How to Operate in a
Solo Exhibition as
Artist in Residence for Chelsea Music Festival, NYC
One of my first summer jobs, as a college intern, was spent in the storage facility of a Pennsylvania museum, where I re-organized the state's collection of works on paper. While working alone in a windowless vault, the realization that I was gay was just starting to take shape. Certain qualities were indescribable: my queerness was still queer to me. From the outside, I seemed the same, but my interior world was churning. There's a particularly American pressure to state one's identity. I'm interested in those things for which we can't find words. When I lay out pieces of a painting, some colors and marks float visually to the surface, while others sink back. Patterns emerge among disparate parts. I might enjoy the dynamism of certain tensions and accentuate irresolution. This is a way to describe my studio process; it's also a way to describe how one makes a life.
During that summer job at the museum, I began to love storage rooms. The regularity and clean efficiency of metal racks and grids of shelving, in shades of gray and beige, offered a world in which every object was gently held in place. Yet these tidy surfaces concealed thousands of objects bristling with energy. Day after day I opened drawer after drawer of artifacts. I lingered over anonymous charcoal drawings of male nudes, imagining the scenarios of their making. I found stacks of 19th century mourning prints: images of families dressed in black, praying at tombstones beneath weeping willows, with fill-in-the-blank sections where you could write in the name of your loved one. I wondered about a people, a country (this country?), whose inhabitants once hung grief on their walls.
In the vault's stillness and temperate air, I realized that works of art, long past their separation from their makers, continue to change. They decay, their colors shift, their materials buckle. And we change them: artworks depend on us giving our attention, on us taking them from vaults and sharing them with others. They depend, necessarily, on the expansion of opportunities and access to those who have been excluded from such resources. The first line of an art work's wall label is usually the name of a maker, but a network of people – those who mined the pigments, those who made the meals for hungry makers, those who offered time and space – comprise a scaffolding for the nearly miraculous possibility that anyone creates art at all.
I make works that are actively and constantly changing – a sculpture leaking color, a painting that is entirely different on its back than on its front. An installation of my work is not about something, but is an expression of a point of view, the ongoing working out of a philosophy. Each part of the exhibition lives in relation to all the other parts. In this installation, these parts include: paintings composed and sewn over the course of a year, paint that oozes onto the floor, shelving that braces everything together, fabric scraps scattered in corners, flowers I've coaxed to bloom during the exhibition's run; this letter, and you.
–JVD, New York, June 2022
PDF of Full Letter to a Viewer
Chelsea Music Festival is delighted to present an exhibition of recent works by 2022 Visual Artist-in-Residence Jonathan VanDyke. The artist's sewn paintings, composed through intentionally slow processes of accumulation, and often taking over a year to construct, are made from fabrics gathered from friends and companions. He stains and marks these fabrics through virtuosic painting techniques developed in his Brooklyn studio over the last decade, including gestural painting strategies that he devised in long-term collaboration with dancers and performers from the NYC queer art community of which he is a part. The artist's installation, created specifically for the festival, incorporates components that will change and evolve over the month of June, including a selection of the amaryllis flowers and other plants that he raises in his studio. VanDyke's works are layered with allusions to art and design history and domestic craft, and he mounts his paintings on fabricated display structures – in this case, metal shelving components – and places them in relation to his sculptural works and photographs. Like many early twentieth century artists who broke away from representation, he explores the relation between abstract painting and the performing arts, including dance and musical compositions. In his words, both orchestral works and visual abstractions are "explorations of states of mind and movements of bodies for which one cannot find language." VanDyke conceives of his paintings as devices for long looking and his installations as spaces for slowing down. In making works that are rich with metaphor and subtext, he insists that, "abstraction is not forgetting – abstraction is not a way of removing oneself from the world – but a way of going deeper in."