New York

Jaya Howey, AR141 Introduction, 2016, oil on canvas, 45 1/4 × 35 3/8".

Jaya Howey, AR141 Introduction, 2016, oil on canvas, 45 1/4 × 35 3/8".

Jaya Howey

Jaya Howey, AR141 Introduction, 2016, oil on canvas, 45 1/4 × 35 3/8".

Like many (I’d wager most) “professional” artists, Jaya Howey is also a teacher. But while the tendency among his contemporaries is to compartmentalize their paired roles out of an unstated concern that the prosaic realities of the latter will tarnish the mystic aura of the former, Howey used this exhibition to dissolve the barrier between them. Although the past ten years have seen the emergence of art-as-pedagogy as a fully fledged subgenre—think, to pick one historically aware example, of the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s riffs on Beuys’s chalkboards—it hasn’t consistently focused on the specific challenges of teaching at art institutions. But by rendering typewritten pages of syllabi for courses he teaches at Boston University—a first-year graduate sculpture and painting seminar, an undergraduate “junior painting studio,” and an undergraduate painting class—onto mid-size white canvases in institutional gray, Howey directs attention toward the prescriptive minutiae of formal instruction and assessment, and to what are considered the foundational aims and techniques of studio practice. In “Edifying Lines for Sensitive Readers,” his second solo exhibition at this gallery, these syllabi canvases were interspersed with sculptures featuring arrangements of patterned cushions piled on and around wooden benches in seeming anticipation of reader fatigue.

That the syllabi on display are Howey’s own is key—we are not told to what extent he authored them, though the assumption is that they represent the most personal allowable interpretation of directives shared between degree-granting institutions. They represent, in other words, a reflexive element of complicity. If the stance of rebellious outsider has long since lost its appeal for most artists, having been displaced as the ideal role by that of a measured and market-savvy manipulator of extant systems, then a sneering assault on the pedagogic rules of artmaking would have been beside the point. Howey instead opens the syllabi to a more playful kind of reexamination, an implicit invitation to imagine the perfect painting made using a limited set of conventional materials and completed according to an academic timetable.

Howey’s paintings also prompt us to consider how we might construct such texts ourselves, were we in the same position of authority. Beginning a painting course with an introduction to the still life may read as a conservative bore, but is it really such a bad idea? And might not a guide to the relative merits of different brands of paint of the kind Howey includes often prove rather useful? And who could entirely dismiss these criteria for students: DISPLAYS A HIGH LEVEL OF CONTEMPORARY ART AWARENESS. SHOWS PROOF OF INDEPENDENT RESEARCH INTO THE TOPIC. REGULARLY GRAPPLES WITH THE MANNER IN WHICH IT APPLIES TO THE WORK? Any criticism to be made here might be better directed against the broad strokes of the syllabi’s language than against any specific attitudes they embody. We are also prompted to consider the history of art education as a semi-independent field, and whether a syllabus might ever be considered a sort of manifesto (think of, say, the Bauhaus’s basic course).

Unlike the text paintings, Howey’s benches look to be all about formal choice. The seats themselves, while nicely crafted, are plain-looking and unvarying; their cushions, however, run the gamut of fabric, pattern, and color, and their combinations produce a complex play of complement and interruption. Their positioning also suggests a usurping of simple physical comfort by other criteria—a condition discussed by the artist in terms of a negotiation between individuals forced to share a (physical or metaphorical) seat. If the text paintings portray academic syllabi as occupying an interzone between individual artistic and larger institutional ends, the benches stand halfway between solitary reflection and social interaction, their discordant upholstery embodying a pure—and joyful—unpredictability.

Michael Wilson