Your Name Here
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
January 30 – June 5, 2011
James Esber will present two recent bodies of work that continue his preoccupation with distorting the familiar in his exhibition Your Name Here, on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum from January 30 to June 5, 2011.
The first part of the exhibition is an extension of an ongoing initiative entitled This is not a portrait and will feature over one hundred ink drawings made by people the artist invited to translate one of his own drawings of Osama bin Laden into a work resembling the original, but revealing each participant’s hand. Both participants and viewers are induced to momentarily forget the familiar original image, questioning the concept of artistic authorship.
The media has a tendency to distort reality, and this distortion is most extreme in the case of individuals who primarily inhabit media space, with bin Laden perhaps a prime example. Curator Richard Klein notes, “By utilizing the title This is not a portrait, Esber connects the meaning of the project to Rene Magritte’s famous painting La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe). Magritte pictures a pipe, together with the written disclaimer, ‘This is not a pipe,’ to archly remind us of the difference between the actual thing and its depiction.”
The exhibition will also include six new portrait-based works that utilize Esber’s technique of “painting” in colored Plasticine clay, blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture. They focus on individuals whose momentary fame has been attained in fleeting media obsession, such as “Balloon Boy” Falcon Heene and heroic pilot “Sully” Sullenberger, pushing representation to the breaking point with turbulent, psychedelic distortion that subverts our memory of each subject’s identity as furnished by the media.
Esber’s choice of subjects depends on whether their media presence resonates with him in an interesting way and/or if their physical appearance suggests a fruitful avenue to follow in constructing a new portrayal. Klein says, “The artist’s modus operandi is taking what we think we know (do any of us really know Sully Sullenberger?) and submitting it to a process where our lack of real knowledge becomes the subject itself.”
Esber believes that, in an age dominated by media, everyone has a relationship to the images presented, whether or not we have any firsthand experience of the events or individuals that generate these images. In both bodies of work in this exhibition the individuals portrayed, whether Sully Sullenberger or Osama bin Laden, flicker and flare: both on our screens and in our consciousness. Esber’s work requires the viewer’s engagement beyond a mere superficial glance.