That Didn't Work: A Review
by Debbie Ebanks Schlums
On Friday November 22nd, doubleBread held a Salon des Refuses in answer to Southern Exposure’s juried show This Will Never Work. Both exhibitions question what it means for an arts organization to jury a show essentially predicated on failure. Were the greatest failures chosen for the Southern Exposure show, or were the more successful ones? Curated by Melissa Miller, the unjuried show That Didn’t Work currently installed at CCA, includes artists from CCA, SFAI, UC San Jose, and other members of the community.
That Didn’t Workis hung salon-style with twenty-nine two-dimensional works on two walls, and ten three dimensional works placed on the floor. Above the doorway of the exhibition space, “doubleBread” is scrawled by hand on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper and hung inverted over the doorframe. It is an eclectic show with little to unify the work except for the artist’s perceived lack of success. The sheer number of works tends to overwhelm the small space, and time lapses before I can consider individual pieces, but then I realize the dissimilitude between the tightly hung works compel me to observe each piece more carefully. It is a curatorial tactic that proves effective, at least for me.
With each work now regarded individually, I began to contemplate the criteria to determine what made one work a successful failure or not. Indeed, how does one judge failure? The strength of this exhibition is that it showcases work that is experimental in nature, where the artist is taking risks, but not always succeeding. A sculpture by Francesca Cozzone of what looks like an explosion in a microwave oven underscores this risk-taking. What transpired in the microwave? Under what conditions? The concrete block and its contents – polyurethane studded with wood shavings, contrast with the remains of a previous explosion within the oven. There is no way to discern whether the explosion was intentional or not, and as a work of art, the tension is emphasized in this piece.
In the middle of the large wall, a cluster of works suggesting violence – a severed roasted fowl, a saw, and other sharp objects – provoke the eye to move around and between them. A group of portraits staring back at the viewer add to the sense of uneasiness. A large text piece by the curator Melissa Miller, feminism?, dominated the back wall, although it is balanced by Britt Accoelli’s oddly hung paper work. feminism? does not shy away from the fact that it forcefully exists and demands its own space.
A variety of forms and materials were represented by the sculptural works– from Nicholas McCullough’s crafted bronze sledge hammer in a walnut frame that seemed to deny its own function by swinging only one way, to a collection of plastic ready-made (mostly operating) dancing flowers by Carlos Franco. A second studio was used by Sam Mell to perform a series of markings on paper taped to the wall. He then invited others to duplicate the series thereby activating the space.
As a classic response to rejection by art jury, That Didn’t Work pokes fun at the process and is an apt response to a juried exhibition in which failure marks the criteria.