NEWPORT, RI.- The Redwood Library & Athenaeum
, the nations first purpose-built library structure and think space, presents Per Barclay: House of Oil and Water. Organized by the Redwood Contemporary Art Initiative (RCAI), the exhibition comprises three interconnected parts: Barclays six-foot glass house in the Redwood Delivery Room (Untitled, 2018), a clutch of the artists monumental Oil Room photographs in the Redwoods Peirce Prince gallery, and a site specific Oil Room installation in Abraham Redwoods eighteenth-century summer house outside on the Redwood grounds. The exhibition continues the Redwoods Material Politics project, a three-year slate of contemporary art programming that plumbs the political and social implications of the materials and processes of contemporary art.
Exhibition curator Leora Maltz-Leca comments: By painting with oil and sculpting with water, Per Barclay displaces the unrefined and quotidian materials of daily life into the spaces of refined culture. Through his modus operandi of seeping and flooding, Barclay refuses arts myths of hermetic sealing and transcendental escape: the notion that art can be separated from the world beyond, or that the opalescent sheen of petroleum might be cleansed of its noxious origin. His glass house, a self-enclosed dysfunctional icon of modernism, lampoons this fantasy of self-enclosure a dream long embodied in the museum no less than the library. The Redwood, whose formation in 1747 was prompted by empiricist philosopher George Berkeley, stands as the archetypal American institution of the Enlightenment. Per Barclays materials and the politics they trail with them, describe modernity as extractive and voracious, juxtaposing the Enlightenments ideals of scientific progress and empirical knowledge with its disastrous material effects an inquiry that parallels the Redwoods own commitment to untangling the double legacy of the Enlightenment.
Untitled (2018) is a glass and steel greenhouse positioned along the Redwoods central axisthe line that all successive additions to the Redwoods original structure have followedthus implanting the structure within an architectural discourse of transparency and neoclassicism consonant with the Redwoods own history. In this work, pumped water sloshes rhythmically around the greenhouse walls, evoking the specter of the greenhouse effect while inviting the viewer to consider the prehistory of todays ecological predicament through paradigms of colonial exploration and scientific advance, presented here in a remake of the archetypal Victorian greenhouse, but one that is barren rather than teeming with tropical specimens extracted under dubious conditions.
If Abraham Redwoods eighteenth-century summer houseone of the rare extant examples of its kind in Americacontrasts an architecture of leisure to the greenhouses utility, Barclays Oil Room (Redwood) addresses our dependence on this problematic resource (oil). The work pools oil into a literal and metaphoric ground, inviting us to behold this omnipresent but largely invisible substance that powers our lives. Repurposing fuel as paintas a material of artBarclay relocates oil into the interior of the summer house through an act of artistic dislocation that pulls it out of the unseen flow of quotidian consumption, distilling it as an image and framing it architecturally. By redefining oil as art, Barclay materializes an abstraction into a substance freighted with enormous environmental and social costs, using its reflective properties as a mirror onto the underside of late modernity.
The exhibition concludes with four of Barclays signature large-scale photographs documenting various site-specific Oil Rooms (with a new work of the same type derived from the Redwood summer house installation currently in process). Adapting a photograph to the scale and color saturation of a grand manner oil painting, Barclay plays on the double meaning of oilas material and artistic mediumto offer a compound cautionary tale. Gesturing first to the Old Master lineage of Narcissus paintings, Barclay reminds us of our obsession with surface, the defining element of a painting traditionally conceived as a reflection onto the world. Likewise, the photographs call up the Platonic mistrust of surface, all the while marshalling a very contemporary caution about our society of consumption and the overvaluing of appearance.
As a public cultural institution we have a duty to be positioned in relation to ethical and political questions. Given the current battles around climate change, its important we be aware of the environmental impact of our supply chainand how much its embedded in our colonial past. said Benedict Leca, Redwood Executive Director. The show continues until September 28th.