the arts


Observations on the artist in this group show who doesn't give an eff what I think

Reviewed by Matthew Irwin, Fri., May 10, 2013

<b><i>F is for ...</i></b>, by Kiki Whatley
"F is for ...", by Kiki Whatley


Gallery Black Lagoon, 4301-A Guadalupe, 512/371-8838,
Through May 29

An art critic is compelled to describe and justify the achievements of a particular artwork, perhaps by identifying its place in art history or by connecting it to the time and location, even if the critic does not recognize the work's merits.

This approach is subject to debate, however, if we value personal experience; what effect does the viewer's mood have on her interpretation, for example? Or how does her experience limit, rather than expand, her view?

By the length of this introduction, you might assume I'm taking a personal approach to "Everything," the mixed-media group show at Gallery Black Lagoon. The review starts out that way, but then finds some objectivity in that point of view.

Forget that any place an artwork takes the viewer is valid, or that a little perspective might steer the internal dialogue closer to the artist's intention, or that the artist's intention doesn't always matter: Right now, I'm biased.

"Everything" showcases talent in works by Maria Doulatova, Ryan Cooper, and Ruth Keitz. But when I look at Kiki Whatley's simplistic gestures and representations, I see childish reactions where I would hope to see childlike revelations.

Innocent Intellect and Mind Bullets seem intentionally naive, but The Faithful Atheist clarifies Whatley's position as an antagonist to unspecific notions of war and religion. From her artist statement, meticulously repeated in the work "F is for ...": "I want the view to be absolutely shocking and disgusting with the fact that we humans are a dirty breed of creatures living more than 50 percent of our existence indulging ourselves with uncontrollable desires to satisfy unwarranted needs."

I was raised in a Lutheran and Catholic household, weighted by competing dogmas. I thought of myself as an atheist from 15 to 28; then I read the poet William Blake, whose ideas about eternity (hint: it's happening right now) led me to practice Zen. So while I'm no theologian, I've been on the religion tour. And I find Whatley's work here depressingly narrow on the subject of good and evil.

Political art is essential to dialogue, but Whatley's message is dogmatic: she wants us to accept an abstract system of values by condemning vague notions of corruption. And it's worth noting that she sees "F is for ..." as a big "eff you" to people who don't believe in her work. But, like I said, I'm coming from a particular point of view – one I can't describe or justify to someone who doesn't share my beliefs or experience.

So the only thing left to say is, "What do you think?"


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