Friday, July 13, 2007

Emily Kennerk: SuburbanNation

In considering Emily Kennerk’s exhibition SuburbanNation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Forefront Gallery, I find myself dwelling somewhere in the space between the casual art observer who might be challenged by the displacement of suburban facades and the experienced theorist of modern art who can comfortably appreciate the post-minimalist recontextualization of otherwise banal elements of our Nations’ economically-determined sub- and ex-urban homefronts. It is that space in-between, the space of reading, seeing and wondering, where the installations of SuburbanNation reach beyond the utilitarian aesthetics which occupy the Forefront Gallery.

Entering the gallery, we are first confronted with Welcome Home, an installation of iconic red awnings which are singularly beautiful in their tensile form and subtlety. These are the same brightly-colored awnings used as signifiers above residential doors and windows and in the suburban commercial landscape in perpetual competition to distract the eye and loosen the wallet. Yet removed from the frenetic environs of retail America, these objects no longer function as architectural hustlers, cheap ornament, and soulless aberrations. As an architect who frequently designs awnings for commercial buildings, I am jaded and look upon such fixtures with disdain for their inevitability and power to dominate the appearance of a building. But in Welcome Home these same objects, when displaced, possess a peace and strength which is easily overlooked in the context of their common existence.

High Density echoes the insipid reality of the suburban tract home with a common technique used by suburban developers – the mirrored floor plan. Dominated by their garages, (which might truly mean “welcome home” in the burbs), this duo questions scale and relationships among surfaces, tracts and the humans which inhabit the air and ground in between. These constructions linger somewhere between banality and minimalism, in a place familiar yet uncomfortable - both resolved and built, yet seemingly incomplete. Such conceptual gaps are where Emily’s work lives. Sometimes you see just a wee notch to be filled with an idea, but often you feel you are crossing a conceptual chasm.

The third interior installation, Untitled: Porches, feels like a game of line and surface, using the visual textures of siding and pickets and the notion of repetition to create a perspectival illusion of deep space. At the crux of the illusion the vinyl surfaces and porches collide in a simple gesture of constructed disobedience. Here, I am reminded of the work of minimalist sculptors Donald Judd and Sol Lewitt, who might now be rolling in their graves due to Emily’s deft execution in the ho-hum materials of suburban American spec homes.

The final installation, Boundaries, was recently sacrificed for the fantastic cookout and party hosted by the IMA for Emily’s opening. The cookout was complete with dual ice cream trucks sounding off, which was nothing short of a performance in itself. Boundaries explores the tension between neighboring parcels divided by the invisible lot line through the competitive mowing of grass. Look for Boundaries to progress as mowing and rainfall provide. I hear it is best viewed from a third floor window.

No matter where your parcel lies or how many acres you possess, there is much for each of us to consider and consume from SuburbanNation.

Craig McCormick

Emily Kennerk: SuburbanNation is on view at the Indianapolis Museum of Art from July 13-October 7, 2007

25 Responses to “Emily Kennerk: SuburbanNation”

Anonymous said...
July 13, 2007 at 8:42 PM

Home Show 2007

Anonymous said...
July 14, 2007 at 10:40 PM

The exhibit is a great statement of the accidental beauty in banality. It has helped me finally appreciate the new addition to the IMA. I now adore the open space it encloses.

Anonymous said...
July 16, 2007 at 2:14 PM

Seriously, can the artist make something herself? This is so removed from the hand of artist that it just feels cold.

Scott said...
July 16, 2007 at 3:30 PM

I can answer that question. Yes. I have known Emily and her work since she was an undergrad. The works she made then were huge, very physical, made from logs and steel. She made kinetic sculpture.

More recently she has made these ceramic figurines that look flawless while still appearing machine made. All the while she spent many hours working with the materials to obtain that sort of detailing.

But I would ask why. Why, must the artists hand be involved? Think of large scale public sculpture, architecture, etc. all of these are usually made be professional crews overseen by the artist. You would not expect an architecht to build each of their buildings. In other art forms, photography, digital printing, etc. The human hand is not seen in the final product, it is about the artists vision, the artist thoughts, concepts.

While the idea that she could have learned to build a house from the floor up just to make this project, would have been entertaining, it would not have added anything to the work itself and the ideas she is interested in. If you need to build a deck, find a professional. Then again, if you talked with the two guys who built out the work for the show, it was anything but a typical build. Details that would have been overlooked on any job site had to be finished just right. I hope that helps answer your question, perhaps it brings about more questions. Have a good day.

