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Condon's Art Speaks for Itself

By Steve Ramos · October 31st, 2002 · Arts Beat
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On a recent afternoon, artist Thomas Condon busily finishes installing his Carnegie exhibition, All of Ever, behind locked doors. Condon, free on appeal after being sent to prison for taking photographs of corpses at the Hamilton County Morgue without permission, spoke earlier in the week with local media about his show. He wanted the use the media to promote his artwork. But local TV crews were interested only in asking why The Carnegie would grant Condon, convicted last year on eight counts of gross abuse of a corpse, the opportunity to have an art exhibition.

So the building's doors are locked until the exhibition's official opening later this evening. Condon and his bodyguard are escorted through a back entrance. TV cameras are kept outside. This time, Condon's art is going to take priority over any scandal.

"There was a real strange feeling coming into the building," Condon says, speaking a few days after the Oct. 25 opening. "When I pulled up and saw the ropes around the front steps, I thought: What's all the fuss? But I was pleased and relieved by all that happened."

All of Ever is Condon's private history, and it's beautiful to behold. Everyday objects such as jeans gain significance by the way he stacks them in a steel container.

The angelic children who are the subjects of six canvases match well with his empathetic photographs of babies.

His artwork gives the narrow, second-floor gallery a stark quality, but the installation is a few steps to the right of minimalism.

Condon gathers drawings, photographs and sculptures, many of which go back some 10 years, into one installation. He describes the exhibition as an installation, but the work never comes together as a unified whole. While the individual pieces fill the gallery, it's not what I would call a room-sized installation.

Located in the center of the gallery, "Station of tale-telling Spitspeak" grabs one's attention. A vintage typewriter is embedded inside a plaster mold. The sculpture rests on a steel table, complete with a small LCD monitor playing a loop of Condon's films. It's easily his most complex sculpture, but I wouldn't call it the most impactful work in the show.

Condon frequently speaks about installation artist Matthew Barney when discussing All of Ever, but his work more closely resembles British artist Rachel Whiteread. They both utilize everyday objects and poured casts, and they both reach to the past as a means of discussing present-day feelings.

Condon's earthy sculptures are more crafty then precise. The pink colors of the plaster molds give the room a warm and comforting feeling.

All of Ever draws upon the past, with its antique typewriters and cameras embedded in casts of plaster like some archeological fossils. The realism of Condon's photographs complements the abstract nature of his three-dimensional works. Hybrids of paintings and sculptures are arranged alongside traditional paintings, drawings and photographs.

Earlier this year, Condon spent 110 days in prison, and nine drawings that he completed there are included in the show. They're simple etchings. One drawing shows a man standing in a trashcan with the word "Dignity" scrawled across his T-shirt. Freedom is what one thinks about when viewing these drawings.

All of Ever is a subject of dispute for those who believe that Condon shouldn't be allowed to display his work publicly, but I think the work speaks for itself. He's a storyteller, and his stories are about desire, fear and dreams.

One also senses a longing for love and beauty in his images. More importantly, there's a strong relationship with life and death, a curiosity that probably attracted Condon to the morgue in the first place.

People who expect crude and unflinching images of sex or violence are bound to be disappointed by this exhibition. Finally, Thomas Condon gets the chance to show Cincinnati what his artwork is truly about. It's a significant and impressive debut.

 
 
 
 

 

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