Context as Backstory

As David Court pointed out in his recent comment, what used to be backstory has been turned inside out and become context, or analysis of context. At least that is the normative history of the turn from an emptied out abstraction to conceptual art. At Abreu’s gallery I was still thinking about titles, perhaps because of my take on Lygia Pape’s Book of Creation, in which the title is also the backstory. At the gallery I picked up a catalog from the Bergen Kunsthall, of a show by Gambaroff, Krebber, Quaytman and Rayne. These artists are all quite different, but nevertheless gave a spin to my thoughts. Quaytman I’ve discussed on this blog already, and though in one sense her work is all narrative, it doesn’t treat the backstory in the way that I’m thinking. The backstory of the individual chapters of her work is an aspect of the context in which they were shown, and so it is within the work, not presented alongside it as an account of origins—in that sense more the normal thing. Of the four, Rayne is probably the closest to what I’m describing, but also not as extreme. In the show that I saw he brought in aspects of production and distribution not normally presented (shipping crates, for example), and in other shows has foregrounded how artists are made, day to day.

Blake Rayne, Installation "Dust of Suns" Miguel Abreu Gallery 2008, including shipping crates

Rayne holds to the discursive model of art, though one that courses through objects. What I found slightly problematic about the installation illustrated above was that he opened up a line of discussion about gentrification on the lower east side. In this case, as with Quaytman, backstory is just context, something we are very familiar with. But it is Michael Krebber, the King of Nerves, who has made the anxiety of reception most productive.

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