Stephen Prina, Galesburg Illinois + at Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles: A Synopsis
GALESBURG, ILLINOIS +
By Daniel Healey, June 5, 2018
Stephen Prina's first exhibition with Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, is his post-conceptual, semi-autobiographical show, Galesburg Illinois +, on view at the gallery May 12 to August 11, 2018. This is the second time the installation has been exhibited in the U.S. and the fourth iteration to date, shown previously at Petzel Gallery N.Y., Kurhaus Kleve, Germany, and Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen in Switzerland.
Arguably, Prina's decision to venture west in the late 70s and attend California Institute of Arts (CalArts) under the tutelage of conceptual artists John Baldessari and Michael Asher made it difficult for him to consider or apply any autobiographical information into his art early on. It was said widely in academic circles that autobiography was not pertinent to an artwork, hence not very useful to the viewer, or more over, not an appropriate canonical response to art after Duchamp.
The artist said "The exhibition was really about whether I could embark on an autobiographical project that I deemed acceptable."
It appears the impetus to Prina’s nostalgic digging into the past is the Harbor Lights Supper Club, a long forgotten Galesburg restaurant where the artist played music during his early years. An original matchbook decorated with the restaurant’s silhouette and telephone number triggers memories implied here and propels Prina to recall his associations with his hometown. Correspondingly, the set of objects he displays coalesces into various works, referring to different stages in Prina’s or the town's biography, their only true link being the connection to Galesburg, Illinois.
The exhibition ties together a sparse but interconnected set of tables, swathes of upholstery fabric displays (Harbor Lights Supper Club insignia taken from a match book printed on fabric) painted frames, window screens, objects, photographs, paintings, giclee prints and music (self-made album Ode to Galesburg) playing in between a custom designed seating arrangement, speakers on opposite walls both facing cushions and seated viewers. Reminiscent of Martin Kippenberger's cover songs but perhaps more deadpan (less schlocky) is Prina's style and wit, maybe even sincere because he actually covered Carol King's "It's Too Late" while in high school, possibly in front of John Cage coincidentally.
While in high school, I played guitar with Joe Padilla & Company at Taco Hideout Lounge, Galesburg, Illinois. One night, a large group of people arrived for dinner. I recognized a few of them as being associated with Knox College. A week later, while working at my father’s grocery store, a woman approached me to compliment me on my performance, indicating that she had been part of the group from Knox. She informed me that the dinner was in honor of John Cage while he had been a visiting artist at the college. Having recently started singing lead vocals with the band I would like to think that I have sung “It’s Too Late” by Carole King to John Cage that evening."
It's difficult to say whether or not the music is supposed to feel sincere or have emotional connection between the artist and his hometown, or lineage for the artifacts and memories it evokes, however the viewer might have the feeling that the songs act as a proxy for the heartbeat of Prina or for the town's spirit itself. Mining more objects in the exhibition, one finds the simple relationship between a six-volume set of books on Abraham Lincoln (author Carl Sandburg) and multiple prints of a figurative soft sculpture (artist Dorothea Tanning); both artists were incidentally born in Galesburg. Stephen Prina was born there in 1954. His ongoing project Exquisite Corps: The Complete Paintings of Manet is also included in the installation in which I'm not sure where the relationship to Galesburg exists but regardless, seamlessly flows into the other objects like it's meant to be there. The artist performed music at the Gallery on July 14 at 7pm.
Stephen Prina (b. 1954, Galesburg, Illinois) lives and works in Los Angeles, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is Professor, Department of the Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University. Solo exhibitions include Museo Madre, Naples, Italy (2017); Museum Kurhaus Kleve, Kleve (2016); Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Sankt Gallen (2015); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2013); Vienna Secession, Vienna; Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (2011); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2010); Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo, Seville; Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2008); Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main (2000); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1992); The Renaissance Society and the University of Chicago (1989). Group exhibitions (selection): Mumok, Vienna; Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2015/2016); The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2014); Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2013); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2012); Whitney Biennial, New York (2008); Documenta IX, Kassel; Museum of Modern Art, New York (1992); Carnegie International, Pittsburgh (1991); Venice Biennial (1990).