artists & participants

press release

Opening: April 6, 2002, 6-8PM

The spring season at I-20 – the gallery’s fifth anniversary – will be marked by its second group exhibition. Curated by Jan Tumlir, Morbid Curiosity will feature the works of four artists, Tom Allen, Kristian Burford, Julian Hoeber and J.P. Munro, who are all recent graduates of the MFA program at Art Center in Pasadena. These artists, who are defined by a renewed interest in psychology, figuration, and pre-modernist history, were brought together in the first Morbid Curiosity exhibition in September 2001 at ACME. in Los Angeles. It was the first exhibition for all of them in that city, except for J.P.Munro. The exhibition at I-20 is an expanded and refined version of the first vision of Morbid Curiosity.

A catalogue (No.16), which has received support from the Art Center College of Design, will be forthcoming.

If we can distinguish between the gallery and the museum artist, then the recent Art Center grads featured in Morbid Curiosity – Tom Allen, Kristian Burford, Julian Hoeber and J.P. Munro – tend more toward the latter. Whereas the gallery artist pushes forward, blazing a trail toward The Real, The New or merely fashionable, the museum artist falls back to find in history and its representations a kind of refuge. A languorous decadence prevails among these four. Together their works evidence an informed backsliding and immersion in particular moments of cultural degeneracy and/or decline, in forms and sensibilities culled neither from the glorious beginning nor end of the modernist timeline, but the vague midpoints where the art-historical plot begins to unravel. Not so much “Manet through Synthetic Cubism and Matisse,” as per Michael Fried’s famous characterization of the modernist trajectory, these artists reconsider the “terms of the gradual withdrawal of painting from the task of representing reality – or of reality from the power of painting to present it.” Here it is rather the evolutionary slumps, wrong turns and dead-ends that gain precedence. Lapsed avant-gardes, rappels a l’ordre and an evermore frenetic succession of revivalisms – Gothic, Baroque, Romantic, Symbolist and Surrealist – merge into an alternately musty and acrid brew, further spiced up with comic book intrigue, pulp pornography and the cathartic mayhem of B-grade paracinema.

Many or most of the works in Morbid Curiosity operate on the paradoxical principle of the double- negative: inertia rendered inertly, flatness rendered flatly, contortions contorted, lies told by liars…. What it adds up to is a possibility, at least, or reversal. In regard to both form and substance, style and subject, the pervasive presence of death “twice over” raises doubts in the mind of the beholder, but these are inherent as well to the image and object in this case. What draws these artists together is not only a tendency toward complexly perverse narrative, but the withdrawn and shallow sense of space within which it unfolds. This space is, in every instance, ambiguous: at once private (literally intimate and/or psychologically infected) and insistently “on view,” as though composed expressly for the benefit of a voyeuristic public. The role of the observer and the route of the gaze is somehow anticipated by the proposed scene or tableau in a way that changes the border outside and in, rendering it compulsive.

J.P. Munro’s febrile depictions of ostentatious interiors – galleries, cabinets, parlours, etc. – project the viewer elsewhere in time and space, only to replace her/him right back before the work as a kind of occult mirror. These sharply delineated yet still somewhat vague, tentative drawings and paintings represent an historical culture of almost devastating richness within a unified space that is, at the same time, weightless and fading, as though glimpsed through an opium haze.

Julian Hoeber also inhabits his medium, in this case film, as a parallel universe of wish-fulfillment flickering between artifice and actuality. Hoeber’s films are further complicated by the various objects that he derives from them – sculptural props, “production still” photographs and drawings – that initially appear to be at cross- purposes, neither wholly committed to the fictive order of their source nor to a more distanced, documentary overview of its making. But, in time, it becomes apparent that this ambivalence is precisely the point as well of the films to which they allude, and which could be said to literally encode an understanding of the factual basis of film-making.

In cinema, a forever dawning consciousness of POV may initiate a repositioning of subjectivity from out there in the world to inside this or that person’s head. This question of whose eyes one is now looking through also haunts Tom Allen’s paintings which, in keeping with their Romantic precedents, depict a convulsive middle- ground, not just between objective and subjective perception of a particular landscape or scene, but between a view “out” into the deep space of nature and the pre-flattened, already-represented view “in” to the cultural archive.

Implied violence, sexual perversity and outright nastiness are indulged for their own titillating sake in Kristian Burford’s most recent sculptural tableau – a to-scale room enfolding an oddly eroticized scenario between a partially naked woman and a cat . They are also used to dramatize the course of the gaze as it winds its way through what is, ultimately, a complex viewing system. Made to peer through a gap in the curtains, and provided with only a partially satisfying view, the observer is positioned emphatically outside, though not as a form of punishment. Here and elsewhere it is precisely the obstructions and impediments to our view of the “big picture” that are the source of our pleasure, one that can be described neither as sensual not intellectual, even as it falls somewhere in between.

- Jan Tumlir

Tom Allen currently has a solo show at Richard Telles Fine Art in Los Angeles. Julian Hoeber has an upcoming solo show at Blum & Poe in Santa Monica. Kristian Burford, who is from South Australia, moved to Los Angeles in 2000. His installation, Kathryn, is reproduced in the spring 2002 issue of artext. J.P. Munro will have solo shows at China Art Objects in Los Angeles, and Sadie Coles H.Q. in London.

Jan Tumlir is an L.A.-based art writer who teaches art theory and film criticism at Art Center and Cal Arts. He is a contributing editor at artext and the regional quarterly Extra, and his articles appear regularly in Artforum.

Morbid Curiosity
Kurator: Jan Tumlir

mit Tom Allen, Kristian Burford, Julian Hoeber, JP Munro