In "The Letter T," Anthony Huberman's talk at the New Museum last month, he wondered about why we have certain relationships with some objects and not with others, and why some things seem to have a pull on us while others don't affect us at all. It would be interesting to pose Huberman's ideas on speculative realism to the group of international artists in Lifelike, The Walker Art Center's upcoming exhibition that examines whether a work of art's authenticity is real or manufactured.
Is it real? is a hard question to answer, but Lifelike makes a daring attempt by investigating "the quieter side of the quotidian, choosing potentially overlooked items or moments as subject matter: a paper bag, an eraser, an apple core, a waiting room, an afternoon nap." At face value all the pieces are real in the most obvious meaning of the word: they exist. Many of them are larger versions of everyday objects, like the Pink Pearl in Vija Celmins' "Eraser" (1967) or Jonathan Seliger's gigantic carton of milk, "Heartland" (2010). Are the artists' versions more real because they're one-of-a-kind, hand-made objects versus mass produced commodities? Or are the actual store-bought consumer goods more real because we touch and use them everyday?
I wonder, too, if "Eraser" would have been more powerful had Celmins removed the Pink Pearl logo, because I immediately respond to the nostalgia factor, remembering the new Pink Pearl I carried with me, year after year, on my first day of school. The 'authenticity' of this object, then, is not contained to the object itself, but to my personal memory of it. And actually, it seems like a pretty odd choice for this exhibition, since its goals are to avoid "the brand-name flashiness embraced by 1960s Pop."
Then there's "Heartland" (2010), which is nothing if not logo driven. For contrast, take a look at Jud Nelson's "Hefty 2-Ply," (1979-1981). Not until we read the title do we know that we're looking a brand-specific trash bag. And because the bag isn't plastered with the Hefty logo, our interpretation of it isn't obstructed by the large presence a big brand name lends. So I don't know if is it real? is even the right question to ask. Is it (more) powerful? is better, I think. Certainly a big Pink Pearl gets you to stop and consider it as an object more than the one sitting half-rubbed on your desk does. But if you didn't have that daily, commodified reminder of the Pink Pearl as art object, you might not remember to think about it all.
If you're in Minneapolis this weekend stop by and interpret it for yourself.
Walker Art Center
February 25, 2012 - May 27, 2012