Rental Gallery is pleased to present new work by Brooklyn- based artist Oliver Clegg for his first solo exhibition in New York City, on the ground floor of the Metal Shutter Houses project. Euclid’s Porsche is comprised of 150 paintings of Happy Meal Toys sourced from eBay seller photographs found online. The opening reception will be on Tuesday, May 1 from 6 to 8pm.
The artist recreates, as oil paintings, the photos eBay sellers take of their objects, honoring the original size, composition, and color of the found image. By subverting the intent of these amateur photographers—by elevating their photographs to art—the artist adds value to their often nonchalant attempts to make a sale. These paintings are intimate and wistful, reflecting the sentimental affection we have for seemingly worthless plastic we valued as children.
British-born Clegg is a conceptual artist who mines the fertile history of the past, particularly found objects, and seeks to imbue these objects with some of their original magic. His work is humorously melancholic, exposing our memories and discarded ephemera as potential sources of symbolism. This exhibition casts the internet as an open source photography album where everyone can mine memories that aren’t their own.
The exhibition is curated by Adam Cohen, who bought Oliver Clegg’s entire MFA degree show in 2005, becoming his first collector. With an abundance of Oliver’s work, and the artist spontaneously decamping to the South West of England, the pair lost touch but reconnected a few years ago when Oliver substituted Wellington boots for sneakers and moved to New York.
Outside NADA New York, Adam ran into his friend and artist Darren Bader who encouraged his walking partner Oliver that “Adam is one of the nicest people in the art world." A studio visit was arranged and a subsequent invitation by Rental Gallery to present the work during Frieze seemed tailor-made – the connection reestablished.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue of the complete works with a text by Darren Bader that offers over a hundred and twenty working titles for the show.
Oliver Clegg has exhibited extensively since graduating in 2005 and has been presented at the Prague, Busan and Venice Biennales as well as showing in the Reykjavik Museum of Modern art, Dox Centre for the contemporary Art and The Saatchi gallery. Anomie has recently published his first comprehensive monograph that was launched at PS1 MoMa in December 2017. His work is in various notable private and public collections.
Adam Cohen is a dealer at Gagosian Gallery, where he has worked for the past 13 years.
Rental Gallery began in 2004 in Los Angeles as a way to bridge the New York and West Coast Art communities, as well as to provide a venue for Flexible and experimental programming, both by local curators and gallerists, and those from out of town.
Text by Darren Bader
LIFE IS A GASSSSS
ERIN CLULEY, DALLAS. 2016.
You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you Don't you? don't you?
...Plays at half speed from a battery powered tape recorder in the corner of an old garage space outside the normal confines of the Erin Cluley Gallery. In the center of the room spins an 18 inch disco ball but as your eyes acclimatize to the dark space inside you realize that it isn’t the normal squares of light that spin on the walls of the small annex space. Alternatively it is thousands of repetitions of the word “me” written in the handwriting of the artist Oliver Clegg.
As I begin to circulate the larger and inversely brighter space of the actual gallery space the pieces of the puzzle begin to slowly come together. With the neon quietly glaring behind me two elements are clear in the paintings that populate the gallery walls painted importantly by an artist born in 1980: they are balloons and they are of well-known popular icons. As I look closer I start to see that the balloons are actually deflating and by looking at all the characters I grasp that they are also characters belonging to a generation that precursors the 21st century in which we now stand. There is no bob the builder, Pepper Pig or Rasta mouse but instead we have Snoopy, Kermit and Mickey mouse. For almost any viewer old enough to engage with the work there cannot fail to be an immediate sense of nostalgic familiarity that is simultaneously balance with sadness – the characters that we have all loved and grown up with are now seemingly in decline.
As I’m standing there in the middle of the gallery I look down to check my phone and realize that I have had 5 emails and 3 text messages, 10 likes on instagram and someone has commented on a photo of mine on Facebook. I’ve also been invited to 3 events around the world and my sister is contacting me on whatsapp. I flick through a few of the messages and get lost in instagram for a few seconds but still manage to look at around 20 images before putting the phone back into my pocket and looking upwards at the work again. In an instant I am able to see with clarity the striking polarity between our engagement with images and in this case cultural icons before and after technology became the lynch pin around which our every day revolves. I question myself immediately – do cultural icons even exist anymore? With great sadness – perhaps for the generations that followed us diving head first into a seductive pool of technology – is this idea that culture has become an unregulated platform in which generations are being fostered by not only many choices but with such incredible efficiency that there is now no time for either real engagement or any opportunity to engage on a profound level. In my generation this was different – you had options but the options weren’t so multifarious that you would end up not giving thought or care to any of them. We now seemingly live in a culture of options with no guidance on offer. Mickey is no longer important and the Kermit’s interest in miss Piggy is completely irrelevant to a generation of cyber-worldly individuals brought up not to believe in something but to believe in nothing.
