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Dead air at the Henry Gallery

There are moments when the correct answer to the question – What are you thinking? – is nothing. You’re listening to your stomach gurgle or staring at your shoes, your hands, your sleeping dog.

Public personalities are paid to snap, crackle and pop. Curated by Sara Krajewski, Harry Shearer‘s The Silent Echo Chamber at the Henry Gallery presents them as they wait for the go light and the text prompt. They sit in their seats with nothing to do and no one to share it with.

HarryShearerSeanHannity.jpgSurrounded by dead air, they slump and grow slack. I’d love to see Shearer’s video series paired with Walker Evans‘ subway photos from the late 1930s and early 1940s. Concealing his camera, he took pictures of people who hadn’t bothered to arrange themselves for presentation, even to themselves.

Walker Evans, image via

walkerevanssubway.jpgAnother kind of dead air inhabits SuttonBeresCuller‘s project with the title, Panoptos, taken from panoptic, which means a single, clarifying view. I’d like to think that the horror here is conscious. Alas, listening to the artists hold forth and reading curator Krajewski’s brochure, I fear a sunny-side-up intent.

Panoptos is an interactive installation with 150 works taken from the Henry’s collections that cover the walls, not salon style as much as storage. The lighting is bad, and there is no information about any of the artists, including even their names. Making matters worse is a long vertical apparatus with an LED light that travels in front of everything on view, offering a final and fatal distraction.

Looking gets the audience nowhere. To see what’s allegedly there, they have to leave the gallery and proceed down the hall, where they can operate a joy stick to focus on individual works, again, with no information.

Museums are where we go to see originals. If we want to see reproductions, we can stay at home. The 150 artworks are thus negated to the apparent pleasure of the curator, who is charged with their care.

I can’t think of a more disrespectful show since Marcel Duchamp’s Mile of String in 1942. Asked to participate in a Surrealism retrospective, he draped everyone else’s work in string. Duchamp, of course, intended the insult. Do SuttonBeresCuller? Does it matter? Reverse what they say their intentions are and we’ve got a winner. Either way, I’m on the side of the 150 artworks. From Duchamp to the Seattle trio, subverting the art of others leaves a sour taste.

Online image captures from Panoptos here. So what? What’s lost in these captures is everything.


  1. Ask yourself, as an Artist, where would you like your art to end up after you have suffered your demise? Would you prefer that your creative dreams were stored away in a musty basement room of some prestigious museum or would you want it to wind up in a dustbin at your local thrift store where an unwary (but aware) shopper might happily pick it up and rush it home, proud to hang it upon her wall for all to see? For myself, in all due honesty, I’d prefer the latter. Or perhaps if the future were really kind, maybe to wind up in the helpfull hands of a future MARTIN-ZAMBITO.

  2. Hi Marulis. I should have listed some of the names of artists that the Henry, with this exhibit, is both exhibiting and ignoring: Morris Graves, Joseph Goldberg, Theodore Rousseau, Mark Tobey, Walter F. Isaacs, Ken Kelly, SuttonBeresCuller (yes, their own work), Mark Boyle and family, Kenneth Callahan, Vanessa Beecroft, Fairfield Porter, Ed Pashke, Victoria Haven, Charles Krafft, Richard Gilkey, Alden Mason, Spenser Moseley, Guy Anderson, Jay Steensma, Jamie Walker, Robert Sperry, Mark Calderon, George Stoll, Ken Price, Claire Cowie.

  3. It is sooo nice to have you back and with this article, in all your former glory. BTW, my associates call me Ken, my friends call me Kenny, my teachers and my truant officer called me Marulis and finally, my mother calls me Kenneth. Please don’t call me Kenneth.

  4. And there is no air more dead than the air in the mausoleum like Henry these days. What a loser this one is-and that includes the SBC half baked casserole at that potluck! Ugh! If only the Henry could have spent the money they’ve wasted on advertising this mess towards a decent exhibition. Let’s face it-SBC isn’t cool or smart and the jokes on-well….ALL OF YOU-HA! And “what were you thinking” IS SO RIGHT-but should have been used in addressing the Henry’s BAD decision to allow these two jokes in the front door and to YOURSELF for the that Duchamp comment, “oh Regina-what were YOU thinking?”

  5. I don’t find the Panoptos piece disrespectful. Dry, yeah.
    To me it’s an intervention that succeeds in highlighting our insatiable (also easily bored) appetite to take in visual data without really needing to comprehend the parts or the sum of the parts. The project ends up being about the culture of looking and has nothing to do with investigating the individual pieces – many which I’ve seen up close and appreciated before in other galleries or museums in town. (Do we need reminded that this is in fact the current mode of being and viewing in the world – virtual and ever-fragmenting? Probably not, but it’s a narcissistic fascination extant in our generation.)
    On the upside, this project, riffing on the trend of virtual museums and virtual viewing in museums, is an example of the realization of Malraux’s imaginary museum….functioning instantaneously and coexisting within and without the brick and mortar museum. The photographic reproductions, haphazard and shitty, grainy, discolored, weave a complicated, if ugly, fictitious virtual tapestry: SBC’s own unique, imaginary work of art.

  6. Hello A. Excellent points. But whether the disrespect is intended or not, it’s there. Yes, this piece is about how we look now, and at what, the image stream. But a glance is not a look, and an electronic image of a painting is not a painting. Behind all the talk, looking at art still requires focus. Not a surfing glance, but a look, long and steady. When asked how he selected paintings for the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr replied, “By looking at them.” Still works for me. And p.s. to HiBrow: I don’t agree at all with your dismissal of SuttonBeresCuller. All three are terrific artists. I’m the wrong audience for this particular piece, which may well be generational. My high regard for them is undiminished.

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