We All We Got
Michael Genovese "We All We Got..."
EXHIBITION Essay by Antonia Pocock | Chicago, Illinois
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.