Artist: Christopher McNulty
Body of Work: 'Days'
Date: Sept 8 Open till October 20
When walking into the Saltworks gallery, there’s a slightly sterile feel in the room due more to the artists monochromatic images than the actual venue. Based on the previous day’s experience & visit to the three other galleries, I assumed we’d be looking at the pieces, generally making personal observations about them, and possibly leaving with an inclined third eye, something deep and “artsy fartsy.” But we walked in, and Mr. McNulty was speaking. Initially it seemed that he was just lecturing on how deep he was in comparison to anyone in the room who didn’t understand his work. Very soon after I arrived at this conclusion the next one rang even louder and truer: I was stereotyping him.
McNulty’s work was extremely “blank” without knowing what it was at which I was actually looking. I’m sure that such a statement makes it sounds like I’m no real aficionado of art, or even understand its lack of a need for explanation. On the contrary, I didn’t ask the artist to explain his work, he knew not explaining what had been done would leave his work meaningless. He explained how he went through an entire process, using some technique to give a projected life expectancy for himself and used that number as the catalyst for this project. Essentially, he named each piece after the projected amount of days he had left to live and applied various striations, x’s, and fingerprints to matched the amount of days he had left when beginning that specific work of art. For example, one piece was called 20,468 days, which had 20,468 x’s in a circular motion.
Now I had a clear understanding of who Mr. Mcnulty is as far as his work is concerned, but I guess my main question concerning this instillation is this: if the life of the piece essentially lives in how it was created and why it was done, and if the viewer know neither of those things, do the images “matter”? Perhaps the images are not capable of standing on their own and need the artist’s constant explanation. But what happens if the artist is not present at every opening and every gallery? Furthermore, if the artist has to be present at every gallery opening or at every show, is the actual art work what we’re there to see, or are we really there to hear his story? Is he the art work? He’s being shipped around to every gallery just like the framed pieces are, so does he consider himself a piece of art?
I guess in many situations the artist statement would facilitate a happy medium between the artist and his creations. But I had the opportunity to ask the artist how he felt about having to have such a strong hand in the understanding of his work. His response was that when he sends his work to a show that he cannot physically attend, he sends another piece of writing along with the artist statement to further explain what was done in the pieces. My next question (which I didn’t ask) was who reads it or even knows that it’s supposed to be read? What if the people who install the work assume the gallery’s visitors will accept Mcnulty’s work with a “what you see is what you get” attitude, like most other galleries they may frequent? To me it seems that a large part of the art in his work exists in what was done and why it was done, but not actually the end result. The end result is basically a summation of what was done and what happened, but to me not the art in its entirety.
Considering McNulty’s installation reminded me of my reaction to the work of Jackson Pollock because although to most his art work breathes a life of its own, I am personally attracted to his paintings because I knew how they were birthed. I am intrigued by stories of how he’d lay the canvas on the floor and walk over it with a cigarette in mouth, drizzling paint in patterns the coordinates of which only his subconscious mind knew until the end result was that of which he was pleased to call his own. McNulty’s piece titled 20,045 days, made up of his own finger prints applied to a 71"x71" canvas was overwhelming in size and precision. To believe that this man sat there with an ink pad, and in a circular motion pressed his thumb continually over twenty thousand times both on that ink pad then on the canvas shows me a great deal of commitment to what was, probably much like Pollock, only known in the deepest recesses of his being. I don’t know about you but after about 50 applications of the whole thumb-ink-canvas thing, I would have had to rethink my strategy.
So again I am not saying that McNulty’s work in its totality was anything short of impressive and creative, but I don’t feel the actual work on the walls alone is enough – and apparently neither does the artist - to validate such a powerful body of work. More thought should be put into finding a mainstream approach to solidifying the meaning and the work in a more cohesive manner that doesn’t fluctuate depending on the artist’s presence at the show. I mean, what if I suggest some friends stop through tomorrow and he’s not there, then what?