Ethan Cook’s show at Rod Barton’s comes with a long panegyric written by Christopher Schrek where the artist is compared to the poems of Aram Saroyan and I would say, Mallarmé only to assert its relevance as an objectual object in the tradition of mainstream minimalism. To my shock, Schrek’s text finishes up by saying that the pieces on view at ‘Lobstee” (which is the title of this exhibition) are ‘ultimately about narrative’. At this point, the salad is too messy that we need to unpack a little bit.
The link between Saroyan’s ‘one word poem’ and Ethan Cook’s bare paintings is wrong because the poems is linked to the materiality of the word while Cook’s links two similar objects. In other words, he is mistaking metaphor with synecdoche. This is obvious when he says: ‘Keen to find aesthetic potential in unassuming sources, both men aim to deconstruct a basic, familiar material set – in Saroyan’s case, the alphabet; in Cook’s, the constituent physical elements of painting – to inventive ends, achieving results rich in both historical reference and visual reward’
The he says: ‘Just as Saroyan’s poetic experiments confront presumptions surrounding the relationship between meaningful expression (i.e., sentences, statements) and mode of delivery (letters, words), Cook’s work challenges conventional approaches to both creating and understanding physical artworks. Though he has explored numerous approaches over time, each of Cook’s series finds the artist engaged in a rigorous investigation of his materials – their construction, their constitution, their inherent qualities and aesthetic potential – as viewed through the scope of a painterly practice; equating origin with endpoint, he looks to the support itself as his medium, its physical traits as his formal language, the process of its fabrication as his subject. In evoking Saroyan, then, Cook neatly reinforces what has long been a central idea within his broader practice: namely, that the constituent elements of ones process might be viable media in their own right, available to be worked with rather than merely on’. But how is this different with any painting and in particular with, to give an example, Fontana or Morandi, from two very different points of view. The difference I would say is that Cook’s pieces are ugly.
In a way, Cook is shocked by his own industriousness. He weaves the canvas and the actual weave is indexically transformed in ‘art’ and ‘brushworks’. So the bare material, framed, hung in a gallery and pointed as art is supposed to be art. So what is the difference with the Duchampian ready made then? The more we pay attention to these ‘objects’, the less sense it makes. But I think the Schrek, Barton and Cook show that they don’t have the slightest idea of what they are doing when they state the ‘narrative’ quality of this work. At that point, this is utter and lazy nonsense.
ETHAN COOKE’S LOBSTEE
AT ROD BARTON’S
UNTIL DECEMBER 7TH