Simultaneously backdrop, context, audience and vehicle for art – Pavlisko’s exhibition, Crown explores the plasticity of time and the path of art history through three distinct installations for his first solo museum exhibition at The Cincinnati Art Museum.
Todd Pavlisko has developed a complex and layered practice in which he involves professionals from outside of the art world to help develop, conceptualize, and execute his performances. This methodology leads to installations that challenge and question traditional studio practices and the relationship between the artist and institution. Though rooted in art historical touchstones – Chris Burden and Niki de Saint Phalle, among others – the central action upon which this exhibition is based is unprecedented. Over the course of several years, Pavlisko developed a dialogue with a retired military sharpshooter. Their conversations revolved around the intersection of physics and art history which eventually led to examining how to utilize the speed of a bullet to metaphorically traverse time via art objects. When the opportunity to propose a project to the Cincinnati Art Museum, Pavlisko was able to realize these conceptual exercises with a real collection in physical space. In this way, the Cincinnati Art Museum becomes both a specific reference point and a stand-in for the art institution and the history of artistic production.
From this central action, Pavlisko produced two works – a video installation and a sculptural object. The Untitled video installation distills the narrative of the action into a relatively brief, dramatic moment. Though the activity of firing a weapon within the walls of a museum would seem shocking, the realized installation is ultimately quite subtle. The initial images depict the nearly simultaneous trigger pull and moment of impact accompanied by slowed audio of the gunshot. The next video sequence rewards patient viewing as the most iconic works in the Art Museum alternate between back drop and viewer of the small speeding projectile. The screens lead the viewer into the Great Hall where the brass cube, Crown, is presented in the same space it is depicted in the video. Crown’s punctured surface is the sculptural result of the fired weapon. With clear references to Minimalism and Modernism, Pavlisko brings the objects from the museum’s permanent collection into a complicated conversation with century’s worth of ideologies, cultural production and art historical movements.
In a related installation in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s second floor Dutch gallery, Pavlisko has installed All the Money I Found in a Year. Since 2004, Pavlisko has collected coins found on the ground and catalogued them by year and denomination. The artist has gold-plated the coins and installed them directly on the floor arranged in a grid-like pattern. This work comments on the nature of art as a commodity and also marks the passage of time albeit at a much slower pace than the projectile in the video.
Untitled is an 8-channel video installation that documents and interprets staged action that took place in the Art Museum in 2012. The action consisted of a military-trained sharpshooter firing a projectile through the Schmidlapp Gallery and into a brass cube designed by the artist which also doubled as the containment unit for the projectile. For Pavlisko, the act of traversing the length of the gallery past the Icons of the Permanent Collection, collapses art history and the history of the Art Museum into a fleeting moment. The video installation then expands time and slows down that action into a sensory experience for the viewer as they travel at roughly the same rate as the slow motion projectile. Much like a museum visitor or docent attempts to distill and contextualize the entirety of a museum’s collection into a single visit or tour, this project attempts the same through a dramatic cinematic experience.
Throughout the exhibition, the artist makes numerous art historical references, namely to the work of Harold Edgerton, whose photographs capturing droplets of milk and bullets passing through fruit showed that art could record action and turn it into a representation of something traditionally invisible to the naked eye. In this case, the contrast between a projectile caught in mid-flight by high-speed cameras, and the iconic quality of the masterpieces in their niches behind the flying object, asks viewers to consider new contexts for the most notable works in the Art Museum’s collection. This action, unprecedented inside an art museum, questions the relationship between the “artist” and the “institution.” By using the objects within the Art Museum as a witness to this event, they are simultaneously given a privileged position and also become “material” for Pavlisko’s work.
Crown is the final resting place of the projectiles depicted in the video installation. For Pavlisko, these projectiles now contain the history of the objects they have passed, and by transference the history of the institution, and are now contained within the brass cube. Crown sits in the center of the Great Hall, the original entrance to the Cincinnati Art Museum. By placing the sharpshooter at the current entrance to the Art Museum, Pavlisko metaphorically connects the old and new. Likewise, the history of art represented by the Icons of the Permanent Collection now slams directly into the brass cube with its nod toward Modernism, an art movement that contemporary artists continually attempt to reconcile and define. Crown itself is a reference to the sculpture, Untitled, 1970, by the American artist Donald Judd in the Cincinnati Art Museum permanent collection. While Judd was interested in perfection, Pavlisko here makes us aware of the beauty of imperfection and transgression. The title Crown refers to the shape that is made at the point of impact with the brass cube.
In All the Money I Found in a Year, the artist saved every coin he has found on the ground for the past 10 years. Each coin has been gold-plated and catalogued by the year it was found. The coins thereby become a marker of the passage of time and a wry commentary on the economics of art. In much the same way that the video installation downstairs is an intervention into the Schmidlapp Gallery and the Great Hall, this piece also gains context from its location. Among the gilt frames of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Dutch gallery, Pavlisko is able to playfully suggest a connection between historical and contemporary commodities. The rectilinear format of the coins is another nod to modernism and formalism. Time, art history and the art museum again become material and content for the artist.