Alison Owen

Getting to See What’s Right in Front of You

THURSDAY 06.21.07

Getting You to See What’s Right in Front of You: Alison Owen at TILT

Alison Owen at TILT

One of the first things that you notice when you walk into the TILT Gallery and Project Space for New York artist Alice Owen’s show is the room is practically empty. The room is very sparse and there are two large blank pieces of paper pinned to the wall.

No paintings. No drawings. No sculpture. No art. Just an empty room. Or is it?

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Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

After getting over the initial shock, you begin to notice strange little things as your eyes moves beyond the sheets of paper into the properties of the space itself. The baseboard seems to be a little thicker normal, there are strange pieces of architectural molding then begin to run over pieces the pieces of paper, and the large overhead beams seems to be dangerously close to splintering apart. Things might not begin to make much sense yet but you begin to realize that something really strange is happening here.

Alison is smart. She understands what it is like to go from one gallery to the next until we are so saturated with art and information that the experience becomes a big blur (except for PORT writers, of course). There is a certain language to art galleries: beautiful spaces, more or less white walls, things that look like art on the walls or on the floor. The space is important but only in its service to the work. The space of the gallery is designed to make the art look good as it’s the art for sale, not the walls. You could almost say that, in most cases, the language of art exists in what is placed on the walls and not in the space itself. The spaces become interchangeable while the work remains unique.

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Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

But what if the work was the space? What if the conceptual ideas that drive a work are based on the physical characteristics of the gallery? It would mean that the work becomes indistinguishable from the physical space of the gallery. That everything could potentially be art: the shadows on the wall, the colors and shapes of the baseboard, the color of the columns and beams that support the ceiling, or even the colors and shapes of the road construction out the front window would all be fair game. Nothing would be taken for granted because you would never know if it was art or not. You would never know if the artist hand already been there before you, scouting out territory.

Well, this is what Alison has done with the front room of TILT. The baseboard that runs along the perimeter of the walls is thicker because she built a second baseboard on top of the first except that this one is broken into smaller, disjointed, sometimes painted to match the original baseboard and sometimes painted to pick up on the colors of the construction site outside. The colors and the forms are not invented but taken from cues in the gallery itself. The overhead beam is not really splintering, she had just built a second construction lower down the walls that riffs on the existing columns and beams. The space of the gallery is subtly reordered to create a construction that can convey an idea about art rather than architecture.

Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

Alison leaves this for you to discover for yourself although the blank sheets of paper are a big give away. It is almost like they are saying that if you are looking for art, you should look somewhere else because it is not in a blank sheet of paper no matter how large. But if you move to the edges of the paper, you can see the where she painted in the shadow so it creates a really complex interrelationship between what is art and what isn’t. The great thing about the show is that you are never sure, but you have to discover the interventions and then decide for yourself.

Detail of Alison Owen at TILT

I think this where she is generous because she lets you have your own experience. You can draw your own conclusions about how you choose to interact with the space. The hierarchy between art and gallery wall completely breaks down. If you want to get down on your hands and knees to follow the baseboard around room, that is possible. If you want to stand back and try to take in the room as a whole that as is possible as well because there is no right way to experience the space. It is completely open ended. The definitions of what is art in the gallery context slowly erode away as the boundaries between art, space, and architecture all begin to blur. The experience is open ended but the trade off is that you have to be slightly on guard because as you walk around the gallery you are never sure where the art will turn up next.