ARTLIES: Contemporary Art Quarterly | Sign Language
Unit B and the University of Texas, San Antonio | Issue #46 | 2008
"Genovese’s work reveals an artist casting about—looking for different ways to incorporate his background into a contemporary gallery context. As a result, his contributions to the exhibition feel more like a survey than a focused body of work. At UTSA, a fruit cart reading “Corn Piraguas Chicharrones” in Genovese’s distinctive script shares the space with chaotic freeform etchings, leather impressed belts and a rack piled with signs promoting one of the artist’s previous exhibitions. The fruit cart is part of a larger project in which Genovese offers to paint (or repaint) the carts of street vendors for whatever they can afford, or builds a new cart and offers it to the vendor. In a talk at the opening he recounted how often vendors rebuff his offers, figuring him for a con man of some sort. When crossing cultural boundaries, an anonymous act of charity can often be viewed as a trick or act of condescension. Genovese asks strangers not just to buy his art but to have it emblazoned on the vehicle of their livelihood, mingling his professional identity with theirs in a way that demands a certain level of trust. There is a sort of antagonism in this act; the artist is daring strangers to take him at his word. What is not clear is whether Genovese intends to clarify a source of antagonism or demonstrate a kind of positive interpersonal dynamic through charity.
In other works, Genovese seems interested in taking snapshots of human behavior, be they aggressive, generous, intellectual or profane. He encourages viewers to scratch marks on blank metal panels—a kind of uncontrolled “permission” graffiti, which he later presents as an image of the community in which it was created. Completed versions of these etchings are on view at both spaces, along with blank surfaces to record the random thoughts of San Antonio’s art citizenry. This is a reversal of the carts: rather than asking to mark someone else’s property, he’s asking strangers to mark on his work—to mingle their thoughts with his professional identity. Ironically, this feels more like an act of charity than offering to paint fruit carts. I’m not sure that either action gets to the heart of antagonism or charity, but this is partly due to the fact that the exhibits do not fully commit to this exploration. Signs painted with phrases like “We’re all we’ve got” in different languages muddle what could be a poignant journey into social space." -Ben Judson
(Excerpt from Artlies Quarterly, a review of Sign Language a two part exhibition by Juan Angel Chavez and Michael Genovese at the University of Texas San Antonio and Unit B Gallery in San Antonio TX. Curated by Kim Abouchon, 2008)
Resting with the petals of a rose
“There is a plant in the side room as well, which may be the most interesting piece in the whole show: this one is alive, and is a blue agave plant on which Genovese has carved text. Anyone familiar with his work will recognize this stylistic incorporation, as he painstakingly writes and carves his version of hieroglyphics on his works, often made of a metal. But in this case, Genovese found the writings of a self-help guru online and repeated his words on the plant, which he will continue to add to as the agave grows. It’s pretty cool all around. On the wall is a nickel- plated aluminum mirror (like everything here, a creative take on an average household object), also with a script inscribed.”-Tschida, Anne. Escape this room, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Feb. 8, 2011
"Resting with the petals of a rose, by Michael Genovese is a piece with a heightened sense of symbolism. The artist who has always had an interest in codification and the representation of history through the construction and deconstruction of symbols, presents up with a blue agave plant whose leaves have been engraved with phrases extracted from self-help videos from YouTube. The job of the agave-whose leaves continually regenerate - is to incorporate the ides of evolution and continuum that underlies Genovese's work." - Batet, Janet. Escape the Room, Artes y Letras, El Nuevo Herald, Miami, FL, Jan. 23, 2011
We all we got
Exhibition Essay by Antonia Pocock
Layers of neon pink and green paper painted with bold letters are plastered over the gallery wall like flyers that accumulate on urban buildings or discount signs at grocery stores. These attention-grabbing colors, created from unmixed sign paint, draw the viewer to concise yet open-ended, multilingual thoughts about society. Zora Neale Hurston's observation,"All my skin folk ain't all my kin folk,"and the artist's own mantra, "We all we got," are written in Korean, Urdu, German, French, Spanish, Polish, and Bosnian on these humble posters. In the engravings displayed nearby, the two quotes reappear alongside further social commentary and unknown names tangled within baroque patterning. Where the signs are bright, outgoing, spontaneous, and fragile, the intricate engravings on tar-colored sign substrate are dark, inward, laborious, and relatively permanent. While the signs evoke grassroots advertising, the engravings evoke dangerous and secret forms of expression, such as scratchings on trains and buses, in bathroom stalls, or on desks at the back of a classroom. Executed during his residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (January 15-February 24, 2008), these text-based works draw on familiar modes of communication encountered at stores or on the street in order to capture contemporary voices.
To better record language that is alive, Genovese created this set of signs and engravings in collaboration with visitors and staff at the MCA. Avoiding static dictionary definitions, he enlisted native speakers at the museum to translate the phrases he ultimately painted on neon posters. Likewise, the intricate engravings produced during this residency were built up from messages carved by museum goers. Because of his insistence on a human element in his work, Genovese's interaction with everyday life as art has a sincerity that is lacking in the innovative contributions of Marcel Duchamp and Pop Art to this terrain. While Duchamp appropriated ordinary objects, Genovese, creates his pieces with his own hands. While Pop artists tended to aestheticize the vernacular, Genovese's work is grounded more in a collaborative process than in an aesthetic. Genovese effectively resurrects Josef Beuys' conception of "social sculpture" whereby social interaction is a work of art and every person is an artist ”without the utopian promise Beuys championed. Though his works often involve painting, then, it is clear that Genovese's medium is not strictly paint, nor is it simply industrial sign materials; he also works with the abstract media of language and human interaction. 2008
Lo que puedes pagar
Michael Genovese's project Lo que puedes pagar (For what you can pay) engaged local pushcart vendors and mobile metal recyclers by offering them hand-painted signs in exchange for goods or services to raise awareness of locally operated immigrant businesses. in Chicago, IL; Brooklyn, NY; and Monterrey, MX.
“Some of Genovese's pieces are created using found objects alongside his painted text works. He transforms bits of wood, advertisements and street ephemera into a sculptural shed in his collaborative "Tragic Beauty" series. Other works are as much about community as they are about aesthetics."Lo que puedes pagar [Pay what you can]" is an ongoing public art project where he hand-letters scrap metal collectors trucks and food vending carts. "I document the process with audio recordings, photography, and remnants of the experience to reflect on the interactions," he points out. It's a way of capturing a culture in decline as a result increasingly restrictive laws that view vendors as an eyesore or menace to taxpayers.” His hand-painted signage highlights their cultural importance before they vanish.” “There is something tragic and poetic about much of his work. He plays with a city in decay. The work is often more about human emotions. A small sign hidden by a motorway is painted with "Old Worn Out Memories" in old fashion type.”- Francesca Gavin