New York

Christopher Knowles

Holly Solomon Gallery

In this season when galleries are showing bring-it-home-with-you art, packaged in form and price for gift-giving, a difficult and unmarketable show is welcome, but the work of CHRISTOPHER KNOWLES at Holly Solomon brings with it greater moral difficulties than esthetic ones. The mythology surrounding Knowles is all too well documented: an autistic child, Knowles’ “creative genius” was hailed by avant-garde artists (in particular playwright and director, Robert Wilson); he has been used in their work ever since. One begins to wonder whether the commercialization of an individual is not worse than any other sort of exploitation; what’s cashed in on is the notion of the artist as madman and the madman as shaman, although generations of serious artists have attempted to wean the public from such concepts.

The show consists of a series of combined verbal and visual musings, thematically bound by the color sign-system of the Christmas season—red and green. An entire wall of the gallery is covered by rows of crayoned paper cutouts of Christmas trees, bells, wreaths and human figures.

Extending the red and green sign-system are those pieces written and drawn with thick green and red marker which speak of the colors’ identities as sanctioners and impeders of action: “This is a traffic light (drawing of traffic light) It tells people when to stop/go on the red/green light.” The exercise is arranged like something almost algebraic, every component of the stated “problem” is either mathematically significant or a bluff: below the words red and stop, comes forth the association to Ringo Starr and Ray Stevens, yet below the words “green” and “go” is printed Glen Campbell and George Harrison.

Sign, symbol and meaning are at times as perfectly aligned as standard images. In The Eclipse, the conceptual and visual implications of a solar eclipse are condensed into three simple images; one implies progression and movement of the spheres, the other depicts the blackening of the sun, and the third, a camera, bespeaks the mystical aspect of the event which cannot be viewed with the naked eye. More commonly, however, as in a series of drawings which resemble children’s board games, the components of thought, ideation and execution become totally disjointed, each pivoting on itself in a mad, aimless orbit.

There is no argument. Christopher Knowles’ verbal and visual constructions strike a most peculiar and stimulating chord. But is the mythos required to make these works valid? Separating all background “noise” from the actual work, the work holds its own, but reinstating the autistic genius mythology is problematic because it is not the artist who is speaking for himself. Listening to the audiotape which is part of the show, on which Knowles, in a machinelike voice continuously recites and spells the name of George Klauber (a graphic designer and professor at Pratt), I thought back to his previous work, Typings, which organized typed words into images. The imagery of Knowles using himself as he used the typewriter, as a percussive instrument with 26 letters of the alphabet, brought to mind a fantastic theory told to me recently: If x number of writers were placed in front of typewriters and instructed to type into infinity, at some point in time each one would surface with Paradise Lost; it would be the genius amongst them who, knowing that this had occurred, would stop typing. If nothing else, an artist must have the autonomy to recognize his own productions as being artistic ones. Until I feel that Christopher Knowles has this autonomy, I will have difficulties with his work.

Judith Lopes Cardozo