Note: This exhibit is scheduled to close on 6/30/07.
Colter Jacobsen’s solo exhibit at Jack Hanley Gallery is so characteristic that, to his faithful followers, it may seem like dropping by his apartment. Certainly the show embodies many of Jacobsen's familiar traits. One of the most prominent is his fascination with finding, or creating, matched pairs of objects.
When Jacobsen displays found objects together in pairs, I gather that he means to represent an idealized psychological rapport between two people. (He is a long-time fan of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, especially that artist’s pair of synchronized wall clocks.) Often his pairings have a comic edge, as with the thrift store paintings included in the exhibit. In these, he seems to acknowledge an embarrassing Kitschy-koo dimension in the longing for a perfect match.
A more subtle process occurs in Jacobsen’s core practice, which is the duplication of photographs by means of drawings (usually in graphite). I tend to think that an urge to touch whatever is in the photo plays a role in his choice of method—but feel free to dismiss this as errant psychologizing.
In his earlier drawings, there was the “original” (actually often a copy) and his drawn copy. Eventually this vein of work became more complicated, and more intriguing, when Jacobsen started to draw copies of his copies— without looking at either the photo or his first drawing. In addition to the doubleness between the photo and its first drawing, Jacobsen added a doubleness between the first drawing and his drawing from memory. In doing so, he has extended his exploration of identity (and if you like, authorship) into almost metaphysical territory. Even without metaphysics, the dual drawings are fascinating to see for the remarkable exactness of the copies, and also for their subtle differences. One drawing (in color, shown below) appears to be a mirror-image memory drawing.
As a reader of poetry, Jacobsen has an interest in language, and words have appeared in some of his work for a long time. The most extended project in the current show is the series of twenty drawings with text—a collaboration with the poet Bill Berkson. In 1980, Berkson selected brief texts from a juvenile mystery novel and typed each text on a sheet of paper, in the lower half. He gave the collection a title page, “Bill,” and put the project away in a manila folder. Recently he came upon the folder and thought that images might be added above the texts. Mac McGinnes suggested Jacobsen as the artist for this, and the project went forward. The resulting images don't have obvious connections to the texts. For me, it was interesting to be reminded that the addition of text to an image creates a new gestalt regardless of the actual words or even the language in which they are written. A little forcefield seems to spring up between word and image.
There are many artworks in this show—too many, I think. And the staging of the show seems to heighten the elusiveness that is already abundant in Jacobsen's work. I found it impossible to parse and feel everything in one take, especially without help. I kept wishing the artist was walking me through it, dropping hints.
The beautiful drawing at the top is based on a photo by the artist's friend, Donal Mosher. The photo is in the show too. Other examples of the drawings are illustrated below. The two bottom images are sets of thrift store paintings.
Note (6/28/07): I have revised the paragraph dealing with the use of text in Jacobsen's work. Thanks to Mac McGinnes for nudging me to clarify the prominent place taken by the drawings-with-text in this exhibit and to acknowledge Jacobsen's collaborator in these works.