Three Works: Carmen Papalia in Collaboration with John Muse

Media InstallationCollaborationlettering on foamcore
CUE Art Foundation, September 7 - October 12, 2013
Muse provided three brief descriptions of artworks to Carmen Papalia, who used them to create an artwork of his own. Muse first selected three works—two from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and one from a private gallery—briefly described each, and then sent these descriptions to Papalia, a visually impaired artist whose work explicitly addresses disability, access, and the logistics of museum display. Papalia mounted Muse's texts—yellow lettering on a black, screen-like background—and titled each with the title of the artwork described. Papalia included this project in Long Time No See at the CUE Art Foundation, his first solo exhibition.

About his practice Papalia writes,
I design experiences that allow those involved to expand their perceptual mobility and claim access to public and institutional spaces. Often requiring trust and closeness, these engagements disorient the participant while introducing new modes of orientation that allow for perceptual and sensorial discovery. Each walking tour, workshop, collaborative performance, public intervention, museum project and art object that I produce is a temporary system of access—a gesture that contributes to a productive understanding of accessibility. As an open-sourcing of my own access, my work makes visible the opportunities for learning and knowing that become available through the non-visual senses. It is a chance to unlearn looking and to take ones first few steps into a non-visual world.
The three artworks and prose descriptions:

1. Ellsworth Kelly, Black Red-Orange, 1966, oil on canvas. Seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, July 23rd, 2013
A large, red-orange square under an equally wide but squat, black rectangle. Two canvases, a tidy seam, one work. The black rectangle conscripts its opposite number though: the white walls join the black and red-orange. Three colors then, one work, a museum-loving creature, a parasite. And so the black takes command, a chunky little demon casting snow and white noise into the red-orange—of which there is just so much. So much. Color. Sharp, this red-orange—wide and tall; wider than me, taller than me. It hurts. Not heat, not a wall of flame, not the color of something or someone. No barn, no sunset, neither truck nor apple nor stop sign nor guillotine. But the discomfort of being too close to some turned-on thing, some electric cathode buzzing thing, an irritating guest, pressing you, following you. You want to see it; thrown back, you step back. Which doesn’t work. Because nothing comes into view, no grain, no detail, no stroke, no limits. The edges of the work are no more in their place than the red-orange blush and the bossy black. It’s not a picture. Of something. It’s a place where this not-a-picture happens, both in the white hard room and in the throbbing meat of your eye.
2. Jasper Johns, Good Time Charley, 1961, encaustic on canvas with objects. Seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, July 23rd, 2013
Find a yard stick, one stamped with “Made in the USA.” Cut it in half. Almost in half. Secure the zero end of the longer piece to the right side of a canvas, almost in the middle, just below the middle. Or maybe first daub the canvas with hot wax—a stew of greys and off-whites and grey-blacks—and then secure the ruler. Use a wing nut. Attach it near the edge, leaving room so that the pivot point, which is near the edge, sits comfortably away from the edge. But once on the wall, the ruler might hang limp. If not for support. So, find a grey, metal cup; stamp the words “GOOD TIME CHARLEY” on its side. Drill a hole in the other side and attach it to the canvas, in the middle, well below the ruler’s pivot point—maybe split the distance between the bottom and middle—low enough so that the 14-inch mark rests on the bottom edge of the cup. Useless party cup, useless words. They’re upside-down! Also not so useless: the cup braces the ruler. Now add more wax or remelt the wax already applied. With a torch. And scrape and score the grey wax with the now pivoting ruler, back and forth, dull semi-circular groves and smears. You have created one wing of a snow angel, in grey. And a painting by Jasper Johns.
3. Jennifer Levonian, Three Books, 2013, watercolor, gouache and acrylic on carved foam. Seen at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, July 23rd.
Jennifer Levonian made three things that look like books: they’re not to be mistaken for books, but they do look like books. Hand-made, hand-painted, hand-carved—made to appear careworn, handled, adored. Which books? The Life of St. Teresa of Avila by Herself, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. The artist wrapped them with new covers, redolent places: a night-blue sky, a church graveyard, a muddy creek—and she has striped their spines with titles and names. They are not only books by these women, and they are not only books by the artist who made them; they are also books that belong to someone, books for someone and books from someone. Levonian has made possessions; she has made owned and held things: faded, scarred, and seriously used, well-read and even distressed, as though left in the rain and dried in the oven. Still. Warm. And thus singular, marked and formed by their reading, by touch and savor, so as if to say, “I have loved these things. I make them again to show I have loved them; I love them still, and so should you. And you should love that someone has loved them. This too we can share.”