I now see the eponymous neon piece that writes “life is a gasssss” again in the artist’s own handwriting - in a different light. Firstly I have now seen the artist has made two texts pieces that are hand written – a casual and somewhat humorous nonchalance that now pushes me to think about an era where the computer was a clumsy and useless addition to our methods of communication and where qwerty was more often confused as dance move than the definition of Latin script on the keyboard. But what is interesting about this piece is also this balance of humor and seriousness that we have seen in the paintings and the disco ball. The expression itself is celebratory. It reminds me of my 20s and a carefree attitude. It reminds me of the 90s and MTV music videos. It reminds me of an adolescent apathy that was simply mirroring the apparent naivety of a pre digital cultural climate. But the 5 s’s suggest that this phrase, like the deflating balloons, is also fizzling out – perhaps both in the hands of the adult as he grows from the idealism of his 20s into realizing the actual mortality of his existence but also culturally as we begin to live in a confusing world of unregulated open systems where freedom of speech is married with freedom of information.
I decide to go back out to the small annex again and re-consider the disco ball having now seen all the other work. In a culture of too many options where we are forced to look at ourselves more is the only way to deal with this by coming more narcissistic. Is introversion now exemplified by a false extroversion or have we just all become apparently obsessed with ourselves in order to give some order and stability to the system in which we have to navigate. Or are we searching for a goal that doesn’t really exist like a golden carrot that is actually made of brass.
Text by Oliver Clegg
"Life is a Gasssss” is Oliver Clegg’s first solo exhibition with the gallery and his first solo exhibition in the US.
About Oliver Clegg
Oliver Clegg has shown internationally since graduating in 2007 in Italy, Czech Republic, SouthKorea, Australia, London, New York, Hungary and has been included at the Prague, Busan and Venice Biennales. He has also been included in Museum shows at the Reykjavik Museum of Modern art, Dox Centre for the contemporary Art, the Saatchi gallery, The Busan Modern Art Museum amongst
others. Last year he showed again at the Venice Biennale in a group show curated by the Hermitage Museum in Russia at the Palazzo Franchetti and this year will be included in group show curated by Susanne Van Hagen at S|2 Gallery London. His work is included in many private and public collections including the Getty family, Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, David Roberts, Charles Riva, Fatima and Eskandar Maleki and Deutsch Bank.
About Erin Cluley Gallery
Erin Cluley Gallery is a contemporary art gallery representing emerging and mid-career artists from Dallas and the United States. The gallery presents a provocative program of artists working in both traditional and alternative forms including painting, sculpture, new media, photography, sculptural installation and public intervention.
The 2000 square foot space joined a creative movement in the West Dallas/ Trinity Groves development at the foot of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in West Dallas and has been in operation since 2014.
GALERIE NOLAN JUDIN, BERLIN. 2011
Galerie Nolan Judin, Berlin. 2011
British artist Oliver Clegg (b 1980) has gained a reputation as a multi-faceted artist whose meticu- lously executed works hover between two and three-dimensional disciplines. A masterful draughts- man and skilled painter, Clegg is paradoxically one of the most conceptually minded young artists working today, engaging with language, narrative and memory and drawing from symbolism and surre- alism in his practice.
Playing as he likes to with words in different languages, Clegg found himself returning time and again to: ’berceuse’, the French for lullaby. The word became the genesis for a new body of work and the title for the artist’s first solo show in Berlin. Clegg was struck by the onomatopoeic quality of ‘berceuse’; the way it mimics the soothing sound of a parent coaxing their child into dreamland. Dreams are significant to the artist as a means for creating a space that seems half way between the real and the surreal. And indeed the surrealist notion of ’the harmony of disharmonious elements’ is keenly important to him and evident in this exhibition. By including objects that have strong symbolic mean- ings but that appear to be behaving in ways only comprehensible in this dream world, the artist can introduce a playful element into his work.
Play is a motif that has run throughout Clegg’s practice to date, as exemplified by his paintings of discarded toys, executed on found drawing boards. The objects speak of private nostalgias but evoke commonly held experiences of the moment when the child ’gives up’ a treasured blanket or toy. Though it is the object that disappears, often far more is lost. In his essay, ’Creative Writers and the Daydream’, Freud states that though the fantasy world of childhood is lost to grown ups, it can be kept alive by writers and artists in their work. This is of key importance to Clegg.
