The Curator's Eye
Decline and Fall and a Rising Star
Selected by Charles and Amanda Kitchings, owners, Ambach & Rice Gallery
Isle of Man, 2009; Conception in Parts, 2009; acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches; photos by Eric Fisher
Grant Barnhart had the most spectacular Seattle debut of 2008, and he’s one of the few who actually sold something at the big U.S. art fair in Miami last month. Now his reputation rides on his new show, Beg For It, which is made up of works made during the Great Recession.
In the far corner of Ambach & Rice Gallery, the Roman emperor Commodus eyes a big ape. “You’ve got the inflatable gorilla on one side, representing a more disposable current market,” says Barnhart, “versus the marble bust of Commodus, showing the falls of two different empires.” He spotted the blue ape atop a building off I-5 north of Seattle and had to paint it. “Instead of us building these marble busts to last for the history of time and trying to put some elegance on it, we make an inflatable gorilla that gets thrown on top of a building.” It signifies power, money, empire. “But it can be popped with a pin, so it has this strange vulnerability.”
“Were the U.S. to be wiped off the map tomorrow,” says curator Charles Kitchings, “people would look back and try to piece together what our society was about. They’d find things like this plastic ape. Was this for some sort of ritual?” Actually, it advertised a storage unit. “It has this inherent emptiness,” says Kitchings, “so it’s advertising that. With the economy, there’s all this money being printed, and at some point we’re going to take that money out of the economy. It’s an interesting metaphor for inflation.”
“Commodus is sort of looking down a little disapprovingly,” observes Barnhart. “He seems to be a fitting symbol of failure.” The show is full of macho figures facing paradox, glory and failure: toothless, vicious nfl great Jack Lambert, a Cyclops, a transsexual exhibitionist, Goya’s effeminate Charles III in a gladiator’s helmet. “The recurring theme is the idea of perfection, achieving something,” says Barnhart. “There’s inevitably going to be a fall.” And does he fear falling from his newfound fame? “I actually never do – my success comes in my studio. I try not to let outside opinions dictate. I have my own rules.”