Garth Clark, in his review of a gruesome show at Blackston Gallery, removed three artists from his blanket condemnation. One was JJ PEET. You may wonder why? His work looks as formless as the rest. Not so, he is one of the few who can dance on this sloppy craft edge, his missteps and mishaps are those of a cunning choreography, a kind of Charlie Chaplin making pratfalls in clay but achieving a moving pathos in the process. See our review of his work and others on Satan Ceramics. Here is an insightful look at his art from his exhibition BRAIN to HAND to OBJECT_ (January 24 – April 19) at The Contemporary Austin.
From the gallery:
A series of fundamental clues can be found in the pamphlet handed to me by JJ PEET when we first met.1 Scaled to the size of a small envelope, this rogue little booklet is made from a digitally scanned collection of torn book pages, graph paper, and masking tape, parts of which have been whited or taped out and then scribbled or typed over with simple but commanding words and phrases. On the cover, the pamphlet displays “The Peet Company” in a flourishy, calligraphic typeface accompanied by a symbol of a bird. Inside, PEET has taken a cover of the iconic nineteenth-century Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels text The Communist Manifesto and replaced “Communist” with “Contemporary Ceramics” using Wite-Out and red pen. A series of rudimentary definitions, symbols, and photographs fills the subsequent few pages. Here, PEET has laid out almost all of the core elements to his practice: a love of analog, shown by his use of nondigital elements such as Wite-Out, pen, typewriter, and scraps of paper; an abiding interest in coding and symbols, demonstrated by the various signs and distinctly PEET-ian vocabulary inside; a challenge to consumerism and the pervading class system, indicated by his adoption (and transformation) of elements of Marx and Engels’s famous manifesto; and finally, a pure, simple, visceral love of materials and process. As the back cover tells us, “FROM BRAIN(GUT) TO HAND TO OBJECT.” And then, lest we take everything too seriously, PEET has also written, below this, “JJ PEET CERAMICS MASTER.”2
PEET’s practice can best be described as a kind of coded, free-form cultural assemblage, a combination of made and found materials that prods and questions dominant systems of authority, class, and institutional display. As he has worked in the medium for more than thirty years, ceramics constitutes a large part of his output. Likewise, although PEET is relatively new to the contemporary art world, his experience in ceramics has propelled him to mentor and teach others, including art world veteran Tom Sachs. PEET is, in fact, probably close to a master working with clay, with enough skill to depart from tradition and embrace a deliberately imperfect, handmade aesthetic, traversing a road paved by the likes of California ceramics pioneers Peter Voulkos, Robert Arneson, and Ken Price in the 1950s and 1960s. But his stable of media and techniques also includes found materials—hair, chewing gum, coffee cups, brown paper bags, feathers, carrots, a mouth guard, sunglasses, socks, pins, a pen, a silver spoon, and a houseplant—as well as painting, photography, video, animation, live broadcast, and performance. Content-wise, a subtle anarchism and disenfranchisement with society’s existing systems for the dissemination of information permeate his work, as does a latent critique of the power of display and authority in general. Jerry-rigged porcelain cameras and viewfinders appear as objects and metaphors for new ways of seeing, while iterations of specific forms of cups, seals, and primitive symbols (the most common one being an umbrella within a circle) repeat throughout. Dark, opaque narratives of subcultural resistance provide the framework for his installations. In his first New York City exhibition in 2009, titled The TV Show, PEET organized the concept around characters he coined “The Luxury Leaders” and “The Resistants”—symbolic metaphors for white-collar corporate America versus the anti-materialist, subcultural underbelly.3 Considering these fragmented story lines of rebellion and subversion, alongside the fact that the artist is sometimes positioned somewhere nearby covertly broadcasting an element of live feed into the gallery space, somehow it doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine a grinning PEET tucked away in a dingy basement making human lard soap, à la Brad Pitt’s nihilistic Tyler Durden from the 1999 film Fight Club. But in PEET’s case, as he said recently, “I’m not fighting for anyone but myself. The only mode of working is my mode of working.”4 Likewise, PEET breaks apart the concept of a static, unmoving exhibition for one imbued with change and improvisation. The artist has been known to enact subtle alterations in an exhibition over time, so-called “renegade actions”5—an edgy, organic process counteracting the exhibition-as-frozen-moment, whereby small elements move or disappear, changes invisible to all but a repeat, discerning visitor and the artist himself. Beyond this, the idea that visitors will unknowingly see slightly different arrangements and objects is an elegant, understated gesture that suggests the malleability of the eye and mind’s absorption of perceptive information as an underlying message in PEET’s work.
Invited by Tom Sachs to exhibit in the Gatehouse Gallery at Laguna Gloria, concurrent with Sachs’s major exhibition at both museum sites, PEET has created a new project for The Contemporary Austin, representing his first foray in Texas. Titled BRAIN to HAND to OBJECT_, the project consists of a series of hybrid porcelain objects riffing on notions of vision and time. As before, methods of display are essential, the objects being placed at just-so heights, with simple, effective pedestals that mirror the nature of the objects themselves. Both PEET and Sachs came to Austin during the fall of 2014 to make a range of the work seen here at the Art School at Laguna Gloria, working with James Tisdale and his team in the ceramics studio in the first in a series of collaborations between The Contemporary’s exhibitions program and the Art School residency at the museum. A tone of aggression permeates PEET’s delicate objects, as in GHOST_VIEWER, 2014, in which PEET molded a camera form, then poured molten lead into the casing to melt the camera into oblivion; DECOY_cup_6, 2014, a cup embedded with a vitrified porcelain blade; or BRICKVACE, 2014, a rudimentary, brick-shaped object that can be used as either a brick (to throw or build) or, when turned over, a vase. Forms that appear simple reveal complicated layers and hybrid identities, much like PEET himself.
1. JJ PEET, Book Report (New York: Self-Published, 2014).
3. Anne Wehr, review of The TV Show, On Stellar Rays. Frieze, April 29, 2009.
4. JJ PEET in discussion with the author, October 24, 2014.
5. Amanda Church, review of The TV Show, On Stellar Rays. Art in America, October 2009.
This exhibition is organized by Sean Ripple, Assistant Curator. Text by Heather Pesanti, Senior Curator. Special assistance was provided by the Art School at Laguna Gloria and James Tisdale, Ceramics Coordinator.
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