One of my favorite occurrences in the Art world is when an artist acknowledges the viewers’ expectations, and actively denies them. In a time seemingly ruled by art with the highest sensational value, I can’t help but root for the heroic and/or obstinate people unabashedly making minimalist conceptual art that allows for none of the easily digestible catharses one might hope for. This is not to say that the work is underdeveloped or shallow; I think a closed door holds as much if not more mystery, potential narrative and freedom to expand upon than an open door through which we can clearly see everything. It is the same “closed door” potential that completely saturates Edits, the current exhibition of Jason Kraus’s work at Jessica Silverman Gallery.
Inside the gallery, the installation is seductively minimal and almost entirely monochromatic. Extracted pieces of Kraus’s studio walls hang mounted in frames, the dry-wall marked with the charcoal smudges and traces of the artist’s process. A large-format, b&w photograph titled An Empty Space documents the void created by hundreds of drawings made on Kraus’s studio wall, where the charcoal that escaped the paper’s surface marks off the edges of the absent pieces of paper. The Serra-esque drawing board learning in a corner reinforces the trompe l’oeil effect of An Empty Space; the two objects acting as the signifier and signified of something that is much more abstract than the expected tangibility of a sign, such as a chair.
The real star of the show, however, is the pairing of two wooden crates locked with combination locks, and a framed envelope that Kraus mailed to Jessica Silverman, the gallery owner. Completely unassuming, the crates (probably) hold all the drawings that we see the traces of in the surrounding works. The corresponding envelope contains the combination that opens the locks on the crates. This is a simple enough concept: there is a lock, and there is a combination that opens the lock. The punch-line is that the two pieces may never be acquired by the same person, ensuring that the drawings will never be revealed. Now, I have to admit that the inner-brat in me loves this restriction. As I see it, basically Kraus is saying, “Oh, you wanted to see the art we’re talking about? Too bad.” Of course, the work absolutely should not be pigeon-holed in the sort of school-yard teasing with which I indulgently associate it. The dialog between the works in the show also heavily references the performative act of making art, emphasizing that the process can hold just as much importance as the final product.
Edits is not a show for anyone looking for an easy entry point or sensational reward from the viewing experience. It is not obvious, and demands that viewers release their typically tight grasp on what part of the art-making process we think should be presented. It is also not overly pretentious; the work does not pretend to be something that it’s not. Instead, Kraus expands the aura of the show through omission, and shows the viewer, “This is what I want you to think about.”
Edits is on view at Jessica Silverman Gallery from 7 September–20 October, 2012.