Productive Arts fuelled by unlikely sources
The Bureau of Productive Arts at Xpace Gallery (303 Augusta), from Friday (July 22) to July 31, reception tonight (Thursday, July 21), 6 to 9 pm. http://xpace.info Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Artist/designers Michael Baumgart and Julie Jenkinson have brought to life an imaginary organization called the Bureau of Productive Arts, offering up a carefully curated menu of drawings, prints, found objects, montage and photographs.
Taken as a whole, the show has the look and feel of a museum meticulously and obsessively pieced together during the search for a specific visual moment.
Despite the artists’ singular focus, the work displays a versatile range of temperament and aesthetics. Jenkinson’s animal drawings have a feral energy amplified by her precise manipulation of space and colour. Her charcoal drawings resemble woodcuts with added density, while her colour work opens onto a circus realm that hovers vibrantly between storybook and nightmare.
Despite their visual accessibility and playfulness, they radiate subtle ambiguity and threat.
On the other hand, her photographic montages are exercises in pure style, surgically juxtaposing pieces of raw urban landscape and formal blocks of colour.
Baumgart’s keen eye patiently roots out found objects and images that have the visual intensity of made contemporary objects. His series of found double exposures, most of them black-and-white family photos, have the eeriness and impact of painterly photographic reproductions, except that Baumgart doesn’t want to reproduce a moment. He’s looking for its undiluted source in the discarded. He also gives found sculptural objects that might have have gone unnoticed added visual power.
The show’s organization reminded me that raw material is often indistinguishable from art, and that beautiful objects in the real world are often overlooked. It is also about both artists’ sensitivity to placement: of images on the page and of objects in context and time.