Anonymous said...
July 16, 2007 at 7:41 PM

hands on or hands off
It's all been done before

Scott said...
July 16, 2007 at 8:23 PM

Haven't we heard that before?

As artists we make the art we are drawn to make. Hopefully the viewer will see something in it they may not have seen before.

Donna Sink said...
July 16, 2007 at 11:11 PM

In fact I think these pieces would be LESS interesting if she made them herself. The hand of the craftsman is not evident in the vast majority of houses built in this country. An exhibit about hand making a mass-production house would be another topic entirely.

This looks interesting to me (I haven't seen the show yet, only images) as a severe reduction of suburban construction that foregrounds its complete lack of meaningful materiality. I've seen these projects in my nightmares.

Anonymous said...
July 17, 2007 at 11:39 PM

Current show of Frank Stella at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has his biggest sculpture yet (top terrace area), and how it got done was by sending an email with some sketches to some boat builders in Brazil. Apparently he only saw the piece ready when it arrived. I could see his "hand" all over it. So it's really not about the artist being hands on the material or not. The one thing about Kennerk's show is the miss opportunity to say something other than an aesthetic comment. She could've been more clear or upfront about it. How can she do a show about suburbia and be so safe with her choice of words?

On a different much more uplifting note (I'm using "uplifting" in a loose way here, the work is more like a hard punch in the face) I recomend the video installation of Robert Boyd at IMOCA. Talk about opposite. A straight forward inteligently put together editing, it is probably the best video I have seen recently (ever maybe?), certainly my favorite video made almost exclusively with appropriated imagery. An eye opener to some sheltered individuals out there but a great reminder for the rest of us of what the world is made of: nuts.

"A Must See"


"an epic of our time"

casey said...
July 19, 2007 at 10:16 PM

I'm kind of glad she left plenty of room for the viewer to bring something to the conversation with the work. I don't want or need all the answers to all the questions. I think I would be disappointed to know exactly how Emily felt. It’s more important for me to figure out how I feel about it.
I guess I don't really want Emily to punch me in the face. I'll do that myself.

ChristopherWestPresents said...
July 20, 2007 at 6:58 AM

Casey - have you been to iMOCA yet? I'll punch you in the face! And of course I mean that with the utmost respect...

Anonymous said...
July 22, 2007 at 10:24 PM

Is it your job to defend Emily's work against all criticism? It's kind of annoying. We know you like it, just let the comments stand. I don't care whether teh work is hand made by the artist. But I find this work deliberately cold. I feel a bit like I'm supposed to be impressed more than anything else- impressed by cleverness and ambition, not by incidental beauty.

Scott said...
July 22, 2007 at 11:12 PM

No, I do not see it as my job to defend the work. Emily is quite capable of defending herself. You are certainly welcome to state your thoughts and opinions and I would expect nothing more than for you to stand by what you believe. I must assume that Anonymous, that you are the same Anonymous that posted the question, "Seriously, can the artist make something herself?" My post was nothing more than an attempt to answer your question. Please note that the purpose of this blog and in particular the comment section is to create a dialogue about contemporary art, a discussion on the topics. I hope that people feel free to have a serious, constructive discussion here.

Anonymous said...
July 23, 2007 at 10:39 AM

On that note....I'll say (with respect) that this show doesn't seem like the kind of thing that is going cause people flock to IMA. But, maybe that is not the goal.
(Oh course, my talking about a show I haven't seen IS lame, but I don't feel compelled to make the trip to look at awnings and/or carpentry cleverness.)

Anonymous said...
July 23, 2007 at 1:00 PM

Clearly some people get it and some people don't...or they have some other agenda! I get it. I loved it! I see it everyday now that it's been brought to my attention.

Anonymous said...
July 24, 2007 at 7:48 AM

I believe that the work is supposed to be a bit cold, just like most of those cookie-cutter neighborhoods. Also, it is to my understanding that Emily did not want you to see the "hand of the artist", words from her own mouth. I imagine that for some artists this could be difficult to accomplish when they are emotionally attached to the work. At least I hope that there would be some sort of attachment, otherwise why do it.

