Tuesday, June 5, 2012

June 5
Brad Allen
Pentastar Fleet

So Much Depends...

This piece was funny. I think. Sculpture is not my primary visual language but I think I recognize a joke when I see one.

I walk into a room. There are wheelbarrows arranged, front wheel facing out, handles crossing to form a geometrical shape, a pentagon. And in white chalk, on the floor, a pentagon is drawn, holding the shape together. Inside each of the wheelbarrows there are words, logos, rather, some of which I recognize: Toyota. Nissan… This is when I begin to suspect that this is a joke or pun. These are car brands on wheelbarrows.

The associations I conjured were mine alone: my brother giving children rides in a wheelbarrow in the mountains where he was delivering firewood as a teenager; Terry, my friend and landlord wheeling bricks down the sidewalks between his almost hand-built houses. Less easy to explain, the Joni Mitchell song Big Yellow TaxiThey paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”

I realize I like wheelbarrows. They are so nice. 

Is this a proposal to replace cars with wheelbarrows? What would that look like? For a few minutes I think about that. I do notice though that these automakers have been selected by some criteria not obvious to me. I don’t see Ford for example. Hmm. Admittedly, I do not know very much about cars.

There was an artist’s statement that I did not read until after I had seen the work. The statement was full of information I did not already know. The pentastar is the geometric design used by Chrysler...  According to Cars.com, 5 of the top 10 “American Cars” are produced overseas... True-Temper wheelbarrows, according to company claims, are made in the USA. “However”, the statement continued, “almost all wheels and tires…” You guessed it. They are made in China.

I am not sure if the statement was part of the piece or not. The more I think about it, the less I understand artist’s statements, that is, their function. Are statements supplemental reading or part of the piece? I’m not sure.

So I returned to my original, na├»ve reading of the piece. I think I gleaned the spirit of the artist’s intention even as I was ignorant of all of the facts and intentions. I found humor. A little dark, a little sad, maybe, but humor. Just now I looked up the word humor. On its Wikipedia page there was a quote by E.B White. "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." 

At the end of the evening two people showed up at the gallery in a pick-up truck. We could see them through the storefront window. They walked into the room smiling strangely. A little excited, a little embarrassed maybe. The artist had contacted a few local farms and non-profits offering the gift of a wheelbarrow. It was a very nice moment to see, these farmers, these non-artists, taking their wheelbarrows away.

Incidentally, what came to my mind when I first heard that the piece incorporated wheelbarrows was a poem by William Carlos Williams that I keep memorized and somehow find applicable here.

So much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white


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