Eureka, 2009. Paper mounted on wood.
In art, as in life, there exist degrees of having. In reflecting on the endless hungers for more, the inevitable human consequence of having less, one sees not only a unfortunate abundance of shortage in those who want, but also a reluctance in those who have to share that distances people and invites resentment. In life we have among other things monetary wealth, material ownership and health; in art, which is also life, we have knowledge, cultural patent or originality and contacts. In art and life, age and loss bring a temptation to hold harder to the privileges that remain. The human custom for hoarding happiness infects every culture and every aspect of ‘culture’ as the powerful find ways to bar the weak or the young. But perhaps this cycle can be broken. Perhaps we can grow old and give things away.
In a village in lowland Nepal (one example of many such communities) lives a community comprised of seasonal agricultural workers joined together by the common ground of poverty. They have no doors that lock, hardly a possession beyond handfuls of rice, and yet they still find ways to divide themselves into haves and have-nots. Among these various divisions – married women and widows, high caste families and untouchables, those with livestock and those without – is the division of color. Oftentimes color – dye for clothes and powder for hair – is reserved for those who qualify for certain prestige. Used to signify happiness, to promote the particular value (such as marriage) heralded by the community, color is earned and bestowed ceremoniously, used in great abundance at certain times of year yet also coveted. Those denied color are shamed, outcast by the majority.
Alpha and Omega, 2009. Paint, wood and mirrors.
In art, this kind of mental or imagined poverty is rife. Lines are drawn between peers and institutions; the progress of high culture it seems comes with an equally high price: that of snobbery. There are many who do not consider what Jen Stark does to qualify as contemporary art. For those people her work lacks reason, layering and contextual depth. Despite her dedication the ‘wow’ or ‘Disney Land’ factor of her work leaves critics skeptical and distracts them from being able to plumb her creations for an appraisable standard or intelligence. Even though she sells well, is exhibited abundantly and is developing as much as many other Miami based artist she still finds herself under fire – often for little more than being too popular.
Tunnel Vision, 2009. Wood sculpture with moving kaleidoscope and mirrors inside.
Her most recent exhibition, The Beginning of the End, currently on view at LMAK projects (139 Eldridge Street, New York, NY 10002) offers up exactly what we have come to expect from Stark: bright colors, eye boggling configurations, geometric sculptural forms. Again, no doubt, this exhibition has sadly been conscientiously ignored by all but those who skirt the cultural periphery imagined by those who place themselves at its fictitious center. Her work has a strong following of awestruck non-art world admirers and graphic art sympathizers, but in the fortress of cultural elitism, high above the level of the clouds, they do not speak her name. Just like the village in Nepal we are divided, except here instead of color (unfortunately for Stark who has an abundance) status is ascribed by virtue of implacable yet equally theoretical units of academic worth that even those who pride themselves in being able to weigh by eye have difficulty to keeping track of.
The Beginning of the End, 2009. Ink on paper.
Perhaps Stark does not have the ‘metal’ to compete with the expectations of those who disparage their peers, perhaps she does, but one thing is certain: by virtue of being on the outside of the exclusivity of elitism she is at least in the majority. Fortunately or unfortunately however, unlike life, there is no war in art and numbers, hits on a blog or headcounts at openings aren’t equivalent to infantry or suggestive of a victory. Those who say they “love your work” will not lay down their lives so that you might continue making it and likewise, those who say “this is not good art” will probably not fight to put an end to it. What gives art its value is its ability to contribute to an ongoing dialogue – a significant developing understanding of not just creativity, but also mankind’s consciousness and ability to think in multiple dimensions. Stark’s work invites discussion on the nature of creation, of man-made and natural forms, infinity and ultimately our common affection for simulacra and the conscious aping of beauty. She focuses in on our desire to be enthralled by that which is not real, but which could easily be alive. Truth as we find it, the human experience as Stark and Baudrillard posit, is a man-made wonderland in which all art, whether produced by old masters or Miami contemporaries, shares a common ground in unreality.
Ironically in the end it seems to be Stark’s color which alienates her. Unlike the village in Nepal, unlike life, in art we are not judged by virtue of what we are not allowed to possess, but rather by the ways in which we use what we already have. And so we continue producing and bickering and making our petty divisions of little more than cerebral imaginings and magic beans, but for how long? We may have only dreamt it, but there seems to be a change in the wind, new cards on the table and reassessments today in many facets of existence. If life and art has been a march toward owning more and having less, perhaps both can now also walk backward in their tracks, creating riots of inexplicable compassion, spinning straw into gold[.]
Jen Stark’s first Manhattan solo show The Beginning of the End ends June 21st.