, is a place of tension: its odd hue is the result of combining the complementary colors yellow and purple.
Misfits, 1979 (Sex and Art) is Curreri’s answer to the American flag that productively troubled her throughout her summer residency. This piece employs a similar composition: a band of vibrant pink and one of turquoise border a middle zone of dark tiled silkscreens. The tiles contain imperfections that suggest shadowy, hidden forms without representing anything concrete. These border colors take on significance as original members of the once eight-, now six-color, gay pride flag that were eliminated from the design in 1979 due to commercial printing limitations. (Pink and turquoise stood for sex and art, respectively) Once again, the piece visually suggests a mercurial dusk within shifted borders.
Curreri’s mode of exhibition making is intellectually demanding in a way that commands critical admiration. If one reads carefully, it pays off: her art nicely sets the stage for a truly beautiful and exciting collection of ideas. But without that close attention, The Aunque is too sprawling and open-ended, delightfully poetic in some places and frustratingly opaque in others. Further reading material, whether literal or visual, are necessary to bring the edges into view.
The Aunque is on view at Romer Young Gallery, in San Francisco, through February 16, 2013.