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JOE AMRHEIN at Roebling Hall

“…a condition of reinterpreting the misinterpreted….tightly choreographed visions of randomness….an exaggerated rhetorical tone bordering on hyperbole…a mad cow in a glass language menagerie…”

Joe Amrhein,
Joe Amrhein, "In-Site," 2001, Enamel on Glass, Dimensions Variable.

Writing about Joe Amrhein’s show at Roebling Hall is somewhat of a paradox come full circle: writing about art that is composed of writing about art; visual signs constructed entirely from linguistic signs painted on glass or vellum. The mirror is an important metaphor for Amrhein. The first piece we encounter upon entering the gallery, which reads “Too Abstract to Refer to a Particular Source,” is titled “Source.” Thus, we begin at the source (“Source” reflects source). “Source” becomes an intimation or key to the rest of the work in the show, which renders as abstract the poetic absurdity of descriptive art rhetoric.

According to the gallery press release, Amrhein takes as the source for his work a quote from Robert Smithson—“one must remember that writing on art replaces presence by absence by substituting the abstraction of language for the real thing.” But what became the work of art for Smithson was, after all, not the thing itself, but the documentation of the thing in writing or photographs and the mythologies these images created. Indeed, the next two pieces, “Lean-To” and “Insite” owe something to Smithson’s site and nonsite work. What comes to mind, of course, are works like “Asphalt Rundown,” “Glue Pour,” and particularly “Map of Glass,” which is described in Smithson’s essay “Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan.” Unlike Smithson’s work, Amrhein’s glass disaster, “Insite,” does not correspond to or mirror a physical site but a linguistic concept. It implies the other spelling of the word (another mirroring), that of insight as site, and the mapping of an architecture of apprehension.

Next there is the physical mirroring of “Post-Sputnik” and “Sublime in Reverse,” horizontal columns of ascending and descending text that face each other on opposing walls. Taken from commercial art journals like Art in America, the out-of-context text becomes humorous and transparent, revealing an underlying awkward pretension similar to the effect of watching TV with the sound turned off. Finally, “Rationalized” is yet another form of mirroring. Using light to reflect the shadows of words that are painted on glass shelves, “Rationalized” suggests the difficulty of pure seeing. Like the apparitions from Plato’s cave, we only see the shadows of the words, not the “actual” words which are, as well, specters of artspeak.

Roebling Hall, March 17 – April 10  


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