Monday night, we started with this little ensemble when looking at how to curate "The Goodwill Biennial," the next gig on deck for Thunder-Sky, Inc. It's a parody of contemporary art-survey biennials across the world, using donated paintings, sculptures, whatever given to the Ohio Valley Goodwill here in Cincinnati as the starting point of a jurying process that includes me, Bill Ross, Matt Distel, Merry Hoefle, Melanie Derrick, Emily Brandehoff, and Antonio Adams. Parodying something as pretentious and serious as a "biennial" is kind of a silly prospect of course, close to shooting million-dollar fish in a million-dollar barrel: those who pursue the biennial lifestyle of course don't give a crap, and those who don't give a crap really don't care. But still satirizing something so contrived and so integral to the way serious art business often gets done (or doesn't get done) gives us a chance to worship at the altar of Pure and Gorgeous Serendipity, as well as the sad and blurry cathedral of Musty-Smelling Ghostliness.
That's definitely the vibe when unpacking donated art: that mildew-enflamed fume, that sad sweet grandma-doesn't-live-here-anymore vapor. In fact, those delicate, precise, dreamy watercolors of 1960s suburban homes surrounded in trees and sunshine had to be unpacked from a mysterious blue suitcase filled with old sketches and photos and prints someone had stuffed into it and locked up tight and sent on its merry way. That blue suitcase mustiness was an entrance into memory, kind of like the marmalade on the cracker moment Proust went on and on and on about. Those drawings have such a tenderness, such a nostalgia, and then Matt located the centrifuge of this whole vortex by grabbing the portrait in the center from off the floor, and there she was: Nancy Kincaide, a name we all brainstormed into being. She was a realtor, a murderess, a vindictive socialite and so on. The painting itself is green and heavy and small, and Nancy's countenance both regal and also beautifully come-hither. By juxtaposing the houses with her circumspect portrait Matt intentionally created a tableau that is easily understood but vast with mystery, story after story spilling out of those dark windows, those water-color driveways.
And that's kind of what the whole show is about, dislocating kitsch from all those tossed-aside, handmade objects and finding a way to take seriously what was recently in a canvas bin inside a large warehouse in Woodlawn. Thankfully all the Goodwill staff were game, and thankfully we have some likeminded souls helping us find our way through. But the sentiment is serious, and as we juxtaposed and figured out where things went on Monday night it all became a little emotional, in the way maybe you might feel helping people escape from a prison-camp: there's an odd and kind of exhilarating freedom to reconfiguring what destiny has tried to create and sustain. This stuff was supposed to be either thrown away or tagged and put on a shelf, and here we were thinking about it, playing with it, introducing ourselves to it in a way that wasn't about anything other than making some kind of moment, or series of moments, happen. That's the ecstasy of pure aesthetics right there, taking what's trashed and forgotten and un-trashing it and remembering it in such a way that poetry and a little bliss coalesce, appear and then disappear.
Nancy Kincaide wholeheartedly agrees. Just ask her.