Show at Unit B! / by Alexander Pincus

This is All Real
May 21- July 2, 2010
Joey Fauerso, Leslee Fraser, Gyan Shrosbree

These three artists, inspired by the subjectivities and proclivities of the others, bring together their work in a maximalist installation that obfuscates authorship, and decentralizes the art object. This construction is a collection of collections! Art objects are interspersed with other items that any of the artists may covet, collect, or consume. Art is artifice, but this is all real.

Opening Reception: Friday, May 21, 6:30-10pm
Gallery Hours: Saturdays, 3-5pm and by appointment

For his 1917 work Fountain, Marcel Duchamp purchased a urinal, turned it on its side, signed it with the pseudonym R. Mutt, and then submitted it to the “unjuried” Society of Independent Artists exhibition, which rejected the work as “not art.” With this gesture, Duchamp upset the hitherto relatively stable basis for knowing an art object upon sight. In recent years many artists have updated Duchamp’s proposal that an artwork’s validity and value comes from its context by incorporating curating into their practice or presenting their work within a collection. In 2009 Vik Muniz made a memorable and amusing mark in this category by juxtaposing design objects from the Museum of Modern Art’s collection with works by art-world darlings—a wooden pencil with eraser by Hymen Lipman (1858) was paired with John Baldessari’s I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971), for example. At present Maurizio Cattelan, who has made a career of critiquing traditional notions of art and artmaking, has a project at the Menil Collection that upends the expectation that a solo show should provide a concentrated look at an artist’s oeuvre; instead, his works are sited throughout the institution, interspersed amongst its displays.

Cattelan and Muniz are just two of the many artists who have lately generated Duchampian conversations about what constitutes an art object and an artist’s work. At the artist-run gallery Unit B in San Antonio, Joey Fauerso, Leslee Fraser and Gyan Shrosbree, a trio of longtime friends and artists, are also contributing to the dialogue with their energetic and endearing collaborative project This is All Real. The exhibition is a colorful and crazy mash-up of plants, figurines and other personal knickknacks; recent drawings, watercolors, sculptures and a video by the artists; and a couple of mixed-media works jointly made for the show. Hung salon-style and without labels, the exhibition is so crowded with delights and the occasional knockout that I resisted the urge to sort out who made every last element and embraced the idea that anything can become artful within the right context.

While I was content not to know whether a pair of unusual bookends was made by one of the artists, a readymade or just brought from home, I did appreciate finding out that Fauerso, who is known for contemplative watercolors and animations that isolate figures in discordant environments, contributed one of the most engaging works in the show. In her poignant, disturbing and funny video Me Time, she makes out with hand puppets with such passion that the fabric creatures seem to come alive. By contrast Fraser’s arrangements of Americana generate some of the quieter and more enigmatic moments in the exhibition. In Civilization #2 a TV table is dotted with a walnut, a lacquered clamshell and a heart-painted holder filled with pink cocktail napkins that read, “Close the curtains.” The kitschy display creates a charged domestic puzzle. Shrosbree, for her part, brings exuberance to the show. In one grouping of her works, This Is Not My Life, an entire wall is covered with giant, fantastical figures of friendly bats, fancy ladies and faux curtains. Every element is cut out of canvas but painted so expressively that you might contemplate trying to join the fairytale world.

The exhibition’s show-stopper is the artists’ collaborative installation This is All Real, which takes over the second of Unit B’s two small rooms. Here stand life-sized photographic cutouts of the three friends, each captured smiling and animated: Shrosbree leans back enjoying the show, Fraser is caught mid dance move and Fauerso happily plays a cardboard flute while actual music is piped in and a real instrument case collects donations. Like the show as a whole, the work cleverly suspends the divide between art and life. With Duchamp as a touchstone, This is All Real delves into one of postmodernity’s paradoxes: that while many of us intellectually embrace the idea that life can be art and vice versa, we have difficulty with the notion that all of it has similar value and is indeed real.

Kate Green is a freelance writer and is pursuing her PhD in art history at the University of Texas at Austin.