December 8th-January 17th
101 W. 6th Street, Studio Q
Tucson, AZ 85701
The latest exhibit at Everybody is a series of seven monochromatic paintings by the “mysterious” Henry Codax. “His” name is taken from a fictional character in a collectively written novel titled Reena Spauling, which is also the name of an art gallery and art project associated with another group of artists called the Bernadette Corporation. “He” is a pseudonym, a persona for an anonymous collective, or some other pluralized version of being.
What do you see? Seven extremely precise monochromatic paintings. There are four eye-searing, face-melting yellows and three stark magentas (a color that strikes me as confusing yet calm). Each painting is oriented on the “portrait” axis, taller than it is wide. The paintings are on the scale of large, elongated doorways, or, my preferred term: portals. Or as Jeff Lownsbury pointed out to me: the scale of iPhones. They are organized as diptychs, with each painting having exactly the same measurements and positioned perfectly symmetrically on Everybody’s walls, yellow (lemonade) left and magenta (strawberry) right. (Except for the one extra yellow, which is set against the door to the gallery.) The yellow, it must be said again, is of a brutal sunshine brightness that Tucsonans will know well. Like the sun here, it is painful, it is weighty. It’s also, like, just house-paint.
The surprise is that there is still content there, even if the art is “essentially blank” as the artist’s statement says. Blank is not inert or neutral or invisible. Blank is an activity of focus. These paintings focus you; they fix you and change your sight. Sure, maybe you just glance at them, note the Henry Codax-anonymity-mystery, get a dose of the color-wheel and leave (I certainly saw a few folks do that). Yes, there is the whole nefarious interweb-ness of the Codax phenomenon. The mystery of having mystery when every fact is two seconds away. We don’t know the facts (or, more accurately, they are explicitly and almost ritualistically withheld from us – we know what we don’t know).
But, having been in the room with the paintings, the mystery is not the point. We can speculate (and it’s fun to do so), but really the fact of a collective persona is not that “interesting” or “revolutionary” on its own. We’ve been talking about the death of the author for a long time. Andy Warhol’s factory, Jeff Koons’s horribleness, The School of Giorgione… What’s works—and made me take a double take—is that the mediation (the stuff around the art) and the stuff-you-actually-see-in-that-space (the art) blend together in this distributed-but-seamless way.
I speculate that the paintings were created by local magic art gnomes to specifications sent down (emailed, I bet) from some mysterious Henry Codax (de)central committee. But that doesn’t change the fact of something there to be there, something to gather us in, some blankness demanding (in the case of the yellow) or questioning (in the case of the magenta) our attention. It doesn’t change a relationship to a room, a space, some colors, some people. It doesn’t change the fact that these are paintings that address our eyes and—in doing that—that also figure the act of addressing / calling out for / yearning for. Those are things we might normally psychologize and make the “author” responsible for. Instead, the evidence of a whole cycle of tasks, and the yellow unfolds the withheld details of the art’s making.
This show—even more than the many other awesome shows Everybody has produced in Tucson—shows the scope and dedication of its organizers. They are creating a space to see contemporary art in a way that allows our local, specific eyes and bodies to enter and access regions outside of this place—and yet still with it and within it. Strawberry Lemonade figures that local/cosmopolitan relationship, too. What’s here and now (in this iteration of Codax’s work, say) and what’s NYU-LA-Paris-Zurich (in past iterations of the work) both shade into each other and form each other. Nodes in the network of Codax.
Still, though, the paintings. These blanknesses make something happen. Nothing doesn’t require thought, and everything can invite itself to our eyes. But we have to be reminded precisely of these facts. That is at least the first task of art: to say, look! And then to say, look again. I am of the camp that looking again and again at all of it: asphalt, brick piles, shoe-laces, tattoos, brain-scans, thrown-away grade school tests you find on the street, dreams… All that composes and demands and rewards our attentions (and vice versa, in a never-ending feedback loop). The work in Strawberry Lemonade—via two colors and the collective labor of many—gives shape to the processes and forms that mediate our attention. Here is mechanism displayed: the mechanism of our eyes as much as the mechanical details of making art happen. This is yellow. This is magenta. Walk in to the portal.