In his current MAEP exhibition, Broc Blegen plays three parts: artist, curator and collector. He fulfills each of these roles through their traditional tasks: he makes the art, he forms a “collection,” and then he curates it for display. Except for the fact the art he made isn’t his own.
Coming Out Party: Selections from the Collection of Broc Blegen is comprised of re-created artworks by famous, mostly male, artists including Felix Gonzalez Torres, Robert Mapplethorpe, Glenn Ligon, Andy Warhol, Richard Prince, Jonathan Horowitz, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman and Jim Hodges. Jenny Holzer holds court as the one woman artist re-presented. On the didactic panels that sidle up to each piece—written by Blegen as part of the overall project—the dates given for each of the works include the original date of production and the current year, i.e., 1978/2012.
Some clear themes arise immediately. As the title of the exhibition indicates, these works epitomize lightening rod moments in the critical conversation about sexuality and identity politics in art, from the Gonzalez-Torres’ empty booty-shaking stage to McCarthy’s Chair with Butt Plug to Nauman’s provocative neon word-play “run from fear, fun from rear” to Mapplethorpe’s mesh-covered mirror that asks us to stare at our own desirous gaze. We also see an appropriation of the appropriators, in particular Richard Prince’s joke painting and Ligon’s brilliant work Red Portfolio, which is itself a recreation of the texts describing Mapplethorpe photographs that were circulated by the Christian Coalition at the height of the 90s culture wars.
All of the works on display in this “collection” are goldmines of cultural rebellion, hitting hard on the issues that are still tearing our politics apart: sex, religion, gender, representation. They have incredible power and presence, even as facsimiles.
There are many layers to this exhibition: the issues and aesthetics contained in the original works, the existing artwork remade as a kind of readymade, and the act of collecting. These layers are contained and revealed further considering the exhibition as a whole is a work of art, including the didactic labels that give Blegen authorship over the pieces and thus become key in contextualizing the project in its entirety.
This gives us a great deal to consider and discuss, but as the double crucifix and the plaque about personhood and the political linger in my mind, I realize that the strength of the exhibition comes from the power of the original artworks, rather than the questions raised by their context and recreation. In that sense I’m thankful for the art history lesson and the chance to engage with some giants of cultural production, yet I am left to wonder: Was all the re-work was necessary?
Related links and information:
Sheila Regan’s piece on mnartists.org, “Art of the Steal,” also considers Blegen’s MAEP show
Coming Out Party: Selections from the Collection of Broc Blegen is on view through December 30, 2012, in the the MAEP Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Admission to this exhibition is free and open to the public.
Sarah Peters is a Twin Cities-based artist, writer and arts programmer who is interested in public engagement with the arts and critical issues of our time.
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