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Houses of the Holy: Andy Messerschmidt & Max Schollet

30 Dec

Andy Messerschmidt: Merry Krishnas at Fox Tax Gallery & Max Schollet: Journey to the Surface of the Earth at the MAEP Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

“Matter matters.” –Carl Andre

The two sets of work could not be more different, the way an ornate golden reliquary is totally at odds with the bone fragment or wood chip it houses. The consideration of both can be a jarring experience and one full of questions as to the nature of worship, meditation, work and creation. So it is with two vastly different shows that inhabit the same conceptual space: Merry Krishnas by Andy Messerschmidt at Fox Tax Gallery and the work of Max Schollet in Journey to the Surface of the Earth at the MAEP Gallery at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Andy Messeschmidt produces large scale collage/paintings that incorporate doilies, cut stencils, magazine images and paper Christmas ornaments among other items. Occasionally jumping from the picture plane to the third dimension, the works are a measured explosion of color and pattern that are carefully balanced, symmetrical. Messerschmidt writes in his Artist Statement, “My goal is to stop the viewing at confounding confrontation, just sheer, unfamiliar, reverent confrontation- a grizzly on two legs in the middle of the trail.”

But the materials are recognizable and this is not confounding unfamiliarity, this is comfortable rearrangement. The titles are not reverent- It Freaked Out and Became a Jehovah’s Witness, The Meth-Heads Saw Their Lab Aflame as the Burning Bush of Ascensional Morphology and That’s All– these seem to be over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, deliberately performative, a non sequitur one-liner. It is conceptual baroque on a five-and-dime scale. Messeschmidt goes on to say, “I am more interested in the deification of painting by objectifying reverence.” What is true about the pieces is that their layered intricacy do provide a titillating aesthetic experience, much like the Assume Vivid Astro Focus project is doing in the contemporary art scene. The difference is that Assume Vivid Astro Focus wholly embraces their surface play and silliness, whereas Messerschmidt’s uncomfortable relationship between his stated desire for reverence and the construct of the object is unresolved and undercut ground. The work pushes joyous wild mystic visions, abandon and worship, but pulls back into formal, static trope. The Abstract Expressionists that Messerschmidt notes as feeling kinship with in his artist statement (Fontana, Newman and Pollock) created art that never had an easy relationship with the viewer, and the challenge made people return to them for viewing and firther meaning. By contrast, the ready identifiability of the material and theatricality of Messerschmidt’s work make for easy access that approaches a designed experience as opposed to organic reverence.

Max Schollet uses the least possible material in his work, and the objects are all everyday. That word’s connotation can be dismissive, but the everyday has been the subject of art from Vermeer’s serving girls to Duchamp’s urinal and beyond. Schollet work extends, quite literally, the object. Cub Food bags laid out in rows to pair up the black logo against the fleshy tones of the aged plastic, a single sheet of yellow legal paper cut to a single continuous line, a roll of masking tape unrolled into ox-bow bends, forming a snaking glyph on the gallery wall. Of Schollet’s production, critic Tamatha Sopinski Perlman writes in her catalogue essay that “Each repetitive action, each act of transformation makes the landscape of our everyday existence into a work of art.”

Unlike the excoriation that critic Michael Fried leveled against minimalism- that it was only activated by the presence of the viewer and therefore dependent upon a simple special relationship to function, Schollet inverts that criticism. Yes, there is an object that you would recognize, and yes, it has a spacial relationship to the viewer, but the object (and especially, as a quotidian object, the idea of the object) precedes the viewers presence and will continue past the viewer leaving. Schollet’s interventions set the stage for the transformative process that can be revisited by the viewer to changing ends. Schollet makes mendicant art, you can see the marks of construction repeated to an almost absurd breaking point- this is the process of mantra-recitation and koan study that push to Buddhist enlightenment and Shinto prayer. There is a reverence in using the thing as it is, but the austerity of it’s creation opens up the matter to the thing as it could be- furrows, bones, intestinal tracts, lotuses, cell diagrams, ideals, a change in perspective- that gives the work it’s pared down beauty.

Both shows could be expanded, and high promise is held in both. Mass can be experienced through the pageantry, robes, chants, incense, but also in silence, and reflection the direction of life. Whether the experience is catholic or liturgical, the matter is all in the viewing.

“Journey to the Surface of the Earth: Margaret Pezalla-Granlund and Max Schollet”
WHERE: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis 55404
WHEN: Nov. 14, 2008 – Jan. 4, 2009

“Merry Krishnas: Andy Messerschmidt”
WHERE: The Gallery at Fox Tax, 503 First Av. NE Minneapolis 55413
WHEN: Nov. 29, 2008 – Jan. 9, 2009

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