Chris Succo: Total Recall
Rod Barton Gallery, London
13 September - 20 October 2013
Review by Karl Musson
A key difference between the opposing perspectives of Vasari and Wölfflin is that the former considers the life of the artist be of primary importance in the understanding of artworks, whereas the latter reacts against this and proposes, through what we now call formal analysis, that the artwork itself is all that should be considered - the personal life of the artist being of no relevance to either appreciation or understanding of a given work of art. Initially, these might seem like two diametrically opposing approaches. Chris Succo’s exhibition ‘Total Recall’, at Rod Barton Gallery, could however be said to offer a way of updating this dichotomy.
First sight of ‘Nu Era’ (2013) shows it to be a black stripe on a white background. One would be forgiven for thinking it a painted surface but closer inspection reveals it to be lacquer, and so the first of a number of hybrids is introduced. The use of lacquer quotes fine craft traditions whereas the aesthetic of the piece refers to high modernism and elements thereof, as appropriated by street art. This initial simplicity follows the initial simplicity of the advert-face of advanced capitalism, yet deeper inspection shows previous layers now covered up.
This use of visual quotation is furthered in ‘Higher Education’ (2013). The subject of a beer glass in a bar setting quotes both the bohemian life and the still life, while being a black and white photographic print can be read as a touristic take on a supposed arty look. The title in this context can therefore be read as an ironic encounter with ironic titles - indeed, a text book example of irony would loose its irony unless it were ‘re-ironised’.
‘Beauty Knows No Pain’ (2013) uses a thick top layer of white paint to almost conceal its coloured under-working. As with ‘Nu Era’ multiple layers reveal historical references, such as action painting, and street art. Notably, all three of these works are large-scale wall pieces in a small gallery. Furthermore, they touch on movements which were once avant-garde but are now historical. Perhaps because of this, one could easily overlook a discreet steel rectangle as a piece of the building which was not white-cubed. ‘Untitled’ (2013) is a powder-coated steel tube which runs from floor to ceiling. As an intervention, it reminds us of how easy it is to look only at that which is presented to us on walls. Indeed, ‘Viewing Bench’ (2013) is also part of the exhibition, rather than gallery furniture.
A question Vasari did not address is what does art tell us about the state of broader society’ While this may not initially seem any less anthropocentric than Vasari’s perspective, the question might become not what does the artist’s life tell us about the work, but what does the work tell us about the type of people making work, and in turn, what does that tell us about broader society’ One possible answer is that closer inspection always reveals more layers.