“Personal Effects” At 52 O Street NW to Sept. 28 Is it possible to understand the intimacy in these artists' treasured objects?

Kristina Bilonick, “Ceramic Hamburger”

“Personal Effects,” a show at D.C. print shop and incubator Furthermore, doesn’t include a single print—and only a little art. Yet it stands out as an early contender for most-revealing gallery show of the fall season.

For the show, Furthermore founder Jose Ruiz and co-curator James Huckenpahler asked a bunch of artists and friends to contribute something that they hold dear, some object that they prize as foundational or ineffable. More than 30 people obliged. The results are laid out along a series of work tables in the space, more like a garage sale than a sculpture show.

Most of it, of course, looks like junk. I couldn’t find much to love about the shoes that Holly Bass considers priceless, a pair of platform heels given to her by ’70s disco queen Jan Hall. A lost photo album that booster James Alefantis found in a freezer in an abandoned house in Maryland shouldn’t mean any more to him than it does to me—except that he found it, and found objects have a way of becoming personal talismans. A “Dave Clarke for City Council” campaign T-shirt won’t mean much to more-recently arrived D.C. residents, but it speaks to collector Philip Barlow’s long devotion to this city.

Some of the mementos come off as a bit precious. Gareth Branwyn presents the Thoth tarot deck (painted by Lady Frieda Harris and designed by occultist Aleister Crowley) alongside a hacked computer mouse—an artist statement in material form. Some stuff is more flippant. Kristina Bilonick showcases a ceramic hamburger she found at the Georgia Avenue Thrift Store, not far from where she’s staked her Pleasant Plains Workshop. And yet all of these are every bit as convincing and telling as the wingtip dress shoes worn by Billy Colbert’s grandfather, a Tuskegee Airman. The personal is personal.

I was delighted to find a family member’s name on the tracklist accompanying a hulking reel-to-reel tape deck submitted by media-arts scholar Siobhan Rigg. “Beautiful Dreamer,” a piece by the 19th-century American composer Stephen Collins Foster, appears on a 2001 recording of organ music played by my cousin, Monte Maxwell, on the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Luray Caverns, Va. Delighted is maybe not the word. My own favorite memories are of listening to him and my many talented family members playing piano at my mi-ma’s house in West Texas around the holidays. There is no object that can capture the warmth and longing these memories hold for me—and yet, here was evidence that Monte’s music belongs to somebody else in this intimate way. Or in some similarly intimate way. I’m almost jealous.

We people, just primates in the end, carry these objects with us as we always have—photographs, jewelry, talismans, colored stones, teeth. These things we treasure, we hold beyond explanation. Part of the work of art is trying to convey experience through objects. “Personal Effects” shows just how impossible it is to share feelings that are held so universally.

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