Tom Burckhardt, An Original Artist in a World of Copies



Tom Burckhardt, “God Made the Land for Use” (2022), ink and collage on e book web page, 9 x 6 inches (all pictures courtesy Excessive Midday Gallery)

Since 1992, when Tom Burckhardt started exhibiting his artwork, he has made many robust and various our bodies of labor, every of which has been true to the supplies he makes use of. His installations embrace “FULL STOP” (2005–6), a meticulously created homage and elegy to the postwar artist’s studio, utilizing solely black paint, cardboard, wooden, and sizzling glue. The walk-through surroundings included all of the paraphernalia usually present in an artist’s studio, usually with artwork historic references: Edward Hopper’s potbellied range; Jackson Pollock’s sneakers; Jasper Johns’s Savarin can. In 2008, Burckhardt used cardboard and paint to make SLUMP, an exhibition composed fully of curved work resting on trompe l’œil paint cans, slumped towards the wall. 

Whereas many different artists have made total careers by rejecting portray or by filling a grid with shade, Burckhardt has had a extra sophisticated and nuanced response to artwork historical past and its retelling. In “FULL STOP,” surrounded by all of the issues one must make artwork, from paint cans and tubes to saws and hammers to artwork books organized on cabinets, he positioned a clean canvas on an easel within the heart of the room, basically asking: The place do I’m going from right here? 

Since that breakthrough physique of labor, Burckhardt has made summary work on molded plastic helps with uneven surfaces and observational work primarily based on totally different indicators he’s seen in rural Maine. All through all of the shifts and turns he has taken, he has remained true to the humbleness of his supplies. By refusing to protect his objects in bronze or another everlasting materials, he has rigorously pushed again towards the excessive modernist preferrred of oil paint on canvas, whereas concurrently criticizing the postmodern celebration of glitzy materiality and high-end replication of atypical issues. Rejecting each the romantic and entrepreneurial view of the artist, the bohemian and the company, he has outlined a generative place that has by no means been totally acknowledged. And, maybe to additional confound the viewer, he has additionally made stunning summary work on canvas. 

Set up view of Tom Burckhardt: How We Bought Into It at Excessive Midday Gallery

Pondering of Burckhardt’s our bodies of labor, I’m reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s helpful perception into productiveness:

A silly consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines. With consistency a terrific soul has little to do. He might as effectively concern himself together with his shadow on the wall. Converse what you assume now in laborious phrases, and tomorrow communicate what tomorrow thinks in laborious phrases once more, although it contradicts every part you stated at this time. — “Ah, so that you shall make sure to be misunderstood” — Is it so dangerous to be misunderstood? 

For practically 35 years, Burckhardt has labored with previous and discarded books, utilizing the within pages for drawings. An admittedly frugal artist, he determined to do one thing with the e book covers. The lingua franca of self assist and historical past books is one focus of the exhibition Tom Burckhardt: How We Got Into It at Excessive Midday Gallery, however not the one one. Based on the press launch, “353 collaged discovered e book pages” are put in alongside the gallery’s three partitions, on which Burckhardt has “made a deconstructed grid” in crimson and blue chalk, a la Sol LeWitt. It’s each an set up and an environment friendly solution to show so many works within the gallery’s lengthy, slim area. 

Tom Burckhardt, “Nuptial Flight of New Sperm-Cells” (2022), ink and collage on e book web page, 8 x 8.5 inches

Working with ink and collage, Burckhardt preserves the phrases he has discovered, and provides a patterned cutout summary form towards a gradient floor. Without delay dramatic and withholding, humorous and absurd, unsettling and apocalyptic, the phrases are “poetic” in each an elusive and kitschy sense: “NUPTIAL FLIGHT OF NEW SPERM CELLS”; “I PASSED AS A TEENAGER”; “TO THOSE WHO WILL KEEP THE STAUNCH HEART OF AMERICA ALIVE”; “THOSE WHO WERE NOT BORN THERE.”

I like the ambiguous, bizarre, disturbing, nutty, and tender titles and phrases that Burckhardt has introduced into his paintings. It was unimaginable to guess the context of some phrases, and attempting to take action turns into a part of the viewer’s aesthetic engagement with the items. The constants operating by the entire artist’s work are that he’s not a literalist, he doesn’t make massive claims for his artwork, he doesn’t coax the viewer in any route, and he rejects the usage of costly supplies and fabrication prices. 

Burckhardt has frequently resisted making artworks as merchandise, whereas exploring totally different supplies. He’s a conceptual artist who has by no means outlined himself as one as a result of he is aware of the label is limiting. Actually, it occurred to me that Burckhardt is implicitly skeptical of the claims of an authentic conceptual artist, Mel Bochner. Over the previous 30 years, Burckhardt has by no means come off as superior to his viewers, nor developed a apply geared towards flabby, consumer-oriented manufacturing. Every work in How We Bought Into It is an authentic. 

Tom Burckhardt, “These Who Had been Not Born There” (2023), ink and collage on e book web page, 8.75 x 5.75 inches

Tom Burckhardt: How We Got Into It continues at Excessive Midday Gallery (124 Forsyth Avenue, Decrease East Aspect, Manhattan) by August 20. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.


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