by Kevin Crowe
"The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot,â” Salvador DalÃ mused in 1968. Art, for what it's worth, has always been on the shoulders of giants. Young turks, first inspired by the masters that came before them, work tirelessly to divine something new. And so it goes.
â“I wished to have genuine shit,â” DalÃ continued, â“from the navel of Raphaelâ. When [Marcel] Duchamp understood that he had generously sown the wind with his youthful ideas until he had no more, he aristocratically stopped his â‘game' and announced prophetically that other young men would specialize in the chess of contemporary art.â”
The game continues, with thousands of failed experiments in galleries all over the world. Here in Knoxville, the game has never been so much fun. Even when art fails, we strive to understand why. Nothing so far is really what it seems.
Two exhibits at the Knoxville Museum of Art are reaching for something genuine. New York photographer Tim Davis, whose work is ensconced in art history, is finding new meaning within timeless masterpieces. â“All art ends up in photographs,â” Davis tells us. In his take on a depiction of â“Saint Sebastian,â” there's a blur, near the subject's mouth. It's a large spot, bleached out by light. Where we expect to see a solemn portrait of a saint, something interesting happens. The image we anticipate is blotted out, ready for new interpretations. Come into the light, Davis' â“Saint Sebastianâ” beckons. The voice of the spiritual, whatever that may be, is beyond comprehension, a fuzzed-out swath of light.
These photos of classic artworks are printed as close to the size of the original works as possible. Davis uses no flash or extra lighting, and the results can be striking as he utilizes only the light that is readily available in the galleries. In doing so, he's able to extract new meanings from old classics. All of his prints are totally coincidental. The museums, wherever these great works now rest, provide the artistic inspiration. Here, circumstance reigns supreme.
The photographs, such as â“Evocation of Love,â” have an impressionistic feel, like a faded memory, blurred by time. A memory that has been inaccurately grafted onto the subconscious.
Across the main hall, as part of KMA's Design Lab series, works by another New York artist, Tim Thyzel, are on display. There are his â“Portable Fountain Drawings,â” a quirky exercise in the architecture of the absurd. Street Cones, cobbled together at haphazard, make up one peculiar fountain. Thyzel's intent, it seems, is to create a sense of phony functionality. All of his works are Frankensteins, strange assemblages that, as he puts it, create â“modernist aesthetics with ordinary materials.â”
There are the sculptures that make up his â“Tilies,â” a seemingly random assortment of bathroom fixtures, arranged so that whatever original utility these familiar props once held is lost. Sink fixtures become the legs of bizarre sculptures of porcelain tiles. There's no functionality here, just imagination run amuck, like a three-dimensional DalÃ dreamscape.
There's a series of pegboard sculptures, each building upon Thyzel's theme of non-utility. One piece, entitled â“Bank of China,â” mimics the shape of the famous building in Beijing, using plain pegboard that would normally be seen in a grocery store. There's also the fantastically absurd â“Walking Pegs,â” a pegboard sculpture that's perched on a set of sturdy mannequin legs. It's the aesthetic of The Jetsons , a concept that's odd by design. Thyzel destroys the ordinary with an almost childlike fascination with incongruity. Whatever meanings these objects are supposed to have, whether it is by the subversion of norms or enlightenment via the unexpected, it's lost in whimsy. Maybe that's the point.
â“Persistent attempts to destroy frames of reference altered our thinking, established new units of thought, â‘a new thought for that object,'â” says Jasper Johns, a neo-Dadaist based in Connecticut.
Ad absurdum , the meaning is in the process, always finagling new ideas of perception. A game of chess, if you will. The game isn't always pretty, but it's rarely boring.
Who: Time Davis and Tim Thyzel When: Thru July 8 and June 10, respectively Where: KMA How Much: $5; free admission on Tues.
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