This Blanton exhibition shows us how art occurs in the transfer of ideas, information, and nonmaterial goods

Arts Review


Blanton Museum of Art, through Nov. 18

It is that time of year. If you aren't looking for a costume, you're looking for the perfect pumpkin-soon-to-be-jack-o'-lantern. So whether the disguise is for you or your local gourd, at this point in October the opportunity to put on a mask and be someone else for a night is pretty much irresistible. Maybe it's just the season, but I wonder if art doesn't enjoy the same mimetic temptations. As far back as Plato's and Aristotle's musings on art, the skill of an artist was based on his ability to paint the perfect mask of the real from the artificial. But this ability to "reproduce nature" has always come at a cost: "Imitation," as translator Michael Davis writes in The Poetry of Philosophy, "always involves selecting something from the continuum of experience, thus giving boundaries to what really has no beginning or end. Mimêsis involves a framing of reality that announces that what is contained within the frame is not simply real. Thus the more 'real' the imitation, the more fraudulent it becomes." So it seems that art, at its best attempt to re-create an accurate picture of reality, is really trafficking in fraud, in deception, in lies and mimesis. Initiating a culture of suspicion, art's lies change the way artists, curators, and critics think about artwork. We look for anything but realism anymore, knowing that the search for "representation" can only lead us further and further from the thing we hoped to see or understand in the first place. Yet while "representing nature" is seen by the contemporary art world as a bit of an old-school way of approaching art, I'm beginning to wonder if at least a few of the art world's most contemporary movements aren't simply wearing mimetic masks of their own.

Take the current "Transactions" exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art. Following through on years of her own doctoral research, Kelly Baum's curatorial work brings together a group of artists that operates as something more and something less than representative artists. While "Transactions" focuses on the many ways in which art can and does happen outside the gallery space, many of the works also straddle the borders of truth and deception, politics and play, art and business, in ways that barely distinguish their projects from the projects of everyday life. As Daniel Bozhkov gives the Fastest Guided Tours of Unfamiliar Places, running innocent tourists through sites he barely knows himself, is he creating a tour experience, an art experience, or a scam? And when Zoë Sheehan Saldaña trades her seemingly run-of-the-mill but actually handmade brown paper bags for the factory versions given out in places of business, is there really art happening in the exchange? Part of what exhibitions like "Transactions" help us to see is that art sometimes occurs in the transfer of ideas, of information, of nonmaterial goods and practices. While these projects are not "representing nature" as early painting hoped to, they are certainly representing, masking, and mimicking the world as we find it – even and especially while opening our eyes to it.

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Transactions, Blanton Museum of Art, Kelly Baum

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