Denler Art Gallery

Wiley Hoard: The Audubon Effect

Wiley Hoard: The Audubon Effect
Wiley Hoard: The Audubon Effect

Wiley Hoard: The Audubon Effect | Media List


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Wiley Hoard: The Audubon Effect
November 30 - December 18, 2010
Artist Lecture: Thursday, December 9, 5pm
Reception: Thursday, December 9, 6pm-8pm
Free and open to the public

“The Audubon Effect,” a solo exhibition by the American-born, Berlin-based artist, Wiley Hoard, shows five commissioned paintings based on the studies of John James Audubon’s Birds of North America, a group of monochromatic oil paintings, and an installation of Christmas ornaments.

John James Audubon is celebrated today as one of history’s most trailblazing ornithologists. Known for his dedicated fieldwork, during the 18th century he laboriously set up intricate still lives to simulate bird’s natural habitats and character traits. With paint, paper, and a gun in hand, he sought to illustrate and categorize all the birds in North America in an effort to create a comprehensive scientific catalogue. At the time, ornithologists were making their studies either by copying dated illustrations from Asia or creating stiff, taxidermied models, which often altered the natural color of the once-living bird. Audubon’s approach was groundbreaking in the sense that he was able to meld scientific rigor with a palette of imagery that spoke to the public. Examples of such imagery are his striking depictions of flowers, which was what initially drew Wiley Hoard to his work. We find ourselves mesmerized within a playful tangle of birds, flowers, and vines enveloping the image frame. Audubon’s paintings raise the question: what objective observation and depiction is not also subjective?

Having observed the inseparable fusion between objectivity and subjectivity in Audubon’s studies, Hoard commissioned various artists from around the world to recreate Audubon’s works from his Birds of North America. Each artist’s predispositions to taste, skill, and interpretation noticeably alter the original. Throughout the exhibition, with each deviation, we begin to see less of a study of birds and more of the sensibilities of each artist.

Similar to Hoard, in 1969 John Baldessari experimented with the orchestration of image production. Hearing that Al Held, a New York-based abstract painter, allegedly said “Conceptual art just points at things,” he commissioned amateur painters to render photographs that he took of one of his friends pointing at things. The shift from photographs to photo-realistic paintings visually foregrounds each artist’s particular approach and brings forward common concerns inherent in painting itself. Here Baldessari puts the perceptual experience of painting on a par with conceptual decisions, raising the fundamental question: What kind of painting is not conceptual?

It is through a conceptual process that Hoard manages to develop the subjective dimension of Audubon’s depictions. Interspersed between the commissioned Audubon works, Hoard’s darkly hued oil paintings foreground the dynamics at play in the experience of painting. At a distance they often appear to be single blocks of color, but built into each painting’s surface is a structure whose visibility is dependent on the viewer’s position to the light source and the surface of the painting, ultimately making the paintings subsidiary to the subject viewing the work. The commissioned Audubon works along with Hoard’s monochromatic paintings can be seen as parts of a conceptually devised body where both groups of work foreground the subject. Moving around these two intermixed series of pictures, we can experience the conceptual and perceptual aspects of painting playing back and forth between each other, continuously being informed and transformed through the act of looking.

The strength of Wiley Hoard’s work in this exhibition lies in his ability to shift us from a conceptual space into a physical one. This can also be seen at play in his installation of Christmas ornaments. Over the last year, Hoard has been installing these ornaments in spaces throughout Berlin. Conceptually, he is investigating the way in which a shift in the use of a traditional artifact can transform the way that it is perceived. The Christmas ornaments in this exhibition were produced for the German religious holidays in the 1930s. A secondary market opened up in India, where Indians were importing these ornaments to embellish the interior of their homes year round for decorative/aesthetic purposes. Here we see the transformation of a religious icon into an object of decoration. By installing these Christmas ornaments within the exhibition space provided, Hoard continues the course of history they have already endured, but he also raises a common concern in exhibition history. Whereas the use or conception of an object will shift as it travels from culture to culture, it is still commonly held that our perception of both the art object and the room that houses it will not be critically affected as it moves from exhibition space to exhibition space. This notion is not sustained within this installation. Hoard installs the Christmas ornaments so that, similar to his other works in the show, as we walk around them, the objects shift from cultural artifacts to physical markers that reveal the particular architecture of the space that holds them.

~Melinda Braathen