David Gilhooly

The Candy Store

David Gilhooly’s show at The Candy Store in Folsom, California (as in Johnny Cash, et al), is noteworthy not so much for the work—predictably low-priced, charming, Wizard of Id-type exercises in art lampoon, sexual wit, and cuddly beasties, all rendered in the ceramic tchotzkies turned out by Bay Area artists, in the same numbers apparently, as SoHo produces charcoal grid variants—as it is for its housing. The Candy Store, run by a happy Bertha Cool doppelganger named Adeliza McHugh, is the epitome of a your-own-thing regional gallery. The little red frame house sits high above the quiet road leading into this deceptively elfish town; its walks have been painted polka-dot, its balustrades stripes, and its signs done—what else?—ceramic by such Sacramento Valley sensibilities as Jim Nutt and Robert Arneson. Inside the place is 180° from Marlborough’s high modernist officialdom, festooned with drawings by an elderly black Chicago primitive (whose stuff, coincidentally, looks a lot like Hunterwasser’s), photographs (one of two shows in a space hardly big enough for one), and all manner of objects resembling the kind of toys they make for the children of MIT professors. Whether it’s “good” or “bad” art is not the point (indeed, a kind of hierarchy this ambiance is plainspokenly against); the question is: what do places like The Candy Store and pale imitations in college towns all over the country (The Little Gallery and Frame Shop in the Barn,Wheatley, Wisconsin, etc.) mean in the scheme of things? I don’t have the answer, but I do have a synopsized dialogue taking place, on the way back to San Francisco, in the Volkswagen of my mentor, an art historian and champion of The Candy Store esthetic:

Me: I see The Candy Store as a reaction to an overdose of mainstream sterility, and I can see where, after ten shows on West Broadway, you’d hanker for some funk. But I couldn’t see two shows of that stuff before I’d need a dose of the John Weber or Bykert Gallery.

Him: That’s because you don’t care about it like I do. You represent a certain corner of the art market which I respect and to which I want to remain hospitable, but which, when you cut it, makes sense only in New York or L.A.

Me: That still doesn’t answer the question of the art, which I see as functioning like the National Lampoon—pricking the balloon of mainstream pomposity—but not having much lasting merit in itself. with exceptions, of course.

Him: It has its own value. You heard Adeliza say Jim Nutt saw that old primitive as “pure,” i.e., influenced only by his inner self; the object of this art is to become pure and idiosyncratic. So, between Brice Marden and Jim Nutt, there’s a lot of room to play around. There’s a guy going around giving lectures on “Midwest primitives” and it’s really bad stuff, which becomes apparent. A quality hierarchy ultimately emerges. It all gets sorted out.

Me: To me, somebody who tries to out-sophisticate Brice Marden and misses produces art more interesting than the person who tries to out-obsessive Jim Nutt and misses. The Marden imitator, although mannered and full of argot, is nevertheless disciplined and restrained, while the Nutt imitator is absolutely self-indulgent. His only virtue is that he keeps the Greenbergian juggernaut from rolling on, untouched by alternatives.

Him: You insist on seeing it as self-conscious commentary on New York art, but The Candy Store artists would have it they don’t p4 any attention to the magazines, etc. In the heat of SoHo, competing with a jillion other artists, paying $500 a month on a roach-ridden loft, doing Mardens or Mel Bochners makes sense. But while living in Indianapolis or Sacramento with a college teaching job and paying $50 a month for a whole floor over a drugstore, with few other artists around, it doesn’t. Deprived of proper context, even post-Minimalism loses its sense.

We agreed, however, that art is, in the end, the most honest game in town, and that the best art always wins out. (Well, he’s a historian, and they’re paid to know things like that.)

Peter Plagens