Jesse Wine’s solo exhibition ‘Young man red’ (2014) at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art presents a day in the life of the artist, like a series of ceramic Instagram posts. The installation consists of three giant mobiles implying the presence of an invisible artist by various hats, a red gilet, shorts and trainers. Each tableaux deals with an aspect of the artist’s everyday life, from eating a pasta meal, choosing footwear from his trainer collection, and making artwork. The curation of the installation plays with notions of museological display and the theatrical spectacle of contemporary everyday life. Yet are these representations of the artist an examination of our mediated day-to-day lives, or is it a stage for examining the act of making art?
Central to Wine’s exhibition is the disputed status of ceramics within a ‘fine art’ gallery space and the association of clay with craft. However, Wine evades this bind by allowing glazes and oxides to mix, firing at different temperatures and allowing uncertainty to influence structures, eschewing the precision and reproducibility of craftsmanship. In doing so, Wine recalls the work of artists such as Peter Voulkos, Kenneth Price and John Mason, who also used ceramics as the central medium to produce their work. Like Voulkos, Price and Mason, Wine uses ceramics to re-engage with a formative creativity, which through clay, explores a tactile world of things seemingly without irony or critical scrutiny. To this end ‘Young Man Red’ recalls not only Alexander Calder’s mobiles, but also ‘Le Cirque de Calder’ (1961), a fully working model of a circus made from wire and wood, and featuring kinetic contortionists and sword swallowers, which revels in the immersion of childish play.
Wine seems to re-evoke the early modern romantic notion of the ‘artist’; that of an individual with unique access to a simpler and less problematic perception of the world. However, this position is itself problematic in the context of Western Art historical discourse, which pits the idealised image of an artist against their actual context, in what Gerhard Richter terms ‘Capitalist Realism’. Where Wine critically places himself in this contemporary paradigm is unclear, but just as the toll of colonial reality can not be disentangled from Gauguin’s idealised depictions of Tahiti, nor can the modes and methods of global capital be unread from Wine’s installation at BALTIC. Although this position is not specific to ‘Young man red’, it is particular to all claims of free agency by artists and institutions that operate in the global contemporary art world, and therefore should not be ignored.