Chicago

Gregg Bordowitz delivering a talk on the opening night of his show “Talk Is the Object” at Iceberg Projects, Chicago, May 21, 2011.

Gregg Bordowitz delivering a talk on the opening night of his show “Talk Is the Object” at Iceberg Projects, Chicago, May 21, 2011.

Gregg Bordowitz

Iceberg Projects

Gregg Bordowitz delivering a talk on the opening night of his show “Talk Is the Object” at Iceberg Projects, Chicago, May 21, 2011.

When art and text conspire, compelling incursions into the politics of meaning may result. Take, for example, Joseph Kosuth’s contribution to Documenta 9 in 1992, for which he shrouded wall-mounted artworks with black cloth bearing screenprinted quotations by such thinkers such as Wittgenstein: “OBJECTS I CAN ONLY NAME. SIGNS REPRESENT THEM. I CAN ONLY SPEAK OF THEM.” The installation was titled Passagen-Werk (Documenta Flanerie), 1992, and delivered theoretical sound bites in place of identifiable objects as a means to frame art as a system of critical language signs. Gregg Bordowitz’s work also often involves language. However, it does so not to concretize his politics by staging text-based tautological constructions, but to unhinge meaning with speech and poetry.

At this Chicago off-space, Bordowitz opened his show, “Talk Is the Object,” with a performance—or, as it were, a talk—that emphasized the body, the vulnerability of art, and a work’s inability to heal trauma, let alone offer any semblance of objective meaning. Some fourteen modestly sized paintings and drawings that Bordowitz had selected from the gallerist’s private collection, by luminaries such as Ed Paschke, Kiki Smith, Ray Yoshida, Mark Jackson, Mark Chamberlain, Angel Otero, Leon Golub, and well-known local outsider artists Joseph Yoakum and Lee Godie, lined the walls. No checklist or wall labels were provided. In lieu of these, Bordowitz pasted fourteen sheets of white copy paper to the wall (self-effacingly, with neither frame nor backing); on each, the artist had printed a short text (that he also wrote) with a one-word title, such as TALK, STITCH, COLOR, LILT, or KEEL. He also supplied a printed copy of his talk, with the heading NOT FOR PUBLICATION OR DISTRIBUTION.

Bordowitz takes a particular interest in the relationship between the artwork and the beholder, noting on this document that “art is very fragile,” and that “it is easily overwhelmed by many factors.” And yet the works in the exhibition, far from seeming vulnerable, appeared quite the opposite: Raunchy mixed-media works on paper by Paschke depicted a dick-headed man and a multibreasted woman occupying acid-hued electric spaces. Elsewhere, Chamberlain’s suite of framed watercolors of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, assuming soft-porn positions proved charming no matter how dirty; and Otero’s assemblage of floral fabric, bric-a-brac, and ejaculated gobs of oil paint made for a physically powerful (one might even say virile) composition. The visionary drawing by legendary Chicago street artist Godie and the magical graphic imagery of Ray Yoshida appeared harmoniously distributed over their paper surfaces.

In contrast with the formidable figurative artworks on view, Bordowitz’s notes and poetry offered the perspective of another charged body, the artist’s own. The affective language and response it encouraged suggested that meaning existed foremost in the viewer’s body, and then only secondarily in the work of art. In the press release for the project, Bordowitz recounts cutting his toe in the home of the collector/gallery owner while selecting work for the exhibition: “Parts of the body are objects. […] There is injury and there is art. These two facts merely coincide. Ultimately, composition does not heal. It does not mend”—lines that in turn beg us to ask, does talk?

Michelle Grabner