Anonymous said...
July 24, 2007 at 12:41 PM

I got it And I seen it every day for a long time.
The artist, Emily Kennerk needs to mature and work harder before having an exhibition at the IMA. With the new expansion and a new director,
I thought the IMA would have worked and looked a
little harder, for artist here, before giving someone an exhibition in a museum setting.

Anonymous said...
July 26, 2007 at 9:43 AM

"Anonymous" comments are really annoying. You have all the guts to criticize works of an artist, and yet you are so lame to remain anonymous... put a REAL nickname, website, or email. Honestly, you have some nice things to say... but I cannot hear you since you are just an Internet troll .

Anonymous said...
August 2, 2007 at 7:20 PM

Gee diong, your identity is so clear to me. With a made up one word name, do you really feel you are taking responsibility for your comments?

Anonymous said...
August 2, 2007 at 11:37 PM

"Made up one word name"? Diong is my nick name in the Philippines.

Ok lets see... I've been blogging as Diong since 2004. I sign my work as "Diong". Google Diong and my name comes up on top... but enough about me...

"Anonymous" trolls here talk art but are all afraid to back it up... What are you all scared of? There's no way this site can have "serious, constructive discussion" if many are hiding...

Here's what a prominent blogger wrote about you guys...
3. The 'I'm not telling you who I am' routine worked really well in the sixth grade when you wanted to tell Mara Colberg that, oh-my-gosh, you liked her and wanted to 'go out', but anonymity doesn't fly past that stage. If you're taller than 4'9" and/or past the seventh grade then you need to start being comfortable with who you are and realize that you can't go back in the womb and be re-born as David Hassleholf. - Airbag

Anonymous said...
August 3, 2007 at 6:04 PM

As a long-time viewer, creator and appreciator of art and the IMA, I can clearly see what the artist was going for and I DO get it. My problem is I just don't like it.

It doesn't speak to me, it isn't aesthetic or clever on any level, it doesn't make a strong statement, it simply takes up a lot of room and smells funny, much like the home show, as one other poster said. The photos that accompanied the exhibit WERE by Emily's hand and could have been taken by any non-artist 18 or older with any camera during a vacation. They had zero to offer the viewer in terms of what scenario or concept she was laying out. As well, the installation would have said more and been grander (in a sense) if she had instead made it about 1/8th the scale and had even more repetition. Now THAT would have been both clever and could have been made by her own hand and still gotten the concept clearly across. In reality it seemed like a big promo for housing manufacturers and the joke is on them.

At some point, art is supposed to cause us to think. I could only think of ways to realize this concept better than what was presented.

Anonymous said...
August 6, 2007 at 9:09 AM

Yes, I agree. And I don't think this comment is less valid for being anonymous. MANY writers have written anonymously or under pseudonyms for centuries. Just because it is more prevalent now doesn't mean it's lost it's value.

Scott said...
August 6, 2007 at 1:49 PM

While I understand the desire to remain anonymous for certain reasons, the growing problem of being anonymous in blog discussions creates greater confusion and in the end may weaken the stance of an anonymous statement. Often multiple people are responding anonymously, making it terribly dificult to decifer which anonymous you are having a dialoge with.

Come on people, just sign your anonymous posts with a pseudonym so we can all know which anonymous is saying what.

Anonymous said...
August 7, 2007 at 12:55 PM

no way!

Anonymous said...
August 7, 2007 at 12:58 PM

I'm just curious, do people really find these accidentally beautiful? Or does contemporary suburban architecture maybe just look a little like high modern art, which is not exactly coincidental or particularly interesting?


Scott said...
August 7, 2007 at 1:20 PM

Thanks for useing a pseudonym Unwin.

As for the first part of your question, if you are talking about the work Emily created rather than the inspiration for the work, then for me no. I do not find these to be accidentally beautiful but intentially so. She has made decisions and choices to impart that feeling to me, maybe not to everyone, but I do find the beauty in the objects and their relationship to each other.

On the other hand, if you are asking do people find the awnings, porches, and modular houses we come across daily, accidentally beautiful, then I say yes. Many people do. I am always amazed at what artists are drawn to for its accidental beauty. I am reminded of artists like John Chamberlain who finds the beauty in crushed metal from cars or Andreas Serrano who finds the beauty in people we may choose not to look at.

For the second part of your question, I think it goes both ways, art influences architecture and architecture influences art...

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