Found dope: discovering Candy at the ICA

This is your last week to catch a fascinating retrospective at the ICA, This Might Have Been: Art, Love and Politics in the 1980s. Click here to read the ICA’s writeup about the show, which closes March 3rd.

One of the things I love about visiting the ICA is how you can turn to anyone working there and they’ll happily talk to you about what you’re looking at. What the hell was that artist thinking when they painted a canvas entirely black? Ask any guard at the ICA and they’ll tell you where the artist was coming from, why that big paint splotch is art, and why the piece was chosen to be included in an exhibit. For those of us uninitiated or just plain clueless about contemporary art, this is huge.

I can’t think of another museum where the guards are trained and encouraged to interact with visitors like this. Many of them, like Walker Roman, the guard we spoke to during our last visit (click here to see his portfolio), are talented working artists themselves. And because so many of the ICA’s guards are artists, trained art historians, or both, they understand and can better explain the technical aspects and mindset of the artists whose work is on display.

Two of my favorite pieces in the show are by Candy Jernigan. Married to composer Phillip Glass, Jernigan is a relatively unknown artist whose career was cut short in 1991 when she died at 39 of liver cancer. Her Homage to Goya and Found Dope II are painstakingly organized pieces that convey order and meaning to the mundane.

121113_ICA-02

From the exhibit. Candy Jernigan’s pieces are on the far right. (ICABoston.org)

Jernigan gives her found and featured objects power by organizing them the way she does. Both of her pieces, each quite different stylistically, share what it’s like to live the artist’s life. Hint: it ain’t easy. Being an artist is a calling and a compulsion.

Found Dope Part II carefully records the chronology, type, and location of crack vials that littered Jernigan’s East Village neighborhood. Spanning some 16 days and covering a three block radius, she cataloged hundreds of crack vials and tops (308 to be exact), many in neon colors that were popular during that period (designer Stephen Sprouse’s Day-glo inspired fashion from the era comes to mind).

We see clusters of vials on a map, each segment indicating people binging on crack. The tiny plastic reminders symbolize the endless cycle of drug-fueled destruction and then creation via Jernigan’s art; death and re-birth, as new crack is scored and the party begins anew.

Jernigan’s sanitized druggie census is a snapshot of how fucked up but also vibrant the East Village was during the city’s crack epidemic, and how totally gentrified the area is now–thanks in large part to the artists like Jernigan who settled there and were eventually driven out by real estate developers…the artists themselves victims of their own successful yet inadvertent sanitizing.

The obsessive meticulousness of Jernigan’s diagram echoes crackheads’ endless quest to score their next high. Who is more compulsive: the artist or her drugged out neighbors?

Found Dope: Part II, 1986. Found objects on paper. Candy Jernigan Foundation for the Arts, Inc. and Greene Naftali, New York. [shadows are us and Roman Walker, the ICA guard]

Found Dope Part II, 1986. Found objects on paper. Candy Jernigan Foundation for the Arts, Inc. and Greene Naftali, New York.

Map detail, Found Dope: Part II.

Map detail, Found Dope Part II.

Displayed above Found Dope II is Jernigan’s Homage to Goya, its title a pun on the famous Spanish artist Francisco Goya. It also refers to her survival on the classic diet of starving artists everywhere: cheap, canned beans.

Jernigan’s cartoonish lopsided cans, with their numbers and arrows, as well as tiny accompanying diagrams of the beans’ source and destination, manage to be witty, thought provoking and depressing all at once.

Candy Jernigan's Homage to Goya, 1986.

Candy Jernigan’s Homage to Goya, 1986.

Down the hatch. Detail from Homage to Goya.

Down the hatch. Detail from Homage to Goya.

Advertisements