“Art is what you can get away with.” Joseph Ross, dressed in deep lilac suits matched with equally showy shoes, concluded the hour of seance with the quote by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan. Often attributed to and undoubtedly popularized by Andy Warhol, the ending provided a fitting lens to view the art of Jeffrey Vallance.
Performed at CB1 Gallery in conjunction with Vallance’s the Medium Is the Message (also coined by McLuhan), the channeling of the spirits of dead artists and critics, moderated by Vallance himself, was anti-climatic at best and underwhelming through and throughout, regrettably lacking in suspense as well as surprise — except for a moment when the spirit of Los Angeles Times art critic William Wilson softly spoke, “I love you Jeffrey.”
The exhibition too, comprised of kitsch, black and white “spirit photographs” in one room and more kitschy “spirit objects” in the other, went on as a low-key affair with giggles here and inside jokes there. Featuring the most iconic artists of the past as the subjects, including Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol, the experience equated to visiting an uninspired museum whose hokey exhibits offered neither excitement nor insight.
However, the combined disenchantment did not warrant Vallance any less legitimacy as an artist. On the contrary, the show cunningly drove home the vital conjecture central to his work over the years — the power of story. The physical encounter with Vallance, his objects, and performances functioned merely as a fringe activity, like exiting a museum through the gift shop while picking up a souvenir. The real allure Vallance held over the audience was his elusive narratives — the folklores not by but of him, which were once, twice, or many more times removed from the artist and the events, being orally passed down and around.
A good storyteller always reigned supreme at summer camps. Likewise, Vallance built a fire, people gathered, and his tales enamored the campers with a legend of the man named Jeffrey.
Jeffrey Vallance’s the Medium Is the Message is on view at CB1 through September 5, 2015. It’s a GOTTA-TALK-ABOUT-IT.
All images courtesy of gallery.