Guyton\Walker’s new show finds them between one artistic and another
Published: November 10, 2010
Front Room: Guyton\Walker
Though Andy Warhol started out as a commercial illustrator and eventually achieved fame by transforming commercially mass-produced products into high art, it’s easy to forget that he remained a commercial artist his entire career. As in, the man designed some 50 record covers from 1949 until he died in 1987, as wonderfully laid out in Paul Maréchal’s 2008 book Andy Warhol: The Record Covers, 1949-1987 (Prestel). Some of these are more renowned than others—the crotch shot for the Rolling Stones’ 1971 Sticky Fingers comes to mind—but once you see them, they’re unmistakably coming from his brain. His portraits of the artist serve as the covers for Paul Anka’s 1976 The Painter, Russell Means’ 1976 Electric Warrior, Diana Ross’ 1982 Silk Electric, and John Lennon’s posthumous 1986 Menlove Ave, and they look in spirit and style much like his celebrity portraits now found in many art museums—such as the Baltimore Museum of Art, which includes a number of Warhols in its permanent collection (on view in the Contemporary Wing) and where Andy Warhol: The Last Decade is currently installed.
That very little changed when Warhol moved between commercial and gallery work isn’t that remarkable to observe; artists today straddle those lines not only as a matter of fact but as a necessity for survival. What’s more intriguing is to see the visual language of the commercial workplace encroaching on the gallery. The gallery is a space dedicated to and controlled for the looking at and consumption of artwork, and really shouldn’t look like a workshop—unless that’s part of the point. Such is exactly what the artist team Guyton\Walker turn a BMA gallery into for their Front Room installation.
Since 2004, Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker, former studio mates, have collaborated on joint installation ideas that are less the sum of their individual arts than an ingenious singular sensibility. Guyton has been known to use desktop printers to make marks on his painting canvases; Walker favors screen-printing and using appropriated imagery that he manipulates. Together as Guyton\Walker they have created installations that straddle the lines of art practice and exhibition, toying with the line that separates where the work is made and where it is experienced.
For its Front Room installation, Guyton\Walker has included four objects (for lack of a better term) and five paintings, all of them untitled. En masse, the installation transforms this front gallery space into a loudly colored factory. A table sits on paint cans to the left when you first enter, a tall rectangular box sits to the right, two piles of drywall lean against another wall, and a line of paint cans sit underneath four canvases on a back wall. The room’s tone feels not so much unfinished as expectant, as if awaiting further instructions.
Almost everything is covered in Guyton\Walker’s appropriated and manipulated digital imagery. The drywall, the paint cans, and the canvases have been Inkjet-printed upon or silk-screened, the palette a grab-bag of hot primary colors and pastels. It’s a bit like a DayGlo body-painter walked in and threw up his color scheme everywhere.
In a very intentional way, mind you: Nothing about the installation feels infelicitous, glib, or otherwise smug. There’s a purpose going on here. Two sets of walls are lined with drywall on which Guyton\Walker has Inkjet-printed a black checkerboard theme. They’re mounted low on the wall, and the quality of the checkerboard pattern is pretty specious: It looks like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, the sort of reproduction familiar to anybody who ever made punk show fliers in the days before desktop publishing—which may be a good calibration point for the Guyton\Walker enterprise.
In their late 30s and early 40s, Guyton and Walker finished college during the 1990s, a decade that started in analog and ended in rapidly quickening digital. Both have embraced techniques of digital reproduction in their works, but it’s still used as a tool to produce two- and three-dimensional work. Neither has really abandoned semi-traditional object making for purely digital art.
And that sense may be what gives this Front Room its wistful, transitional mood. The four paint, silkscreen, and Inkjet prints on canvas with Inkjet prints on paint cans that line one wall all feature an element that makes a Warhol connection blithely simple: what looks like a banana in various states of unpeeling, reminiscent of the iconic album cover of 1967’s The Velvet Underground and Nico. The Guyton\Walker version isn’t entirely representational: Bright colors and designs dance around the banana shape, but the leap to Warhol isn’t too tough to make. In the visual language of image making, though, Guyton\Walker’s digitally manipulated vocabulary lies somewhere between Warhol’s banana and, say, the digital orgy of images that adorn the album covers of M.I.A., where what may be referenced is sometimes completely obscured by noise.
Guyton\Walker participates in an artist talk Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. with BMA Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman. Hileman also leads a Third Thursday Curatorial Tour Nov. 18 at 1 p.m.
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