Susan Collis: Why Did I Think This Was a Good Idea
The first exhibition in Lora Reynolds' new gallery tricks the eye in delightful ways
Reviewed by Andrew Long, Fri., Oct. 31, 2008
'Susan Collis: Why Did I Think This Was a Good Idea'
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through Nov. 15
Everything is not what it appears to be. Let's just start with that.
Complacency and sleight of hand seem acceptable currently. (Rome has been burning for a long, long time.) Stepping into an art gallery, sometimes you may purposely want to be fooled and revel in that mystery. Investigate with caution. Peel back the exhibition's surface layers to determine if you are being swindled or serenaded. That will take effort, but the payoff is worth it.
One of the greatest techniques of illusion is trompe l'oeil, which dates back to the Baroque period. It literally means "trick the eye." When used to maximum effect, it can be deceptively delightful. Austin art-goers have witnessed several variations of this creative technique in the past year. Florian Slotawa reconfigured Arthouse's floor plan to seemingly nothing. His daring effort carved up the gallery space, tricking the sense memory. Austin Museum of Art's Sol LeWitt exhibition included Sylvia Plimack Mangold's Untitled (Study for "Portrayal"), which was so convincingly painted that it fooled many into thinking the depicted masking tape was real. You can still view the Blanton Museum of Art's recent acquisition Crystal Swallow, Marilyn Minter's überrealistic painting of a woman's lipsticked mouth and jewels. The image is so perfect, you may purposefully choose to be fooled by it, even though you might have a nagging feeling that the image is fake.
Sometimes the obvious is the most difficult to see. Hiding in plain sight, Lora Reynolds Gallery seems to be Austin's best-kept secret. For the past three years, it has presented the highest caliber national and international artists, many of whom have given a short talk on opening night. The gallery has triumphed again with this showing of British artist Susan Collis, its inaugural exhibition in its new, larger Downtown space.
Collis is an outsider. She began art school at age 40 and became interested in how materials could challenge the viewer's perception of reality and expectations. She creates masterful objects that can never be taken at face value. On the gallery wall hang blue work coveralls dappled with paint drips. Closer inspection reveals those paint drips to be colored thread made to look like paint. The gallery walls are adorned with screws and Sheetrock plugs. No, they are faux, created from black diamonds, 18 carat gold, and sapphire, materials that brutally comment on the wealthy and powerful art world. The eye delights in these discoveries.
Collis explores creative time by developing fake history. A wooden table is stained with paint-can splatters. Were the gallery installers messy, and did they forget to clean up? These ringed paint markings are composed of everything except paint, mostly slivers of pearl laminate.
Throughout this thoughtful exhibition, Collis creates art about the act of creating art as a deft memorial. She vigorously questions the nature of the traditional white-cubed gallery by creating an expert hoax. Her work is not conceptual but transgressive as it disorients the viewer and questions the creative work ethic, expectations, mark making, and perception.
Collis' illusionistic installation comes with precedent. Lora Reynolds has a history of presenting work that radically shifts the viewer's perception and questions reality: Conrad Bakker's carved-wood faux Post-it notes highlighting the gallery walls' imperfections and Oliver Boberg's seemingly large-scale environments photographed from miniature constructed sets.
Collis' exhibition is a must-see if you are intent on looking, because just wandering around the gallery will have you wondering if you arrived before the installation of the work was completed. In this case, choose to be tricked.