THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
The new exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) featuring the art of Jamie Nares (formerly James) is an intriguing retrospective covering five decades of work by an experimental, playful, curious and inventive artist. “Nares: Moves” also marks the first MAM exhibition curated by the museum’s director, Dr. Marcelle Polednik.
In the accompanying catalogue introduction, Polednik defines the challenge of presenting a retrospective of Nares’ work. “These objects,” she writes, “have little to suggest that they are the works of a single artist, much less that they are connected to a sequential biographical or art historical narrative.” Her solution is to present the works, not in strict chronological order, but rather in thematic sections.
Polednik’s curatorial approach emphasizes three concepts—gesture, time, and movement—which are interwoven throughout nine sections of the exhibition. These nine “chapters” are also explored in an accompanying catalogue and a gallery guide. Additional programming—film screenings, a dance performance and discussions with the artist, collector Julian Schnabel, and musical collaborator Thurston Moore—will expand upon the gallery experience.
Embedding the display within such rich programming and publications is an important choice for this material, as there is not much explanatory text within the gallery. It is helpful, for example, to more fully understand the impact of the artist’s defining personal experiences, such as the artist's youthful move to New York City in the 1970s.
Details about unusual methods and materials are also informative and lead to a fuller appreciation of the works. The deeper dive not only provides more opportunities to grapple with the complexity of this work but also provides strong reinforcement of the exhibition’s premise, that the lines of exploration threading through Nares’ long career are consistent across surprisingly varied media.
The exhibition’s organizational scheme is successful in demonstrating visual and conceptual relationships between works in disparate media from different periods of the artist’s life. The introductory room, which also serves as the exhibit’s conclusion, presents a pair of works: the 2008 video Riding with Michaux and an untitled high-speed drawing from 2014. Although not far separated in time, the works intersect in multiple ways. The video’s imagery of sunlight on water has visual similarities to the linear forms of the untitled drawing but, more importantly, they share process. This illuminates the relationship between the artist filming with a camera on a moving train and the artist holding a brush to a rotating sheet of paper. Motion, not only in the visual field but also as part of the making, is central to the artist’s practice.
Film and video have a strong presence throughout the galleries. From early works like Giotto Circle #1 or Game, shot in 1970s TriBeCa, New York City, to Element #1 (2009) and a series of Portraits (2016), Nares’ long-standing passion for moving images is clearly evident. The subjects may seem at first unrelated—the artist drawing a circle on a wall, small hand movements, a heavy ball swinging over an empty street, the slow eruption of a bubbling mixture—but all have important elements in common.
Pendulum (1976), with its groaning sound and almost dizzying, hazardous motion, explores the movement of an object through an eerily empty urban space. In the luminous Street (2011), made with a high-speed camera, scenes of now-occupied city streets have been slowed to a glacial pace. The camera, instead of focusing on moving objects, is here itself in motion, driven along city blocks, capturing unstaged images of people, the details of Manhattan daily life, made graceful and dramatic via slowed motion. Both works chart time and movement to very different ends. Nares’ innovative use of a high-speed camera is only one example of the artist’s intellectual curiosity.
The monumental paintings presented in the exhibition fully display the artist’s capacity for invention. Nares has created luscious works with various strokes: thick and lumbering, made from tiny glass beads, thermoplastic “paint,” and a street-marking machine; or the single stroke paintings, delicate and graceful, made with elaborate, homemade brushes and, at times, interference pigments. At first glance, they bear no relation to each other—heavy, textured, black and white or gorgeous, delicate, ribbons of color--yet all refract light, suggest motion, and basically disrupt the expected experience of looking.
The show’s most recent works are a series of large-scale images with gold leaf. Originating as rubbings of cut-stone street surfaces in the artist’s old New York neighborhood of TriBeCa, the works incorporate both a technological interest—with Evolon, a non-woven, high-tech microfiber paper—and a social acknowledgement unusual for this artist. The stone surfaces are described as having been cut by immigrant labor in the city’s early days. When thermoplastic street markings become abstract paintings and 19th century street stone is transformed into shimmering gold, the artist is not only an inventor but also earns the title of alchemist.
It is clear that Nares has been grappling with movement for a long time. A note from a sketchbook, “things in motion; motion in things,” captures the artist’s interest in a playful way. The phrase provides an opportunity for exchange, a back and forth, a circular form that is mirrored in the intentionally circular path within the gallery. The exhibition ends where it begins: with a video and a drawing, both exploring motion and time, with directness and grace. Nares celebrates small moments in her work, transforming simple gestures into fascinating experiences worthy of our time and consideration.
The exhibition is on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum until October 6, 2019.
Ann Sinfield is an independent curator and writer. She is also Exhibits Lead at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Jamie Nares, Jim, 2015. Video still. Image courtesy of Kasmin Gallery.
Jamie Nares, I Don't Got Nobody, 2008. Oil on linen. Carlene and Andy Ziegler.
Jamie Nares, Crosstown Traffic, 2013. Thermoplastic on linen. Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery.
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