Clegg is sensitive to the significance of ordinary objects, transformed in the hands of a writer or an artist. This act of recycling began when Clegg was still at art school. He collected old drawing boards, prizing them for their scratchings and doodles. Clegg likes the fact these come with their own unique histories that relate to somebody else’s life. Emotive objects such as a diary or well-thumbed book, a school desk, blanket box, chess-set or even floorboards from a de-consecrated church, acquire a noble quality in Clegg’s hands. By working with these artefacts, Clegg allows the viewer to wander between narratives and worlds, uniting extant references with new images, or creating entirely new ones, recalling Duchamp: ’it is the onlookers who make the pictures’.
For this exhibition Clegg has produced seven new paintings and a sculpture. The show com- mences with ’Begin’ a wooden cradle with its title carved into its bottom. The cradle is symbolic of the start of life’s journey and, thus its association with death as well as with life, is unavoidable. An empty cradle is also suggestive of the child having grown up. Once it was lulled by its mother to sleep, but now as it moves through childhood, it must settle itself, the night no longer offering a welcome escape from the day, instead bringing an onslaught of dreams.
‘Think of Me’ depicts a double self-portrait of the seated artist viewed from behind. He appears to be looking in a mirror, yet sees not his reflection but the view the observer is confronted with: the back of his head, thus calling into question the artist’s sense of identity. The work is clearly a homage to Magritte but by Clegg painting the image on an assemblage of found mirrors it is as if he is being judged against the others who have looked in these mirrors before him; the work is pregnant with the artist’s sense of emotional conflict, and with the dreams and everyday concerns of all those who have peered into the mirrors.
The German word ‘Zugzwang’ is an international chess term meaning ’you have to make a move’. With his use of chiaroscuro and the posing of the figure in a manner typical of the Italian Baroque, Clegg’s self portrait is both intriguing and sensuous. Painted on the back of fourteen found chess boards, an already loaded surface, the work derives from the premise of conflict: in this case between tragedy and comedy, as attested by the presence of the two masks. Each board has seen many games so it is possible to think about this work as the sum of the energy of multiple minds while simultane- ously reflecting the warring emotions of the artist.
The title ‘In Words Drown I’ is a palindrome, it spells the same backwards as well as forwards. The painting features a girl reaching out to her sleeping self. The depicted scene recalls an example of
reflexive vision given by the phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He challenged Descartes’ claim that because the world is external to the artist, in order to know it, the artist attempts to recreate it. This argument of Descartes gave art history a representationalist understanding of vision and art. Merleau-Ponty challenged this view by claiming that because the artist moves through the world at the same time as looking at it, the world cannot be external to him: he sees both the world - and himself in that world. Merleau-Ponty illustrates his argument through the use of the following paradoxical anal- ogy: if I touch myself, I am both touching and being touched; but both actions are experienced by me. In the case of Clegg’s painting, the subject is reaching out to her sleeping self, the conscious mind sink- ing, or ‘drowning’ in the sub-conscious.
Clegg enjoys word games and ‘Piano Forte’, painted on a dismantled piano, is one such example. Though the title describes the physical essence of the piano, the words also mean ‘soft’ and ‘strong’; per- haps another reference to the dichotomy of the self who finds himself divided between what he thinks and feels and what he can actually express.
The paintings ‘I’ and ‘II’, feature isolated, domestic objects: a floating pillow and a floating chair, painted on floorboards recovered from a demolished church. The fact the chair in ‘II’ is floating suggests it has transcended its normal function and gained a sentimental, even spiritual dimension. Maybe this chair was once associated with a particular owner and is thus imbued with sentimental sig- nificance. That objects can be powerfully emotive signifiers is no surprise but the added component of the objects floating is perturbing, suggestive even of the ascension of the spirit. Again Clegg presents the viewer with a conundrum: the chair is an object associated with grounding the human in earthly space. The pillow in ’I’ on the other hand has an aerial quality. Clegg has identified two of the most essential objects associated with helping the human through day and night. That the chair is another symbol of the conscious mind, and the pillow of the subconscious, is perhaps deliberately unclear, the viewer being again reminded of Duchamp’s phrase concerning his role in the process of looking at art.
‘Plato is a Bore’ concludes the exhibition. The work consists of a dangling puppet painted on a dis- mantled Edwardian school desk. The puppet reminds Clegg of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave which describes a group of people who have been chained to the walls of a cave all their lives. Shadows are cast on the walls by people outside the cave walking by, and over time the cave’s inhabitants ascribe forms to these shadows. It is not until one of the people is freed from the cave that he realises the shad- ows do not constitute reality at all, merely a puppet theatre version of it. Plato’s analogy was intended to explain the importance of knowledge governing sensation. Clegg’s hanging puppet serves to remind the viewer that experience needs to be accompanied by knowledge. The title of this piece could well have been scrawled on the desk itself by a bored schoolboy who has not yet emerged from ‘the cave’.
Oliver Clegg lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Jane Neal