Wade Guytonby John Yau
November 15 – December 15, 2007
Wade Guyton is the perfect artist for these nightmarish times. He makes black monochromes using a large format Epson printer; the “paintings” are printed on pre-primed linen. In order to fit the linen into the printer, which is forty-four inches wide, the linen is folded, resulting in a thin, irregular, white space (or “line”) dividing the “painting” into two, slightly different halves. The repeated overprinting causes slight
Guyton began making “paintings” using a printer in 2004. Before that, he overprinted pages from art magazines; for these he also used a printer, but a much smaller one. Early success has evidently helped him gain access to large commercial equipment. One of his paintings, with his signature Xs on white (as someone else characterized them), was included in the Museum of Modern art’s recent survey, What is Painting?, curated by Ann Umland. Guyton’s “anti-suprematist painting” (as someone else tagged it) was placed in the last room, along with geometric paintings by Sarah Morris and Gabriel Orozco. Clearly, he has received heavy institutional endorsement. In placing Morris, Orozco, and Guyton in the last room, Umland’s narrative of postmodern painting (or anti-painting) dovetails all too neatly with the tale of modernism (think Frank Stella) that William Rubin presented on more than one occasion during his tenure as Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA.
Scott Rothkopf lays out the reason for this approval. In his essay “Modern Pictures,” which was included in the catalogue accompanying the artist’s 2005 exhibition, Color, Power, & Style, at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, Rothkopf wrote of Guyton: “So suspicious was he of any kind of obvious creative expenditure that even that most minimal of gestures inspired a near existential crisis. ‘Why am I making this drawing,’ he recalls asking himself. ‘It seemed dumb to be sitting here drawing, but it didn’t seem dumb enough. If I was going to do something that required no skill, it shouldn’t require my labor.’ And soon thereafter it didn’t.” Making art without labor is the perfect response to those philistines who proclaim, “Even my kid could do this,” and to those aesthetic theorists who believe that the progress of art is marked by the steps artists take towards achieving the utopian condition of a workerless society.
After making a statement about not wanting to do something “dumb” and not wanting to “labor,” can there be any doubt that Guyton is an important and necessary artist, a man of the times? If there is, consider how well he passes the following three tests of historical significance. First, Guyton is a visionary in the mode of George W. Bush. Like Bush, he knows that history is on his side, he doesn’t like to exert too much effort, he knows he’s always absolutely right, and he lacks curiosity of any sort. Second, he appeals to those collectors who either manage or run hedge funds because they work long hours to produce nothing, while he doesn’t have to work very hard to produce a lot. Third, he makes himself both lovable and indispensable to academic theorists because his work can be seen as a series of increasingly perfected Pavlovian responses engendering equally precise Pavlovian praise. Professors and curators—the middle managers of cultural institutions—are happy to chant the mantra of appropriation, post-Duchampian/post-studio practice, and the death of the handmade, because they know he will deliver the goods in the right package.
Like a number of celebrated and soon-to-be celebrated artists, Guyton all too happily entrusts his fate to the gatekeepers of the canon without ever questioning the foundations or legitimacy of the canon or even recognizing that the gatekeepers themselves have never done anything creative enough to earn them admission. For all his bravado, Guyton is deeply afraid to do anything that might expose his belief in something other than what has been parsed over, sanctioned and reified by third-tier thinkers. In using the word “skill” to talk about drawing, you can tell that Guyton learned his lessons well. He wants to be a hipster, while appealing to the Marxist who touts the withering away of craft, but who is never honest enough to admit that a corollary of this mode of practice is the death of curiosity. What’s there to be curious about when everything has been done, and all that is left is appropriation, citation, and parody? In evoking the black paintings of Ad Reinhardt, Guyton reminds me of something that Reinhardt said” “All art is political.” Guyton’s politics are suspect, which makes him even more ideal for these times than I first thought.