Brian Kennon Get In (No Man Is an Island) at Fourteen30 Contemporary
The fold is fundamentally erotic; it is enigma and intimacy; it complexifies, introducing detours, inflexions and instabilities into systems.
– Steve McCaffery, “Blaser’s Deleuzian Folds,” Prior to Meaning, Protosemantics and Poetics
A classic way to lead into conversations about higher dimensions involves imagining an ant walking on a newspaper. It’s a flat world, an approximation of two dimensions. One imagines curving up the ends of the paper so that as the ant walks along in a straight line, he comes eventually to the point from which he started walking. This fold introduces the end point to the beginning and by eliminating the distance between them folds space.
Brian Kennon’s exhibition, Get In (No Man Is an Island) at Fourteen30 Contemporary is an exploration of the productivity of this fold, specifically in service of a mischievous art historical revisionism. In a speculative project, Kennon folds time and the concentric circles of critical regard to place similars in proximity, creating rifts in the established art historical continuum. Poet and theorist Steve McCaffery points to the power of the fold in introducing instabilities into systems. The erotic, as both McCaffery and Dick Higgins (in his essay “Horizons” on the fusion of horizons of viewer and viewed or maker) use the term is a generative quality. Kennon sets his sights on the system of canonization in the world of art. It’s Kennon as protagonist in Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad.
So Kennon inserts works by Josh Smith into a facscimile of a Vienna Secession catalogue on Christopher Wool for “Altered Secession Catalog – Christopher Wool (Josh Smith), (2011). In “Untitled Spread (Paik, McCarthy), 2011” Kennon places, within a black outline of an open book, black and white photos of Nam June Paik’s “Performance of La Monte Young’s Composition (1960) No. 10 to Bob Morris [Zen for Head],” 1962 and Paul McCarthy’s “Face Painting / Floor White Line,” (1972). These visually similar moments could not be more different, conceptually: Paik’s execution of a straightforward instruction (“draw a straight line and follow it”) and McCarthy thinking about the figure in painting. In both “Altered” and “Untitled,” Kennon takes the visual similarity of the works as reason enough for them to be placed in proximity. The two works bring up very different conversations, conversations worth having, but at the same art historical cocktail party. And, they’re funny. Like Kennon’s artist book, Black and White Reproductions of the Abstract Expressionists (2002) and The Cindy Sherman’s I’d Like to Fuck (2003). These publications are in the back room at Fourteen30. And I didn’t see it, but his publication that reproduces Ad Reinhardt paintings is very funny.
Not all of the interleavings are productive. In “Altered Secession Catalog – Christopher Wool (Polaroids),” (2011) Kennon litters the catalog with porn-y Polaroids of (mostly) naked (mostly) women which just feels easy, a graffiti tag. It’s worth noting that the beautiful series of photos for which the exhibition is titled–magazines tucked one into the next into the next–are not art rags but vintage Playboys. It’s ironic isn’t it that given the productivity of the erotic of the fold in Kennon’s work, that that low-brow porn-y imagery should be its one dead end, a kind of old school, a-critical attitude dating to the year in which those Playboys were published. Of course one of the works in Get In is a facsimile of the book Women by Richard Prince. This is Kennon providing context, making your critical art-historical association for you. Do I buy it?
It’s the art world specificity of Kennon’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup tactic (used in a relentless way by pop essayist Malcom Gladwell in a thousand New Yorker essays) characteristic of this Remix Era, the soundtrack of which is Danger Mouse’s ridiculously good Grey Album (vocal tracks from Jay Z’s The Black Album over instrumental tracks from the Beatles White Album) that makes this different and also, problematic.
Any artist of any ambition attempts to insert himself into the line of fire, into the narrative of art history, the pages of which, written now, will define the way we remember art and artists in the early decades of the 21st century. If he can visually rewrite the history of art, why, he can write himself in. I’d rather not think that that’s, as Peggy Lee says, “all there is,” and I think his sense of humor, willingness not to take it too seriously, pushes the work beyond and elsewhere.
In a way, Kennon questions the necessity of his own project of art historical revisionism through the dreamy-voiced girl who speaks three short conversational monologues that play infrequently on speakers in the gallery (It’s apparently on a seven-hour loop, so it’s deep back story, unless you happen, as Ralph Pugay did, to be lucky enough to hear all three during his visit.) It’s elusive explication, as she says, “everything comes together,” but “nothing too obvious.” Her rap lazily rolls through recent art history, saying “I like Baldessari as much as the next guy,” but conceiving of “The Last Conceptualism Show.”
“I don’t know if I’m ready for all that stuff from the 80s to come back again,” she says, Longo, Schnabel et al. Unless, she says, you’re talking about our favorite 80s artists like Kelly, Prince, Levine, Lawler. “As long as you don’t have a stack of Artforum’s around, the 80s were great.” What are the mechanics of canonization. Who get’s in, and who’s left on the fringes. Precisely because we actually are talking about Kelly, Prince, et al., Kennon’s remedial project may be superfluous or coincident with greater forces at work in reconsideration of what, in the end, matters.
Get In is open through May 20 at Fourteen30 Contemporary