SAMSØN presents PENN YOUNG - WHAT I OWE
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Penn Young, Swiss Allow in Jews from Vichy France, 2006
oil on canvas
51 x 58 inches (1.2 x 1.4 m)
WHAT I OWE
Oct. 25 - Nov. 23, 2013
I CRIED TO DREAM AGAIN
Nov. 26 - Dec. 21, 2013
Oct. 25th from 6 to 8PM
Samsøn presents a solo exhibition in two parts, What I Owe and I Cried To Dream Again by Penn Young.
In the manner of an alchemist, Penn Young likes to mix various elements together, stand back, and watch the action unfold. With this exhibition – composed of individual works culled from a number of series he has developed over the last decade – Young joins seemingly disparate sculptures, paintings, and mixed media works, producing a visual and conceptual conversation between objects and spectator.
Looking around the installation at Samsøn, one might recognize the formal vocabulary that Young has adopted from the canon of twentieth-century art. You’re My Hero, Willie Sutton (2012) is a constructivist-style sculpture, a grand three-dimensional drawing composed of gouged hollow-core doors and aluminum struts. It’s Hell Dying Ugly Like This (2003) employs de Kooning-like sweeping brushstrokes and smears of fleshy, visceral paint. And the black tower of A Congenial Awareness 12 (2013) is reminiscent of the totemic, absolutist forms of early minimalism, tempered here by the lightly textured painted muslin that envelops its wooden panels.
We can imagine these varied pieces as an eclectic cast of characters; the artist, after all, began his career as a playwright, and this might be as much of a staged dialogue between the voices of these works as it is a traditional gallery exhibition. If it is a dialogue, then, what is the subject here? What are these works speaking to us about?
That amalgam of twentieth-century formalism, an open embrace of the physical innovations of modern art, offers one clue. The titles of the work offer another, suggesting a simultaneously arch and earnest commentary on the European and American historical, literary, economic, and moral conditions that generated those same artistic evolutions. You’re My Hero alludes to Sutton and his apocryphal remark that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is,” a teasing reference to the heady state of today’s art market and the sometimes grandiose artistic ambitions that go along with it. Swiss Allow in Jews from Vichy France (2006) is a liquid, energetic abstraction in which a background of celestial blue is revealed behind the parting forms of melting, turbulent golds and browns. Here, the title and the expressionist medium point to the last century’s legacy of genocide, violence, and the pivotal ethical responsibilities and actions of its witnesses.
Quietly operating behind these lofty themes are the intimate visual details of the works themselves. Portraits from the Return 1 (2005) is a towering, linear rail of four narrow pieces of wood whose color, a more uniform gold at the top, slowly shifts to varying tones at the bottom, like the undulating folds of a robe’s hem. The bottom-most edge is anchored by the addition of two small pieces of wood, which serve to level the uneven lengths of the strips and ground the soaring verticality of the overall form. These additions are small and subtle, but they draw the eye and the mind into the processes at work, those minute yet countless decisions behind artistic practice.
It’s clear that Young’s intellectual curiosity is on display here, but so is a driving sense of formal experimentation and play, as if the artist were asking, ‘what happens if I add this? or change that?’ The characters that Young has created for his audience are at times meditative and bombastic, noble and abject. They speak to us of the choices we have made, and the choices we have yet to make.
Virginia Anderson, Ph.D.
Virginia Anderson is a lecturer in modern and contemporary art at the Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD). From 2005 to 2010, she was the Diane and Michael Maher Assistant Curator of American Art at the Harvard Art Museums. She received her Ph.D. from Boston University in 2011.
KIRK AMARAL SNOW
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