Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tyler Beard: Avant Garde Goes Mainstream.

By now, we’ve all heard about the avant-garde. We’ve heard about the burden of each generation of artist, and their obligation to upend the cultural establishment to reinvent Art anew. The predicaments of this process, in all its excruciating agony, can be found at CUAC’s present show of Denver artist Tyler Beard.

Striving to create the ‘qualities found in a Haiku’ the artist seeks to achieve a ‘subtle and quiet sophistication.’ At a fundamental level, this goal is achieved. On the wall, clusters of collages feature stock images of flowers cut into leafy forms. Set against a taut, white background, they burst into form, like petals in a floral arrangement. Here, comparison with Ellsworth Kelly’s shaped canvases is unavoidable. Similar sensibilities unfold spatially, where disparate forms and surfaces appear to scatter about the room, yet in fact are meticulously arranged… like a Haiku. Faux spontaneity has been a leitmotif of modernism throughout the twentieth century and this is no exception.

From here, landscapes have been printed onto board, folded into irregular angles and propped up against the gallery wall. Therein, unexpected geometries contrast the ‘natural’ forms of the images. Witness the expansive shore of Folded Beach, which is rotated 90 degrees and folded into a series of small steps to create one disorienting object of clashing perspectives. Here as elsewhere, stock images of nature are filtered and overprinted, becoming flat and empty, and reduced to mere decoration. Sanitized and vapid, they blend seamlessly into the bland architectural scaffolding of Beard’s sculptures. While such vacuity is the artist’s stated intention, viewers are already familiar with such devices, which have their roots in Warhol’s silk screens and or Richard Prince prints.

Similarly, six miniature models recline on custom-made platforms extending from a larger frame in Maquette 1-6. Consisting of wooden cubes, folded card, stones and wire, the works rely heavily on modernist sensibilities (Miro, Moore) for their aesthetics. Using precision knife work, the geometric intersects with the biomorphic, resulting in sleek and elegant forms fit for a Playmobil castle. Economical and quirky, they could very well spring to life, like mechanical wind-up toys. Indeed, all of Beard’s works have a potential for great buoyancy.

But this doesn’t happen. The works stand frozen in their own Zen, paralyzed by an aesthetic we’ve already seen. Even the highlighted edges, with their evocation of hard edge painting, feel contrived. Not only has Beard’s bag of tricks been thoroughly mined from the last half century, but it has already entered the mainstream, in the form of haute cuisine, Kate Middleton fascinators and above all, Scandinavian design. While assembling his own personal Haiku, Beard has unconsciously appropriated too many conventions of post-war art, rather than challenging them. As such, the show at CUAC is a cautionary tale, reminding artists (and galleries) of the importance of renewing the covenant of the avant-guard, rather than simply paying homage to it.

Tyler Beard’s work is on view at CUAC in Salt Lake City from 9/19 to 10/11.

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