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Jack Pierson at IMMA
The first exhibition in Ireland by Jack Pierson, one of America’s most inventive and evocative artists, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 12 March 2008. Comprising some 45 works, Jack Pierson presents photographs, drawings and installations, as well as the artist’s renowned word sculptures. All are informed by Pierson’s concern with the emotional undercurrents of everyday life, from the intimacy of romantic attachment to the distant idolising of stars of stage and screen. The exhibition will be officially opened by Richard D Marshall, curator of the exhibition and former curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, at 6.00pm on Tuesday 11 March.
Jack Pierson surveys over 20 years of the artist’s work and includes all the main subjects, forms and materials that make up his practice. The exhibition abounds with references to lost love, faded glamour and sentimental musings, inspired by the anxiety, alienation and yearnings that Pierson sees as an inevitable part of human existence. These find expression in a wide variety of media, from colour photographs and photographic collages through graphite and watercolour drawings to found letters, furniture and miscellaneous objects. The exhibition’s curator Richard D Marshall describes how, alongside these emotional elements, Pierson simultaneously focuses on the more formal aspects of art and “frequently and deliberately undermines the strong emotional and narrative content of his subjects by using unexpected configurations and by obliterating legibility in an ongoing quest to reconcile representation and abstraction”.
The exhibition begins with Pierson’s early photographs inspired by regular visits to Los Angeles and Miami Beach, to which he was drawn by their faded glamour and run-down Art Deco architecture. For the roses and A woman less lovely, both dating from 1990, show a strong sense of urban alienation, heightened by the seemingly haphazard manner in which they are displayed – unframed and pinned directly to the wall. Another early piece dealing with this sense of displacement is Untitled (Diane Arbus), 1992, a conceptual reconfiguration of MoMA’s catalogue for a 1972 Diane Arbus exhibition, with the pages presented, not in the correct sequence, but in the order in which they came off the printing press. Similar deconstructed works relate to Edward Hopper, Elvis Presley, and a number of Hollywood teen stars.
Youth culture, sexuality and Hollywood icons also inform Self-Portrait (James Dean), 1993. A homage to the tragic star of the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, the work comments on the cult of celebrity and on the film’s depiction of the sexual attraction between James Dean and his male co-star Sal Mineo. Presented as a formal grid-like composition reminiscent of the work of Minimalists Agnes Martin or Sol LeWitt, it illustrates Pierson’s fondness for acknowledging these artistic tenets, while at the same time subverting them with personal content. Ten years later Pierson returned to what he termed the self-portrait, producing a series of photographs of male subjects titled Self-Portrait, but which comprise images not of the artist but of friends, strangers and models.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Pierson’s work is his use of found objects, cast-off letters and penciled notes on paper to express feelings of loss, longing and rejection. In one of his first word pieces, he uses two manufactured signs of the type used to display menus, but with the wording altered to read ‘Breakfast/Hope, Dinner/Fear’, echoing his experience of frequent stays in soulless hotels. In a similar vein, Helpless Hopeless, 1991, displays two synonyms for states of despair using fifteen plastic and metal letters arranged in an X format. The two words intersect and share the letter P, which forces the viewer to read both words simultaneously and to read in an unconventional, diagonal direction. Another series of works, including Diamond Life, 1990, take the form of tableau sculptures that document further aspects of his life, depicting rooms he has occupied, complete with furniture, clothing, paperback novels, cigarette butts and record albums.
Jack Pierson was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1960 and studied at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. He has been the subject of exhibitions throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. Recent solo exhibitions include Centre d’Art Santa Monica, Barcelona, 2007; Sabine Knust, Munich, 2007; Regen Projects, Los Angeles, 2007, and Galerie Aurel Scheibler, Berlin, 2006. A mid-career retrospective of his work was shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, in 2002 and his Self-Portrait series was shown at the 2004 Whitney Biennial. Pierson’s works are featured in the permanent collections of major museums of contemporary art including the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He lives and works in New York and Southern California.
Jack Pierson continues until 18 May 2008.
A fully-illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition with texts by Richard D Marshall, Rachael Thomas, Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions, IMMA, and writer Wayne Koestenbaum.
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