If you haven’t been to Taos, don’t worry, prior expertise is not necessary to appreciate Taos (Taos Thrift Shop), Ludwig Schwarz’s madcap exhibition at Conduit Gallery. As the artist himself asserts in his statement, “I don’t know a thing or two about Taos,” although that should be taken with a grain of salt, since later in the same statement, he declares “the above has little or nothing to do with the exhibition.” Clearly, the important thing is to avoid a plodding literal-mindedness at all costs, if one is to get the hang of this show.
Although not claiming any special familiarity with Taos of my own, I did detect a few items in the gallery that could be construed as Taos-y and/or thrift-shoppy, if one were to undertake such a pedestrian task as iconography: some warm desert tones here, some Native American patterns there, and a few plastic ducks, golf clubs and boxing gloves hauled down from the attic that wouldn’t be completely out of place at Curiosities or any other local home for the obsolete and off-kilter. I do think that generally speaking, Greater New Mexico has something of an oversupply of Southwestern kitsch and an undersupply of ironic responses to that kitsch, so I’m glad that Schwarz is fulfilling a needed role here.
Along the right-hand wall is a row of four oil paintings, each six feet square, all Untitled (2007-2009), that combine repetitive patterns, monochrome regions and isolated gestures in neighboring, sharply defined zones. Across from these are five assemblages, most about elbow height, for example (The) Suburban (2011-2012), which incorporates bicycle, wood, blankets, beads, wok, guitar, jacket, coat hanger, golf clubs, clamps, hammer and tape measure. Unifying the whole room is Taos (2010-2012), an 18-minute audio work which, thank God, is not a pseudo-spiritual environmentalist hymn with flute, drums and chanting, but a jittery, uptempo piece of electronic music that adds yet another layer of irony to the experience. I can well imagine Taos playing in the studio where these works were created, if not in any actualTaos thrift shop.
I see shades of Martin Kippenberger in the combination of mocked-up household objects and rapidly ramified paintings displaying a sharp graphic sense, and a similar subtext in Kippenberger and in Schwarz: that of the universal ambition of the artist, based not on discipline-specific competence but on the general idea of art. Anything can be “artified” or conscripted for art-making, and since the need to make and consume art never stops, eventually, everything can and will become art.
Photo at top: Ludwig Schwarz, Taos (Taos Thrift Shop), Installation view.