March 10 - April 16, 2016
Opening reception: March 10, 6-8pm
Awareness of mortality defines life the way darkness defines light. Without it, there would be no self, no need for gods, no passion or attachment, no compulsion to mark days, weeks, and years. Death is both the most factual of facts and the ultimate mystery. As all things quintessential to the human condition, it is subject to as many portrayals as there are circumstances; a fertile ground for imagination and creativity: a fundamental paradox. Expiration Date presents a collection of modern and contemporary works by both known and anonymous artists working across a spectrum of mediums around the themes transience and mortality. Beyond a strict curatorial schema, the breadth of this exhibition showcases the persuasiveness and salient evocative pull of works that elevate death past the idea of a final frontier and characterize it, rather, as part of a continuum. Thus, veering from the obvious facets of taboo or the morose and celebrating the cathartic power of art, its ability to generate novel realities.
Selected works range from interpretations of iconic historic and biblical events: a witty Last Supper tableau by Self-Taught master William Hawkins and a meticulous rendering of the immortal catastrophe of the Titanic by calendar savant George Widener. To a rare work by 19th Century American painter David Scott Evans—depicting an ethereal female floating between the pleasures of life and the heat of hell. To works by preeminent photographers: André Kertész with a selection of subtly lyrical compositions, and Joel-Peter Witkin with a still life of perverse beauty and a surreal quotation of Kertész himself. To contemporary artists Scott Campbell and Gerald Slota, Campbell taking on the subject matter with an urban, “Grateful Dead” sensibility, and Slota with his masterful way of obscuring meaning and cutting through the incantatory, time-freezing power of photography to expose mortality as a constant undercurrent.
Expiration Date also revisits the outstanding quality of relevant works from the Folk and Vernacular arenas. Among them, a striking and purposeful mid-19th Century Penitente figure from New Mexico, a Herman Bridgets (“Bridgers”) aggregate concrete headstone that approaches Cycladic sculpture and other ancient effigies, a 16-part series of salesman sample paintings from the 1920s displaying tombstone designs in a matter-of-fact, brilliantly illustrative style, and a collection of original vintage hand prints signed by their subjects, made between the World Wars by renowned German palm reader Marianne Raschig.
Through the divergences and the common threads of the works here collected, and by thinning the lines between the religious and the secular (academic and pop iconography), the utilitarian and ritual; between the very concrete and the more elusive representations of mortality, this exhibition seeks to create an interesting visual resonance, so to speak. But above all, to seize the vitality behind the human impulse to transcend decay and resist oblivion, to give shape to the shapeless. In this sense, Expiration Date contains more than a small measure of irony, because what art does in the best of cases—through the symbolic appropriation of all unknowns, and its potential dialogue with new viewers and perspectives—is make things fresh: extend “shelf life,” ad infinitum.
© Alejandra Russi