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Randy Bolton’s new prints at Schmidt DeanBY: Andrew Mangravite 03.23.2010
Unlike Picasso, Randy Bolton’s art openly invites engagement. It wants to debate you— or perhaps, to bait you.
Randy Bolton, “New Prints.” Through April 24, 2010 at Schmidt Dean Gallery, 1710 Sansom St. (215) 569-9433 or www.schmidtdean.com.
Signs for our timesANDREW MANGRAVITE
In my review of the current Picasso exhibition at the Art Museum, I noted that Picasso and other early followers of Cubism exploded the image. Now I’d like to turn my attention to Randy Bolton, whose new exhibition of screen prints has recently opened at Schmidt Dean Gallery. Bolton “explodes” his images in a somewhat different manner: by adding a strong textual component that deepens and expands them.
Let’s start with Yes, Maybe, No, which was chosen as this exhibition’s marquee work. Working in a realist style that vaguely recalls ’50s comic book art, Bolton presents us with an assemblage of signs, such as we might encounter on any rural back road.
On the left of the image is a small billboard with a poster tacked to it. The poster reads, “Vote YES Make it happen.” To the right is a tilting “NO parking” sign. Strung across the print is a line with letters of the alphabet spelling out M-A-Y-B-E. There are also the torn remnants of a yellow “Caution” tape stretching from the extreme left to about the midpoint of the image.
So, what are we to make of this? Well, the YES, promising endless possibilities, is clearly balanced by the NO, setting a definite limit on what can be done. The M-A-Y-B-E message, which takes up most of the image, would seem to be the message— a bit of amused skepticism perhaps— but then what of the tattered “Caution”? Is the artist perhaps suggesting that caution has been discarded?
I don’t claim any definitive interpretation of the piece, but it certainly invites comment on our part. More to the point, unlike a Cubist masterwork like Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon— which says: “Here I am, take me or leave me,”— Bolton’s piece openly invites engagement. It wants to debate you— or perhaps, to bait you. Some of the works in “New Prints” are more politically oriented than others.
In another assemblage of signage, a folksy-looking “Our Town” sign hangs directly beneath a government warning: “Caution Nuclear Radioactive River.” Flanking this dire warning is a “God Bless America” poster and a “Trespassers Shot” warning. At the bottom of the assemblage is a “Road Dead Ends” sign, pointing off to the right to a hand-made sign reading, “Yard Sale.” This one seems to sum up a certain gloom-and-doom mindset.
One of Bolton’s zingier images consists simply of the word “superior” and an arrow pointing to the right, while next to it is an image with the arrow pointing to the left with the word “inferior.” Perhaps Bolton hopes that Fox News will purchase these for the lobby of its headquarters.
“New Prints” isn’t entirely composed of such word-images. One image shows a boy and girls, attired in the best post-war Dick-and-Jane manner, pointing up at a constellation of stars forming a skull and crossbones. In a neighboring work, the plucky youngsters have discovered an actual skull lying amid high grass in a field. On the floor in front of the print sits a papier-maché skull.
Teaching a billy goat
The largest and most obviously didactic work, in the center of the gallery, is a large double-sided print. On the side facing us, a turtle tries teaching a blindfolded billy goat wearing a dunce cap. The message is “truth,” which is written on a slate, but the goat appears to be having none of it. He’d rather mock the turtle. Other slate-boards litter the ground, suggesting other lessons not learned; these bear such messages as “beauty,” “wisdom” and “fairness.” Carrying his message out of the flat image, as Bolton did with the print of the children finding the skull, he places discarded sticks of chalk and another dunce cap on the floor before the image. Perhaps he is inviting the viewer to try it on for size.
The reverse of the image shows what’s behind the tree from which the turtle has hung his slateboard. A stack of these slate boards bearing terms such as “patience,” “modesty” and “courage” suggest lessons in the offing, and a slateboard bearing the message “courage” sits on the floor. This parable-like work certainly invites the viewers to draw their own inferences.
To me, the wonderful thing about Bolton’s art is that you can draw a half-dozen people in off the street, invite them to view the works and discuss them among themselves— and everyone will have opinions to offer. These works of Bolton’s speak to people. They engage them and invite their participation, unlike those exploded guitars and fruits floating in space that could care less about you or your thoughts.
So, we come to the old, old question— does art serve a public or a private function? Is art meant to address the widest possible audience, or is it directed at the chosen few? Are the artists patient turtles trying to instruct mocking goats, or are they constellations in the sky to be admired from afar? Yes? No? Maybe?
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