One element that can cross the divide between "I don't have a studio, I have a cell phone" productionism and DIY craftiness is a smart sense of humor, and examples of both styles of practiced funny are on display with David Shrigley's show at Anton Kern Gallery and Rob Pruitt's at Gavin Brown's Enterprise and Maccarone (both here in NY - I flatter myself towards anyone that might read this outside of Brooklyn).
Both are veteran comedians addressing the madness of modern life and art through articulate cheek. (who is it who said all humor is neurotic?) One expands his oeuvre (stick with me, this word is apt) through mass-consumerable design and distribution. The other hones his craft through hand-made contemplation.
David Shrigley has hung a banner outside the gallery reading "It's all going very well, no problem at all" in his familiar rough jotting. The back wall is lined with his (also familiar) childlike drawings depicting characters or things often ruminating on their own situation. The artists works are often asked to pass the "how are they not New Yorker cartoons?" test and they do. But with the New Yorker allowing it's readers to contribute limp punchlines to readymade professional spots, Shrigley's efforts have more in common with Gary Larson's The Far Side. Both share a manner and depiction that perfectly fuse the meaning and thingness of their product. The Far Side is wholly and hilariously appropriate as a reduced, one-line, one-panel, comic. It would never work as fitly as an SNL skit, a written story, or a more elaborate drawing. Shrigley compounds this suitability even further with his faux clumsy synergy of hand, wording, and ink on paper materiality. All funnier and more real in it's sadness and immediacy.
Across the space is a collection of useless ceramic wall hooks and poops. In the center of the room is a series of ceramic Fearless Leader boots, far too fragile for door-kicking or goose-stepping. Placed on the floor close by is a rib cage not doing it's job of protecting vital organs - asking to be tripped over, but in no danger from the Nazi brogans.
Finally, in the back room, is a coarse, flash projection of a mother's hand writing an excuse note to a teacher. "Epstein's Mom" never wrote in such fits and starts, and the scratching of the pencil, again, is roundly fitting with the simple inking and desk top animation.
I had the opportunity to meet Rob Pruitt some years back and he was a very thoughtful and helpful artist to talk to - sharply summing up the difference between the LA and NY art scenes to someone still deciding. I was already intrigued by his un-PC and provocative legacy and am still a fan of anyone that has a body of work where a twenty foot line of cocaine leads, career-wise, to (cocaine?) glittered pandas.
At the two gallery show Pruitt continues a hands-off, management-on-acid, sense of clownish distribution. The collection is a circus of assorted objects, installation, and wallpaper, but only spray painted Amish "quilts" and big-eyed trash monsters seem like they were made by Pruitt himself. Rows of silver taped chairs move quickly from a handiwork feel to more of a subbed-out labor dictation. Stacked tires offering assorted candies make cynical truckstop opiates of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' proletariat gifts.
Cartoons here are not innocent scribblings but massive jet-printed stick faces over Peter Max purple hazes straight out of a T Magazine (which I love, by the way) retro design spread. All is overseen by portraits of the artist himself, passive aggressively depicted in a series of exquisite corpse prints.
Leaving the building my friend commented that the exhibition's audience isn't other artists but "people with lots of money that want to buy things". It's hard to think Pruitt would argue with this. A grid of graphic T-shirt designs reveal both the joke that perhaps art today isn't any different from online hipster product, and what this show really is - an audition for an actual career in product design.
The Amish reference is a clue to the show's Rumspringa theme. Like a teen amongst the "English", Pruitt is sewing his wild oats before moving on to the more serious responsibility of commercial engineering. Being accused of panda plagiarism (as is being done by threadless t-shirt designers Jimiyo and AJ Dimarucot) might be part of the show's bigger intention of the jester moving to the boardroom.
The October 2007 Artforum was a themed issue titled The Art of Production, but nowhere in the impressively grouped roundtable discussion was it mentioned that productionist art, that is, art on a grand scale, organized and directed by, but not made by the artist, is the art of a post-industrial society. This is what Rob Pruitt represents with the ambition of his project. An upper management position is the trajectory many artists have been aiming for ever since artisan became a dirty word. David Shrigley, on the other hand, represents a timelier example of a return to what Manny Farber called termite art, as opposed to Pruitt's white elephant. The artist returning to the practice and study of his or her craft. Both artists are known for their sharp sense of humor, but, if you'll allow for a mix of wild kingdom metaphor, there's something funnier about the old mouse running around the feet of the new dinosaur.