‘Untitled (white corner floor piece)’ by Marc Swanson; wood, mirror, paint, stain, fabric, plaster, photo; 82 by 40 by 28 inches
Rehearsal Space: Dance and Conversation is the ICA at MECA’s summer centerpiece, a collaboration between visual artist Marc Swanson and New York choreographer Jack Ferver for an original work of installation-based performance art inspired by Jean Genet’s play Les Bonnes (The Maids) to be devised and staged within the ICA. The gallery-as-residency will begin mid-July, with Ferver and dancers’ (Michelle Mola and Jacob Slominski) daily creation process in full public display. Currently, the exhibit is all Swanson’s, an installation awaiting collaboration along with two rooms separately devoted to his self-referential assemblage works.
Rehearsal Space has an atmosphere of sneaking into an abandoned house, a domestic arrangement of personal effects weighted by their owner’s absence. In works that come graduated out of Fluxus and assemblage heritage, Swanson uses a palette of mirrors, wood, glass, and fabric, all in states both weathered and pristine, in combinations of high contrasts and private sensitivities. Jaggedly scored hunks of plywood frame delicately pinpricked threads of gold; drapes of fabric are fixed frozen in bone-white plaster; monolithic mirrors lean casually up against the walls. The work is uncluttered and exact, with an assured airiness that each piece contains nothing more, nothing less, than prescribed.
Swanson is a Brooklyn artist, raised in rural New England, who studied in New York and Skowhegan, Maine. His city and country accents actively abut and interlace, sometimes with conflict or hesitation. The weathered wood and dust-smeared windows might be farmhouse-salvaged, while smudgeless mirrors cut cold, severe edges like skyscraper windows. In his mostly white and wood palate, gold serves to both adorn with reverence and elbow-in a comment on class. For Rehearsal Space, Swanson pulls away from his better-known, more overtly kitschy works—glittering antlers and bejeweled trophy heads—opting for a quieter duality of high and low, one that mediates the merits and tensions of both.
Swanson openly pulls templates from his specific assemblage heroes, but strips them down to an austere set of elements, which, in turn, creates a space between influence and self-portraiture. The hanging extensions from the usual frame space echo Robert Rauschenberg’s rejection of the artwork square, but Swanson emblematizes and honors that refusal as an homage with the use of gold tassels and delicately dripping lengths of gold chain. The felt and fat of Joseph Beuys comes through—though more like memories than artifacts—in pelts of t-shirts: men’s cotton crew necks antiqued with stains, pinned taut like tanning hides, skins shed again and again. His shadow boxes suggest Joseph Cornell (as so many do), but lose that souvenir preciousness in favor of gaining a broader language of texture and weight; they appear as upended dresser drawers, with linens full of secrets.
The craft of Swanson is his deliberation. The weights and measures of his compositions are precisely set, his asymmetries firmly counterbalanced. In Untitled (Double Drape Box), a diptych of twin shadow boxes display bandage-like swathes of fabric, the festoon fixed solid from a bath of once-wet plaster. Such a result could be construed as haphazard, but in the painstakingly identical sags and folds is a promise from Swanson that his art is choices, not accidents.