On the Road Again- For Your Art (August 2010)
A review for an upcoming show of Ovation called "Art Race." Two artists have 40 days to get across the country using only their art as currency.... Displaced from their studio practice and respective galleries, Venice, California based artist Kenny Harris and Ben Sargent from Brooklyn, New York struggle to determine the value of their work to use as currency in the non-art world… that is the environ not privy to their talent or well versed in art. Thus the first question posed by Art Race, what is the use of value of art when created in the streets? Be it in front of the MOCA or on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Is art worth more when housed inside an institution, or does it share an equal value when the artist is divorced from such established spaces and works on the road, and on the fly? Art Race challenges the elasticity of the artist’s studio practice, forcing them to recognize that there is a direct relationship between the creation of an original work and shelter, food, and transportation. No longer can they rely on the buoy of the gallery or art dealer who negotiates the intrinsic and historical value of a work with collectors. Art Race injects the barter system back into contemporary culture. The notion of creating art for transportation or food is humbling to witness. Above all the show invites us to share in the artists’ willingness to sleep on kitchen floors or on park benches in the name of their craft.
Watching Kenny Harris render delicate portraits on a small notepad using ink and watercolors of passerby’s in Manhattan demonstrates his confidence in his craft and an uneasiness that comes when he quotes a price. After creating a portrait of a small dog the overjoyed owner asks “how much?” and Harris struggles to find an answer. Empathetic to the artist’s long journey ahead, the man discreetly folds a $100 bill and hands it to Harris, who immediately lights up like a jack o’lantern.
Meanwhile across the country, Sargent creates what he calls “chowder” or a concoction of plastic soldiers and thick globs of paint, mixed together with heavy-duty glue. Setting up a makeshift studio space outside the entrance of the MOCA, Sargent lays down a sheet of plastic, rolls ups his jeans and begins working as if he were in his own studio space. A cross between something that hints at Pollock and Rauschenberg, the canvases catch the eye of an Italian tourist whose wife has an affinity for the uber modern and abstract. The couple walks away with the three panels after paying a negotiated price of $1000. While the works were created in front of the MOCA, one can’t help but speculate if the pieces will ever make it inside.
Art Race confronts the value of art as it varies from state to state, (even Harris wonders how his figurative portraits will fair in the mid-west). The 40-day challenge forces the artists to adapt to their changing environment, negotiate their vision for the materials that are available to them and create works with a mass appeal. Moreover it reconnects the artist usually a hermit inside their studio and brings them to the streets and among the people.