October 3 – November 8, 2008
1517 Dallas Avenue
Nashville, TN 37204
For this exhibition I was invited by the gallery to curate a selection of prints from their extensive collection and then create works in response to these choices. After much consideration I selected two distinct groups of work by seemingly disparate artists, William Hogarth (1697-1764) and Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778). When I paired Hogarth’s caricatures and serial narratives (the first of their kind) with Piranesi’s meticulously rendered images of an imagined, often completely impossible Greco-Roman antiquity, I saw a political analysis emerging, the kind of observation only afforded by centuries of perspective.
With the benefit of looking at their work across hundreds of years of history, these artists’ practices appear as imagined attempts to chart, write, and re-write histories. I started thinking of Hogarth’s out-of-proportion figures, imbibing, politicking and cavorting as debauched, conglomerations of cramped flesh, as very subjective imagination about the politics of the present – his present. Yet his politic endures because he could transform his often hallucinatory visions into something tangible, enduring. After researching Piranesi’s practice I discovered that his astoundingly detailed renderings of crumbling Roman architecture were often faked, imagined, that the vistas in his pictures were collages of different sites, crammed together in pleasing, yet impossible pairings. During the 18th century his work provided wealthy European tourists the most popular vision of the grandeur of the Roman Empire, a time revered by travelers immersed in their own colonial and imperial ambitions. It struck me that Piranesi’s monuments derive their sentimental, and political import from a place that, as in Hogarth’s work, is imagined and cobbled together from subjective interpretations.
Taking all this into account I set out to make bodies of work, projects, and interventions into the gallery space as a way to tie a purposefully tenuous thread between Hogarth’s work, his absurdist cartoons, and Piranesi’s earnest, yet overtly nostalgic etchings. I felt that their work gave me license to play with my own imagined take on the present political environment, reconsider the history of political discourse, and more specifically pick apart and reassemble the aesthetic accoutrements perennially associated with political campaigns. While the individual works taken together are admittedly heterogeneous in both form and content, they each evidence an imagined, unrealistic, or subjective take on politics.
In this politically charged environment (isn’t it always?) punctuated by an impending election, a seemingly endless war, and a self-replicating news cycle, I felt that making work about the presidency was apropos, especially considering that one of the presidential debates in Nashville coincides, not coincidentally, with this exhibition.
Taken as a whole the work in this exhibition addresses multiple questions of party ideology, allegiance, leadership, and historical uncertainty. Sometimes subjects overlap, sometimes they don’t. Some work calls attention to an impossible situation contextualized by a political reality. Others highlight some overlooked aspect of political campaigning. Select works also explore the nightmare/fantasy oscillation that accompanies campaigning for/against candidates and the anticipation, the not knowing, and anxiety about the future attendant to this devotion. This exhibition does not attempt to make a statement for or against a particular candidate or party but instead provides a springboard for a dispersed conversation about how we hope and fear, discuss and remain silent, come together and alienate ourselves as participants, both willing and unwilling in a democratic process that is fragile, contingent, that makes up its history as it goes along.
INTRODUCTION TO MONUMENTS TO THE PRES[ID]ENT
By Molly Rodgveller
Atop a razor-sharp cone shaped peak, Washington DC balances between the political aesthetics of the north and the south. The city demands the esteem of an east coast metropolis, housing more power than a kryptonite cross but is at the same time flanked with mint juleps, mosquitoes, and wrap-around porches. Having one foot in each side, the Yankee north and the still ringing myths of the Confederate south, it is pulled from mom’s house to dad’s house each weekend and has a closet full of clothes at each. Tucker Neel’s work, in Monuments to the Pres(id)ent, is bound to Washington as a magnet that pulls South to North.
Washington DC exists as a microcosm for America, which is scattered here and there with natural and man-made monuments or hybrids thereof (as with Mt. Rushmore). The city is a meta-object lesson, a monument filled, like a toybox, with monuments. Not to convey that they are tossed thoughtlessly, thrown over the shoulder and then peeked at to see if they made it in the basket. A monument cannot be defined as such if its context has not been carefully thought out. But a boy with a box full of toys is quick to assume that box belongs there, just as a kid from DC might feel about his surroundings. Growing up in a city like Washington would force a child and eventually an adolescent to take such care and craft for granted. The Washington Memorial becomes, instead of the structure and space it takes up, a place to meet your dope dealer or smoke cigarettes with your friends at night.
Washington DC is a modern day Rome, the capitol city of a world power packed with tourists too busy proving they’ve seen the sights to slow down and take them in and locals too busy living within monuments to notice that they exist. Just as the desert serves as a place to throw raves and drink beer for the south-westerner or a forest and stream are a place to sneak off and kiss for a north-easterner or the Roman circus is a summer all-night party scene for teens in Rome, DC’s monuments are something to prove you’ve seen or something not seen at all. We all take our surroundings as a given until we leave them behind. Tucker is an LA based artist from DC. His work in Monuments to the Pres(id)ent is clearly as much personal as it is political.
In Tucker’s version, now from a distance, monuments are removed from their settings and tossed surreally into other monuments. We can finally begin to question their context outside of their context and their environment within this new environment. We finally realize how shocking it is that we can even recognize these household images without their frame of reference. Tucker shows us how it is we see something every day without realizing that, we not only do, but that in his case, what we are seeing isn’t just the UPS store that has been in the neighborhood forever without noticing it, it is big and loaded and deliberate and built entirely for the sake of being seen. Twenty foot marble men become casual neighborhood landmarks just as the Pantheon has in Rome.
Many of Tucker’s DC figures are depicted as forgotten, wrapped up, damaged and in bandages, warped and even disfigured. And yet they take on a life of their own, swirling outerspace tentacles that imply so much abandonment that it is almost apocalyptic. The blackness behind the images forces the viewer to imagine a foreboding world in which nothing of culture and humanity remains except for these decaying images of American democracy. Images that we trusted to protect us now remain as bruised proof of their inability to save us from ourselves.
In this politically charged time, it is impossible for art to avoid any sort of political implications. At the same time art that depends on political viewpoints is ghastly. Political art is problematic by nature, because it either lacks a certain humanity or because the art drowns in the propaganda. It can fail to make us reconsider unquestioned truths and instead bombard the viewer with opinionated uppercuts to the jaw. Political art acts, in the same way that a selfish poet acts. The onlooker is given no chance to think for his/herself. In Monuments to the Pres(id)ent, we see art first and politics second. The nature of Tucker’s art requires us to see the images in a political setting. Monuments speak for themselves. The question is, what do they say?