Last Friday, Art Palace (3913 Main Street) opened its newest solo exhibition, Jim Nolan’s Matter-In-The-World / Ideas-In-The-Head. The precise and well-tuned show presents yet another grand gathering of objects in Nolan’s ongoing dialog of the absurd and humorous minimalism. Working within a familiar realm of found objects, everyday happenings, and dollar store adventures, Jim Nolan constructs a platform that questions the value of an art as an object. As stated in his press release, “The sculptural forms become a form of resistance to the passive viewing experience of traditional painting.” Jim’s conviction to twist the tension between the formality of the day-to-day and the white-cube-confinement of the art world is refreshing. The title of the exhibition is a mind bend of sorts of the Carl Andre quote, “It is most appalling to be cast incessantly as a conceptualist when my sculpture has nothing to do with ideas in the head and everything to do with matter in the world.” With this, Nolan turns this back to his own and reclaims the idea that this is, in fact, about ideas in the head.
I can’t recall the exact show or event at which I met Jim Nolan, but I do remember thinking that he was the type with an ace up his sleeve. Nolan is reserved at first, and he comes off with a dry, yet sharp, sense of humor and the same kind of preciseness that is ever so present in his work. His sculptures and works stand soundly on their own, but they also seem to have a hidden gem within them. Sometimes it’s obvious, but at other moments the ideas sneak in like an inside joke or punchline. That’s not to say that his works are always a novelty. On the contrary, it’s the wit and the irony of his work that pierces like an arrow. I recount passing through to lend a hand for a show he was part of at Lawndale Art Center once. We had been talking back and forth about his work and the formalities of presentation when I started fumbling for a writing tool to jot down some measurements; Nolan handed me a pencil to end the awkwardness, and the pencil had printed on it “JIM NOLAN” in gold letters. The artist then explained that he was tired of losing his pens and pencils to those borrowing from him and not returning them. “This way I know if you have one of mine… but I had to order hundreds, so now I have too many. So I guess just keep it,” he said. Whether intentional or not, he was pleased with the outcome — if his pencils were to be stolen, he was going to make sure the world knew it was his injustice and no one else’s. The same purity carries on through all of his works, and this is what I like about the way he creates and operates. It is these final fine tunings that solidify his pieces.
The exhibition at Art Palace is heavier on the 2D side than what is normally associated with Nolan’s installation heavy work. However, the show does not disappoint. “In regards to 2D-3D, for a long time I’ve been thinking about how flat can a sculpture be before it’s not. Does it become a painting? Which leads me to asking, what is a painting? What can be considered a painting? Can one make a painting without painting?” Nolan asks. His piece “Welcome Stranger / Raised Platform” greets the viewer as you enter the main space. Working within Nolan’s field of film and television work, the piece represents the surface reflection of an urban landscape. A casted, cubed piece of cement sits on a platform covered with a fleece blanket which has the digital image of city textures printed on it. Falling just past this setting is another sculpture-painting hybrid “Welcome Stranger / Solid State Revised.” Less representational, the piece depicts a fountain of sorts, again printed on a fleece blanket. But this time it’s mounted on the wall as backdrop or anchor for the counter parts below: two speakers cast in cement sitting upon a mirrored platform barely larger than the speakers themselves, with their wires in controlled chaos. Nolan has an attention to detail that I admire that is not seen too often. Perhaps it’s his background in fabrication that leads me to be drawn to this, but it paints a perfect portrayal of his personality and vision for his work. These two pieces in particular were featured not so long ago at his solo exhibition at Centraltrak in Dallas, which dealt with similar conversations and reality follies. Working on a similar thread, the works draw from common, familiar, and obtainable objects. Squares of felt picked right from the value bin, silly digital memories captured on blankets, and the over reproduction of “Class” are cleverly interlaced within the Art Palace show. Another piece, “Ideas-In-The-Head / Large Bouquet,” features a platform of cheap artificial flowers laid upon a plinth. Above, there is a Nolan digital blanket with a detail of a floral bouquet, paying homage to a false sense of beauty. It’s as if to say, “These are for you to celebrate your elegance, your 99 cents and artificial elegance.”
Upon exiting the gallery, I took a stroll around Jim’s iron-on patch paintings. At first they are easy to dismiss as simply pleasant. And it’s not until closer inspection that you realize that they are in fact iron-on patch works. It’s a tongue-in-cheek jab at such priceless works by museum giants as Ellsworth Kelly, Hans Hoffman, and Josef Albers’ bold blocks of color paintings and prints. It’s also important to note the placements of the works in the exhibition. Situated directly behind the gallery office desk, the prime spot for the sellable and more obtainable works to be pushed upon the collectors and dealers, the color patches are painfully bright and spark questions about how and why they were produced and about who buys these patches online. It’s another example of Jim Nolan’s attention to finishing touches, and it was a pleasant and satisfying way to conclude the show. The exhibition is smart, clean, and carries Nolan’s message well. The relationship between gallery and artist is present and is something that is all too many times forced into situations it shouldn’t be. However, Jim maintains his own ether about the space. Adapted to a commercial space or not, Jim Nolan’s exhibition Matter-In-The-World / Ideas-In-The-Head is worth its weight in gold or artificial flowers. Gold and its value is in flux, and if it’s presented by Nolan, I’d take the artificial flowers any day.
Jim Nolan’s “Matter-In-The-World / Ideas-In-The-Head” is on display at Art Palace through Sept. 9.