Article Image
Columbia Spectator Staff

What happens when a work transforms what could well be a commercial art piece into a personalized gift? The current exhibition at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies Gallery, "For You," explores this specific transformation. Curator Grayson Cox was inspired to organize this exhibition because of a John Walker painting that was created as a gift for Walker's son. Cox said, "Many artists make things as gifts but this painting is interesting to me because it's a serious investigation, as in a viable commercial piece, but one that was always meant only for his son." Art is usually created for the consumption of the general public, and the display of works that are created for specific people as gifts makes this exhibit unusual. The works displayed in "For You" have inherently lost their commodity value since they have been personalized. "Often, art is made for the artist or to be sold. I am interested in how the transfer of content and value changes depending on if there is or is not an intended audience," Cox said. The five artwork-gifts are displayed around the one-room gallery, and each piece probably would not have been displayed in a public gallery if not for Cox's investigation of the value and production of artworks-as-gifts. Located across the room from the Walker painting that begins the exhibit is Birgit Rathsman's gift-artwork for her father, reflecting the words "for you" in the work, words that are also prominently painted in the Walker piece. To the right of the Rathsman piece, Paul Branca's giant phone card paintings are the least personalized gifts on display here. Each canvas is a giant version of the phone card it contains. Branca noticed that while giving away the paintings to immigrants in Jackson Heights in 2004, people were indeed more likely to pick out the ones containing images that resonated with their own identities. For people with family and friends abroad, the phone cards are their common source of global communication. The images are modeled off the ubiquitous images on the phone cards, and the exact recipient for each painting was unknown. The other gift-artworks on display could be understood as more personalized than the Branca pieces, but Branca's works literally lose value when the phone card expires, thus fitting in with Cox's concept of value in a way that the other works on display do not. Some of the works take the form of historically mass-produced gifts and make these objects into personal forms of exchange. By making his art into individualized postcards, Jesse Weiss transfers value to often valueless objects, and manages to create a special network of exchange through his art. Weiss' personalized postcards are displayed here along with blown-up cell phone photos taken by the recipients of Weiss' postcards. The cell phone photographs record the homes in which Weiss' postcards have been displayed, a testament to the new kind of value taken on by these simple but meaningful gifts. Weiss elevates the medium of the postcard, which is generally viewed as a disposable object, and Weiss's cards are cherished by those who receive them. The artworks displayed reference to the ways people communicate with loved ones: over the phone, through a letter in the mail, by taking a photograph, by painting a picture or wall. The effort of gift-giving results in both a loss and a gain, thus making the gift a fascinating subject to explore. Cox specifically referenced the Bozhkov piece as "a very powerful focal point and a gift to everyone who had the chance to watch him do it." The outcome of the performance component of Bozhkov's work has been left on the gallery floor, below his piece. By displaying these works to the public, Cox has created his own sort of gift for gallery visitors. "I was interested in how the audience could somehow benefit from this," he said. "Maybe they would have a sense that they were witnessing some special kind of exchange once they saw the work and ... ask about the stories behind the pieces, which are all very unique."