November 11-December 17, 1998
The Beaver College Art Gallery is pleased to present “Not the old, not the new, but the necessary,” an exhibition of sculpture, photographs and video by artist Paul Ramírez Jonas on view from November 11 through December 17, 1998. Titled after a 1920 revolutionary slogan crafted by Russian constructivist Vladimir Tatlin, the show is a compact survey of works by this New York-based Latin American sculptor and chronicles his nostalgia for technological failures and utopian ideals brought down to earth and into the light of the everyday. Among the earliest works included are examples from Heavier Than Air (1993– 95). For this project Ramírez Jonas
used white cotton fabric and wood slats to construct replicas of late-19th century “flying machines” developed by inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell, Lawrence Hargrave, Walter Brooks and others– all of whom were left in the dust by the Wright Brothers. Ramírez Jonas equipped each of these kites with disposable cameras (triggered by mechanical alarm clocks), which, when flown off New York’s Robert Moses beach, snapped aerial views of the shore. Each of the resulting prints depicts a length of colored string stretching from the base of the airborne kite (just out of the picture frame) to a tiny figure below–Ramírez Jonas clutching the other end of the tether. Objective proof of the flight of each craft, these dizzying, vertiginous images also capture the romance of invention despite the artist’s patent awareness of the impossibility of recreating history. This sense of exploration at a commonplace frontier is especially apparent in a projected videotape from 1997 entitled A Longer Day. Charged with the Einsteinian possibility of using speed to stretch time, this deceptively straightforward work is driven by a mind-over-matter aesthetic and the myth of “westward expansion.” Leaving his New York studio at sunrise with his video camera pointing directly out his windshield, Ramírez Jonas drove due
west with the express purpose of taping the sunset (midway through Indiana), which he prolonged and repeated by traveling slightly faster than the speed limit. This optimistic work is paired with Red Ball (1997), a 73”-diameter slice of the top of what would be a 40-foot diameter rubber sphere. Standing on this silicon mound, we are reminded of the curvature of the earth. This natural fact– effectively camouflaged by the scale of our planet– is responsible for a host of persistent phenomena that form the core of many of the artist’s projects, A Longer Day notwithstanding.
The most recent work in the exhibition, “Not the old, not the new, but the necessary” (1998), is a reinterpretation of Tatlin’s 1919 Monument to the Third International. This triptych of color photographs depicts three views of a Babel– like tower of studio paraphernalia– a sculpture stand, various chairs, an LP of salsa music, an electric fan, plastic buckets, a text on Proust, a jar of water, etc., illuminated only by the headlight of a toy locomotive speeding up and down the pile on a moebius-like track. Taken with 20-minute exposures, these photographs render the circuit of the train as a perfect double spiral, a form whose mathematical precision contrasts sharply with the quotidian chaos of the ad hoc structure that supports it. The work becomes a reminder of the paradoxes that distinguish Tatlin’s Monument, a tower whose technological idealism guaranteed its practical failure but ensured its potency as a symbol of international socialism. Ramírez Jonas’ pragmatic reiteration, like all of the artist’s works, is fueled by a lucid, do-it-your-selfer’s sense of purpose and immediacy. Writing about the pieces he has selected for this exhibition, the artist remarks that the works look both forward and backward in time with a sense of wonder and joy that embraces the constancy of the physical world. The pieces also suggest that human endeavors are part of that constancy as well. They offer a utopian vision not of a better tomorrow, but simply of a present that will always have a tomorrow and a yesterday. Ramírez Jonas was born in Los Angeles in 1965, and was raised in Honduras. He moved back to the United States in 1985 to attend Brown University. He received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989 and moved to New York later the same year. In addition to three solo exhibitions at Postmasters Gallery in New York (in 1994, ‘96, and ‘97), and London’s White Cube (1994), his recent efforts include projects at Rojer Björkholmen Galleri (Stokholm, Sweden), and Studio Guenzani (Milan). He is currently preparing a large-scale clockwork performance for the city of Utrecht, Holland that premiers this spring.
The exhibition will be accompanied by “Anything but the Present,” an illustrated conversation between the artist and Kirby Gookin (art historian, critic and curator) scheduled directly prior to the opening reception on Wednesday, November 11 at 6:30 p.m. in Stiteler Auditorium, Murphy Hall, on the Beaver College Campus.
The exhibition and lecture are funded by the Arcadia Foundation, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Friends and Advisory Board of the Beaver College Art Gallery.
The gallery is open Weekdays 10-3 and Weekends 12-4, and by appointment. The gallery will be closed Thanksgiving weekend (November 26-29). Admission to the gallery and all events is free.