St. Louis

Know Yourself at the Luminary

Currently at the Luminary, Know Yourself is a group exhibition that features the artists Conrad Bakker, Chris Bradley, Marianne Laury, Eva and Franco Mattes, Edra Soto, and Julia Weist. The exhibition shares its title with a Drake song in which the rapper looks back on his life, claiming his authenticity and lineage among other artists. He expounds, “I’ve always been me, I guess I know myself,” and hopes that the “fakes get exposed.” After its release, Drake was infamously accused of hiring a ghostwriter. Taking inspiration from this ironic scandal, Know Yourself presents a group of artists who explore the instability of authenticity and ownership within the present sphere of economic production and consumption. The works approach the concept of authenticity from multiple points, leveraging commonplace objects to question the authorship of forms and ideas.

Conrad Bakker. The Crystal Land, 2014 (detail); Oil on carved wood panels; 24 ft. x 20 in. Courtesy of The Luminary.

Conrad Bakker. The Crystal Land, 2014 (detail); oil on carved wood panels; 24 ft. x 20 in. Courtesy of the Luminary.

In front, a multitude of postcard-size images cover the gallery windows in an ordered gestalt. This installation, Julia Weist’s Parbunkells Image Archive (Composition for Inside and Outside) (2015–2016), documents a body of work that started when Weist was commissioned to turn a vacant billboard in New York into a public artwork. Her concept was simple: In black Apple Garamond font on a white ground, she presented the 17th-century English term parbunkellsThe billboard looked more like a sleek advertisement for a new product than an archaic, forgotten word (at the time of Weist’s encounter with the term, there were no Google search results for parbunkells). After the unveiling, the word quickly went viral. Its original meaning—“coming together through the binding of two ropes”—shifted as the public began inventing new definitions and merchandising the word, resulting in a massive body of work, not made by the artist, but instigated by Weist through her choice and placement of a word. The images at the Luminary are culled from these appropriations. Occasional photos containing the word, including some of the original billboard, are peppered throughout otherwise unconnected, mundane imagery.

Julia Weist. Parbunkells Image Archive (Composition for Inside and Outside) 06/12/2015 - 1/1/2016, 2015-2016; UV ink on adhesive vinyl; Dimensions variable. Courtesy of The Luminary.

Julia Weist. Parbunkells Image Archive (Composition for Inside and Outside) 06/12/2015 – 1/1/2016, 2015-2016; UV ink on adhesive vinyl; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Luminary.

Eva and Franco Mattes’s Image Search Result (2014) is composed of multiple consumer goods, all printed with the same image of a woman dressed in workout clothes, sprawled on a gym floor next to a barbell, physically depleted. To find the image, the Mattes ran an internet search for the word “exhausted.” The printed objects are trivial, and the way they are presented underscores their insignificance: A blanket, wristlet, and dog leash hang casually on the wall; on the floor, a pair of flip-flops is placed next to a rolled-up yoga mat, standing on end and partially unfurled. The idea of the work itself is appropriated—the Mattes bought the idea from the original artist and then made their version of the concept.

Eva and Franco Mattes. Image Search Result, 2014; Print on blanket, wristlet, dog leash, yoga mat, flip-flops, contract; Dimensions variable. Courtesy of The Luminary.

Eva and Franco Mattes. Image Search Result, 2014; print on blanket, wristlet, dog leash, yoga mat, flip-flops, contract; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Luminary.

Marianne Laury places three white shadow boxes in a row (à la Donald Judd) on a rectangular platform topped in gray carpet. At the fore, a golden ceramic statuette, Sunfly, holds a microphone, presumably belting out some pop standard. The platform and statuette evoke the feeling of a karaoke stage. Strobe lights flash inside the boxes, calling attention to inscrutable texts etched in their glass. Each box shares its title with a pop song—All Night Long, Because I Got High, and Zombie—and it’s clear that the phrases are wordless vocables extracted from the songs. Removed from their original context—and detached from emotive vocals and the driving force of backing music—the lyrics lose their original conviction and descend into disaffected gibberish.

Marianne Laury. Know Yourself, 2016; installation view, The Luminary, St. Louis. Courtesy of The Luminary.

Marianne Laury. Know Yourself, 2016; installation view, the Luminary, St. Louis. Courtesy of the Luminary.

In his installation, The Crystal Land (2014), Conrad Bakker presents a series of twenty diminutive oil paintings on carved wood panels. Placed on a wide shelf, some of the smaller paintings lean in front of the larger ones. Loosely referencing Robert Smithson’s idea of a non-site, each work shows a zoomed-in view of a hand holding a crystal—painted renderings of appropriated images from eBay crystal sellers. Bakker painstakingly captures every detail of the original images, and tensions between realism and abstraction flare where the minute ridges of hands and fingers and intricate landscapes of crystals flatten into patterns of line and color.

Edra Soto. Know Yourself, 2016; installation view, The Luminary, St. Louis. Courtesy of The Luminary.

Edra Soto. Know Yourself, 2016; installation view, the Luminary, St. Louis. Courtesy of the Luminary.

In her Tarima series (2013), Edra Soto depicts delicate graphite renderings of empty stages on vibrantly colored gouache grounds. The stages are based on her memories of a Puerto Rican variety TV show. Placed in a corner between these jewel-like sketches is a plastic lawn chair upholstered with a tiger-print beach towel, set atop a paneled plinth. The towel is close-fitting and skin-like, adhering to the chair’s contours. Born in Puerto Rico, the Chicago-based artist’s imagery and altered found objects signify the blurring of two cultures.

Chris Bradley. Know Yourself, 2016; installation view, The Luminary, St. Louis. Courtesy of The Luminary.

Chris Bradley. Know Yourself, 2016; installation view, the Luminary, St. Louis. Courtesy of the Luminary.

Like Soto, Chris Bradley plays with Duchamp’s concept of the readymade, manipulating this notion in such a way that his authorship is not questioned. His sculptures, Shield (Black) (2014) and Shield (White) (2014), are made from cast concrete and pigment but look like discarded sheets of cardboard. These trompe l’oeil re-creations are propped against the wall, as if left there during installation and then forgotten. Both are slathered with provisional paint strokes, but the marks are too ordered to be incidental. Likewise, each work has four holes incised in their surfaces, but the openings are deliberately symmetrical and, seen in conjunction with the titles, function as grips and eyeholes. Bradley and Soto take inspiration from quotidian forms, but then affect those forms to create carefully fabricated works that challenge their original banality.

The artists in Know Yourself offer a mixture of provocation and banality. Some—Bakker, Soto, and Bradley—start with appropriated imagery and forms but adeptly manipulate them so they transcend their pedestrian origins and become their own entities. Others, such as Eva and Franco Mattes, work similarly but with provocative flair; however, their incitement falls short, and provocation becomes prosaic rather than challenging. Weist—keeping with the overall concept of the exhibition—questions instabilities of authorship while maintaining her own artistic voice. Throughout Know Yourself, banality unifies dissimilar works that range from found images to recontextualized readymades, acting as a point of entry for more substantial discourse about authenticity, ownership of art objects, and the complex identities of artists.

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