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PST, A to Z: 'Everyman’s Infinite Art' at Chapman University

December 30, 2011 |  1:05 pm

Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

Installation view, "Everyman's Infinite Art"
When I set out for Chapman University’s Guggenheim Gallery, I fully expected to meet with closed doors. After all, “Everyman’s Infinite Art” was described as a re-creation of a 1966 exhibition in which the gallery was closed, proffering only a brochure to frustrated art lovers. This was four years before artist Michael Asher kept the Pomona College Museum of Art open 24/7 (a feat re-created for PST) and Robert Barry declared Eugenia Butler Gallery closed for the duration of his show there. While I can’t speak to the history of gallery closure as conceptual art, it seems Chapman professor Harold Gregor, who organized “Everyman’s,” was slightly ahead of his time.

In fact, Gregor was responding to an exhibition on the other side of the country. “Primary Structures,” at the Jewish Museum in New York, was an important show of Minimalist art that included works by Carl Andre, known for straightforward arrangements of unembellished construction materials. For “Everyman’s” Gregor wrote descriptions of works that also could be made from everyday materials, albeit less macho ones — rulers, ping pong balls, disposable cups. Work No. 6 read: “Twenty-five upright soup cans, labels removed, arranged to form a right angle with twelve cans comprising each leg and one can at the apex.” Although he actually built at least four of these works — only photographs survive— visitors to the gallery experienced them only as text descriptions.

It’s not clear whether Gregor thought Minimalism was a good thing or if he was mocking it. But in either case, for him, this was art at its limit. In the exhibition text — written in the style of a manifesto — he described how this type of work did not need to be realized: it was possible to experience it fully only as text. He went on to claim that, “it entails minimal spectator involvement and minimum artistic skill and discipline. In short ... EVERYMAN’S INFINITE ART.”

Gregor’s decision to close the gallery may have been a celebration of this democratizing urge — you can make this stuff at home! — or, more likely, a derisive act of protest against the de-skilling of artistic practice. At least he realized where things were going, even if he didn’t like it.

Guggenheim Gallery's Alexandro Segade, left, and Eric ChimentiThe current exhibition however, is not a faithful re-creation. For one, the gallery is open, and the works have been built, this time by Chapman students. Walking amid these geometric constructions of everyday objects, you discover that indeed, you can’t fully experience them as text — in fact, you can’t really fully experience them at all. Printed on a large banner on the wall, Gregor’s piece No. 12 reads: “Thirty 1” x 11G x 7/16” flat-headed, hot-dipped, galvanized, barbed roofing nails, points up, aligned two inches apart.” The description seems to provide detailed instruction — I initially imagined a straight line of nails on the floor — but the nails in the current show are partially wrapped around a rectangular pedestal. Though entirely in keeping with Gregor’s description, this small variation suggests it could give rise to several other, slightly different works of art.

While viewers may still find the arrangements banal or boring, the show’s main effect is to draw attention to the acts of translation and interpretation that occur when an idea is transmitted from one mind to another. Gregor described this process more dramatically: “As a primary object it offers an essential facet of the artistic heart, but extracting the essence, kills the body.” He saw the triumph of the idea as the death of the physical object. Now, at decades remove from that radical moment, we compare the text to its physical embodiment and understand that the transition from idea to text to object is never as simple as it seems.

-- Sharon Mizota

The Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, One University Drive, Orange, (714) 997-6815, through Jan. 14. Closed Sundays and from Dec. 22–Jan 2. www.chapman.edu/art/guggenheim.asp

Photos, from top: Installation view, "Everyman's Infinite Art," The Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University. Credit: Dawn Bonker.

  
Installation view, "Everyman's Infinite Art," The Guggenheim Gallery, Chapman University. Gallery coordinator Alexandro Segade, left, and Eric Chimenti, chair, department of art, at gallery reception. Credit: Dawn Bonker.
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