New York

Peter Hutchinson

John Gibson Gallery

In his Alphabet Series (also published as a book by his gallery), Peter Hutchinson tries to be funny and by and large he succeeds. Handwritten jokes and stories caption lush color photographs, and both hang beneath large letters upholstered in different materials. Like many comic writers before him, Hutchinson uses the alphabet as a containing device, a format for his storytelling.

Alphabet Series is a kind of ambient autobiography. It includes anecdotes about art-making and the art world, about the artist’s travels, and many funny stories about plants and animals (perhaps in ironic reference to Hutchinson’s earlier work with ecological systems). For example, this story under J:

I had been reading Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Carl Jung and was sitting outside my cottage in Provincetown trying “to let go” as Jung described it, sink into my unconscious and have a mystical, mythical experience. Nothing happened except that my head began to throb strangely. At that moment a bird alighted on the seat of my bicycle a few feet away. It was a Blue Jay. It looked at me for a few moments as though it carried some important message.

The photo that this story captions shows the bicycle seat and above it a paper letter as a symbol of the bird.

In this story and others, Hutchinson relates the form of his series to the child’s primer. He learns (J is for Jung), tries it out in the world, assays the effect (j is for blue jay), and then hangs the story under its sculptural peg, a letter plated with the opaque crystal jasper. I liked Blue Jay and the others in the series that were about this kind of learning, about shaping an artistic attitude out of the crazy things coming up that Hutchinson feels he can’t ignore.

I didn’t like Yoga Yarn, which presents the letter Y covered with yarn, a photograph of a man with a meditative expression and a fork in his mouth, and an anecdote about yogis who split their tongues as a means to enlightenment—“but I wonder whether to believe anyone who speaks with a forked tongue.” The piece is formally strong because its three parts—text, photo, and sculptural letter—are seamlessly joined. Yarn on the letter puns on the nature of the text as a yarn, and the photograph reiterates the punchline. But it’s too damn clever, and cleverness makes the piece impermeable, a closed circuit flashing a mediocre joke.

Alan Moore