Creative Growth vs Anne Collier / Trisha Donnelly / Chris Johanson / Nate Lowman / Laura Owens
By Anton Stuebner
September 24, 2014
Creative Growth Art Center
July 10 – August 15, 2014
What does it mean to “author” a work? And how does an artist’s creative practice both engage with and react against the work of others? The 40th anniversary exhibition at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, Creative Growth vs Anne Collier / Trisha Donnelly / Chris Johanson / Nate Lowman / Laura Owens, raises these questions through work that investigates—and confounds—assumed limits of collaborative practice and authorship.
Since its inception, Creative Growth has provided a space for artists with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities to produce new work through open access to materials and instruction. The oldest and largest art center of its kind in the United States, its program inspired similar centers for artists with disabilities both domestically and abroad.
For its 40th anniversary, Creative Growth invited White Columns director Matthew Higgs, a longtime supporter, to curate an exhibition of work produced on site in conjunction with five artists based in New York. The concept was straightforward: Higgs commissioned each artist to produce a black-and-white image, which was then screen-printed in an edition of fifty. Next, these prints were presented to the artists at Creative Growth. The artists were instructed to select a print and were given no formal directives other than to respond to the image on the paper. The unframed hand-worked prints were hung with binder clips and nails in a grid against two walls, with no identifying labels.
Higgs described the final works as “collisions,” and in viewing the pieces at once, the metaphor is apt. Without the familiar cues (placards, text) to guide the eye, the sharp juxtapositions between prints of colors, shapes, and hues create a field of constant visual rupture. That sensorial assault effectively explains the exhibition’s title, the preposition “versus” indicating a violent contrast, even resistance, between two opposing forces.
Each print becomes, in effect, a test case in the limits and/or possibilities of collaborative image making. A few of the artists reject outright the base image: John Mullins, for example, all but ignores Trisha Donnelly’s black-and-white photo print of a clouded sky, covering it with his own full-color painting of a bridge during rush-hour traffic. By contrast, Cedric Johnson’s over-paint of swatches of green and red between the arcs of Nate Lowman’s bull’s eye (a sly reference to his own “bullet hole” installations) plays on Lowman’s use of line and numerology, the layers of abstract color fields covered with handwritten equations that engage with the original’s use of numbers while still preserving its integrity.
In eschewing conventional notions of collaboration, these works raise questions about genealogies of making and the ways in which practitioners both consciously and unconsciously engage with the work of other practitioners. The horizontality of authorship here, however, owes less to appropriation and more to mash-up cultures in music. In the end, the presumed boundaries between one practitioner and another—as well as the presumed boundaries between the “disabled” and “able-bodied”—become blurred. The sum of the collision is greater than its parts.