Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Artist's Model

Matthew Ritchie 2003, by Joe Fig

I've been a very bad blogger. Here I promised you a review of "Studio Visit," Joe Fig's show at Bernard Toale gallery, and I never delivered, and now the exhibit has closed (as of December 22).

Which is too bad, because the show was, indeed, interesting. The Toale Gallery tends toward the conceptual, and Fig's installation was no exception to the rule: this is one artist who is fascinated by other artists, and whose ouevre consists of tiny models of their studios. The models themselves bristled with grungy detail, and were kinda cool in that way all models are (they wowed the Globe's rather literal-minded Cate McQuaid). Their shiny exactitude, however, belied the chaos they enshrined - their messiness felt shrink-wrapped, contained, like some neatnik's fever dream of anarchy. And the banal interviews contributed by the artists themselves (in which they sounded just as dull as you and me) were funny in conceptual terms, sure, but as experiences were a bore.

Oddly, however, the project came together in the photographs of the models (see above). It's hard to pinpoint why this should be so, but it certainly has something to do with transcending the very thing that Cate McQuaid so avidly praised: the oh-my-god-how'd-he-make-such-a-teeny-weeny-paintbrush factor. Fig may be "into" the mystery of technique, but in his miniatures, he's happy to let his own technique, rather than its mystery, take center stage. In the photographs, however, the verisimilitude of the models works to their conceptual advantage; we're struck not by their accuracy but by the fact that we can still perceive their falsehood, that they're made of cardboard and glue rather than flesh and blood. Thus these images resonate with a curious contradiction between "realism" and "reality."

The result is a funny, uncanny vibe, which makes us remember how odd it is that art should flow from flesh and blood, too. Where lies the ghost in the actual art machine, in Michael Ritchie's or Chuck Close's actual studio, in the muscles of their actual hands, or the glances of their actual eyes? It's this eternal question - a reformulation of the old mind/body problem, if anyone cares to tell Descartes - that haunts Joe Fig's photography.

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