Anyone living amid artists who work outside the New York art world can verify that few are looking for a review in the New York Times, a spot in the next Whitney Biennial, or even representation by a commercial gallery. Unaware of (or uninterested in) the larger critical dialogue, they make art for art’s sake, often derivative but well crafted and heartfelt. [See clarification in Comments below.] So when conceptual artist Christopher K. Ho spent a year in Telluride, Colorado, he seemed charmed, perplexed and maybe a little jealous at the absence of critical awareness or self-consciousness among the local artists. In response to his year in the mountains, Ho has put together “Regional Painting (2010),” a thought-provoking interrogation of regional art practice, at Winkleman Gallery.
In ArtForum Nuit Banai suggests that a productive friction emerged from Ho’s engagement with the art community in Telluride, which sparked the creation of fictional artist “Hirsch E. P. Rothko,'” an embittered conceptual artist turned born-again painter. “The show consists of twelve abstract paintings and Hirsch’s acerbic memoir (supposedly ghostwritten by one Inez Kruckev). Overall, it underscores an earnest attempt to carve out an alternative model of criticality by contending with the contemporary meaning of regionalism. After dutifully ingesting all the ‘correct’ critical texts, rubbing elbows with powerful people, teaching at a respected art academy . . . and still not seeing his career flourish in New York City, Rothko decamps to Colorado, lives in a shed covered with license plates, and discovers his passion for painting. Away from the commercial and critical framework of the metropolis, he realizes that regionalism is’ not about a specific look or style’ but operates from a ‘position alongside the main.’ Regionalism’s ‘side-guard’ status, which obeys neither the avant-garde’s imperative for newness nor the rear guard’s for unoriginality, opens up new options.”
At Hyperallergic, Stephen Truax, one of Ho’s former students at RISD, writes that Ho combines two opposing points of view: one, the regional artist who makes art for the sake of art, and two, the self-aware critic/academic who seeks to advance the field. “Before this offering, Ho was merely the latter, and now, he can be both. By deploying a self-deprecating sense of humor, the absurdity of the art school, a love of making, critical theory, and his own unique brand of compulsive attention to detail, Ho manages to hit that sweet spot between regionalism and the international/critical art world. It is not his paintings’ ‘lack of pursuit of originality’ (from the press release) that makes them register as a valuable contribution, which would only constitute a purposeful regression or reactionary conservatism. Rather, Ho’s unrelenting analysis of the significance of making art in the present cultural moment, every possible method of making meaning, interpretation, cultural register, signifier or sign, that we find valuable. The center of Ho’s show is not the paintings at all, but the real work of being a conceptual artist in 2010.”
Unfortunately, artists like Ho find thought and analysis so deeply engaging that authentic unmediated experience is beyond their grasp. In the not-too-distant future perhaps we might look back on the ruminative analysis that marks much of the art of our era and wonder whether it was a little too unrelenting.
“Christopher K. Ho: Regional Painting (2010),” Winkleman Gallery, New York, NY. Through December 23, 2010.