Curated by Keith J. Varadi
January 19th – February 23rd, 2013
As humans, we are granted certain liberties. As citizens, we often take these liberties for granted. It is assumed that we have control (agency) over these liberties. But what happens when we lose this control or surrender this agency, willfully or not?
Many times, we find ourselves confronted with a situation that necessitates an extreme reactionary decision: do we take the limits of these liberties too far, or not far enough? But then, isn’t the greater question: what is too far, or not far enough? And in the aftermath, we are faced with a secondary confrontation—the repercussions of our initial decision, typically one made in the confusion and conflation of emotions and reason, morals and ethics.
A libertine is easily thought of as someone who cheerfully neglects emotions, reason, morals, and ethics. A libertine is classically defined as an individual who tends to ignore the behavior generally accepted, or at the very least, tolerated, by society at large. The artists, poets, musicians, and performers gathered for this exhibition and presented here do not ignore society’s rules, nor do they necessarily break them; rather, they question them (with authority and autonomy).
Particularly, in American society, individualism is clung onto with such pride that it can become something like a crutch, constructed of balsa wood. Many stances are held up by flimsy arguments that can be snapped if leaned on ever so slightly, one way or the other. However, going beyond simply questioning society’s rules, these particular “libertines” presented at Open Space acknowledge the faults of extremism and moderation. It could be argued that they use extremism in moderation, which is not only a metaphor for an alternative to such precarious “bigger picture” problems, but art in itself.
The duplicate LeBron James wall graphics Benjamin Bellas had printed by the Fathead Corporation, which he then repurposed and recontextualized, do not take the popular stance of disdain towards the NBA superstar, nor do they make any attempt to redeem him after the madness of The Decision. By using LeBron’s image as a Cavalier (one could claim to be the opposite of a libertine, and a pun on the Cleveland team’s name), Bellas exposes the absurdity of The Decision and the aggressive public outrage that followed one of the NBA’s premier players.
Similarly, Ross Iannatti’s paintings composed of salvaged, stitched, and stretched airbags don’t make any accusatory statements about reckless driving, nor do they claim Nader-like endorsements for vehicular safety. Much like Warhol’s Death Series, they mostly mutter, “Yes, this does happen” and transform tragedy into beauty in an unexpectedly simplistic gesture. These paintings aren’t merely some shrug of the shoulders. By repurposing airbags into mesmerizing portal planes in which to gaze, Iannatti welcomes viewers to consider their prerogative to defend their freedoms as so many Americans and painters claim to do, while spotlighting the boring cyclical and now academically digested notion of painting’s death and resurrection.
The works that comprise Liberti(n)es are what makes this middle-ground area of extremism in moderation what it is; they are not joy rides, they are not car chases, they are slow strolls down back alleyways, revealing realities we often ignore, deflect, or suppress.