It Means It Means! Is an illustrated exhibition of Charles Avery’s imagined world. The show takes place at the fictional Museum of Art Onomatopoeia on ‘The Island,’ but can only be witnessed at Pilar Corrias Gallery, London.
Writer and Curator, Tom Morton was given the blueprints of Onomatopoeia to curate a show resembling artworks from ‘our’ art history. Without the curatorial constraints of a budget, he chose famous artworks by leading contemporary artists from Jeff Koons to Antoine Watteau.
Avery created a series of vivid drawings showing the Islanders interaction to the art. Each illustration tells a story. It dawned on me that the effect created is similar to the sequence of scenes within a film. I began to familiarise with Onomatopoeia’s Islanders, particularly those in distinctive clothing who reappear in different drawings. I looked at them, looking at art I recognised, and began to identify with them. I was becoming extremely self-aware. How clever, I thought!
You see, there are elements of Avery’s drawings that are incomplete or where a famous piece of artwork is supposed to be represented, but is in the viewers blind spot. I scanned the next illustration in the sequel for a loophole in perspective, but to my eyes, there wasn’t any.
The absent elements are yet to be constructed, but there is nothing stopping the viewer from imagining what could be here or there for instance. On closer inspection, the absent represents the future and the past is ‘our’ art history. But by merging the fictional and the real, Avery has also transcended physical space. His illustrations communicate that time and space are infinite. According to Avery, It Means It Means! is an axiom — pure subjectivity independent of meaning.
Artfully deceptive his concept maybe, but the coherence of each blueprint — the detail of the Islanders — and the symbology borrowed from ‘our’ art world, adds credibility and function to the narrative. The social dynamic created at Pilar Corrias is as much a referent, as it is a complement, to its imaginary counterpart. This is the true meaning of “art imitating life imitating art.”
It is therefore no coincidence that the viewer mirrors the Islanders, because the spectacle or art becomes the viewers social experience. Avery is the conduit or to refer to my earlier simile, the director of the social experience. Imagine the viewer as an actor. His/her interaction lends energy to Avery’s fictional world giving it ‘life,’ which is quintessential to the verisimilitude his illustrations portray.
If energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but is variable, then it is logical to assume It Means It Means! offers no conclusion. Avery has created a social ‘experiment’ that can be shared and interpreted irrespective of language, class, culture or gender with limitless outcomes! Therefore, the artist/curator/director’s ‘narrative’ is an interactive, open-ended, work in progress.
There are two ways to objectively view Avery’s concept. I shall start with enthusiasm and build toward cynicism to be in keeping with the theme of paired association.
Any artist/curator that is able to dissolve the obstacles of art-making and the curatorial process already has my attention. However, to take the viewers interaction and turn it into art, whilst simultaneously heightening their self-awareness, is truly creative — I’d even go as far as to say genius.
But what happens when someone peeks behind the curtain? Most people won’t because they’ll be too enwrapped in heightened self-awareness. But if you do, you’ll see Avery blurring the lines, for it is he who is the true star of the show. After all, the viewer is a means to an end in Avery’s social ‘experiment’. It’s like that scene in The Wizard of Oz when the curtain falls away and the characters realise that the Great Oz is just an ordinary man. Anyway, for at least 90% of that film the characters and audience believe otherwise — perpetuating the myth.
The point I’m about to make will seem portentous. What if It Means It Means! means nothing at all? What if it’s a clever marketing ploy that uses subtle audience coercion to push Avery’s agenda? The next question is what agenda is that? Earlier I touched on themes of symbology and repetition breeding familiarity. But when that symbology is the iconic art of contemporary artist, most of whom are ‘social experience or experiment’ leaders, and most of whom can lay claim to creating the most expensive art in history (e.g In November 2013, Jeff Koons became globally famous when ‘Ballon Dog’ sold for $58.4 million) — then the plot thickens.
It Means It Means! Pilar Corrias Gallery, London. November 20 2013 – January 11 2014