Monday, June 27, 2011

“Another Kind of Vapor”

by Laura E. Barone

Another Kind of Vapor
White Flag Projects, St. Louis, MO
June 18-July 23, 2011

As you open the door to White Flag’s gallery space, first the smell, and then the sight, of peanut butter hits you. The group show, featuring nine artists and work from 1965 to the present, is full of surprisingly pleasing twists like this that epitomize, literally, “temporary art.”

William Pope.L. #188F 3.17.06 Another Kind of Vapor. 2006. Mixed Media. 5"x5". Photograph courtesy White Flag Projects.

The first work on the right, William Pope L.’s Commercial Work (2011) is a large canvas, leaned up against the wall, and propped up by liquid detergent bottles, and is thickly smeared with the stuff, along with paint and coffee, outlining block letters that read ORANGE PEOEPLE ARE DETERGENT. While the peanut butter lends a kind of nostalgic Americana to the work, making it both approachable and loveable, the words alert us to something darker, something akin to racism. If orange people are detergent (a statement made based on the color of the detergent bottles), what, if we are purely going by the color of mass-produced objects, ‘are’ white people or black people? And, knowing that products and their advertising schemes and associations come and go, why does prejudice seem the most lasting thing about this piece?

Ed Ruscha. Pepto-Caviar Hollywood. 1970. Two-color Screenprint on Copper Deluxe Paper, Printed with Pepto-Bismol and Caviar: 14 7/8"x41 5/8". Photograph courtesy White Flag Projects.

The artworks in “Another Kind of Vapor,” carefully curated by Jenny Gheit and John McKinnon, address a variety of artistic and cultural themes, but the artists are linked most by their ambitious experiments with non-traditional materials and their rejection of objectification of art by purposefully making works where the concept is just as or more important than the piece produced. Medium and subject are often compliments, as in Ed Ruscha’s screen-print Pepto-Caviar Hollywood (1970) where the infamous Hollywood sign, printed onto the paper with its title’s namesake, fades with time as do the hopeful stars that filter through the town year after year.

Dieter Roth: Untitled (Invitation for Staple Cheese (A Race)). Designed 1969, signed 1980. Ink on Paper. 5"x5". Photograph courtesy White Flag Projects.

At the center of the space is a case containing official, formal documents from the Los Angeles County Health Department and letters to three art museums–not, at first glance, typical gallery fare. But the documents are in regard to Dieter Roth’s Untitled (Invitation for Staple Cheese (A Race)) (1969). Here, Roth exhibited suitcases full of cheese in a Los Angeles Gallery until, due to the smell and insects (the flies that died for the sake of art in this project are exhibited as well) the whole thing had to be shut down, leaving only photographs, letters from the Bureau of Environmental Sanitation, and a sort of legend, left behind–all encompassing ‘the work’ of art.
Don’t leave without making your way to the back of the exhibition space and letting yourself be mesmerized by Jennifer West’s vivid short film, Regressive Squirty Sauce Film (2007), a 16mm film leader squirted and dripped with chocolate sauce, ketchup, mayo, and apple juice, filmed so that the shots rapidly change. Because of the intriguing colors and texture created by the materials, there is a strangely calming quality amidst the speed, rather than a restless effect. A sense of calm also exudes from Robert Heinecken’s four Vanishing Photographs (1973), small, bluish, haunting photographs, unfixed silver gelatin prints that are reminiscent of the lithe quality of experimental early nineteenth century photography, but with a deliberate sophistication. Photography’s traditional association with death is aptly captured here – as the people in the photograph age, so does the photograph itself, relishing in its inevitable connection to humanness and the cycle of life.

Jennifer West. Regressive Squirty Film. 2007. 16mm Film Leader Transferred to DVD, 3.36 minutes. Photograph courtesy White Flag Projects.

The works presented here do not have to be read as difficult and obscure conceptual works; rather, they are democratic in their approach to material, making the art more accessible and more inviting to a deeper reading and physical enjoyment than an obviously more elite, and often alienating, approach that some later conceptual work has had.

Another Kind of Vapor” continues at White Flag Projects at 4568 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, MO through July 23, 2011. White Flags is free & open to the public Wednesday 12-7 p.m., Thursday 12-5 p.m., Friday 12-5 p.m., Saturday 12-5 p.m., and by appointment.

Laura Barone is currently completing her Master's Degree in Art History with a focus on contemporary photography. She is also serving as a curatorial intern at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis. For comments or inquiries, e-mail her at

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