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Bill Schwarz, installation views of solo show at John Gibson gallery, New York, 1995 (photos by Sylvie Ball). While the artist Cady Noland made urban detritus (machine parts, flags, key chains, beer cans) the focus of her found object/scatter installations, her contemporary Bill Schwarz, who was included in a number of Robert Nickas-curated shows around the time she was coming to prominence, took the more radical and I would say Robert Smithsonesque step of looking to the American heartland for appropriation subject matter. For this show at Gibson he trucked a selection of rusty, not-quite-obsolescent farm machinery into the white cube of the gallery and arranged it tastefully, a la MOMA curator Alfred Barr's "art of design" shows.
I say radical for a couple of reasons. In a way there's nothing more alien to a cosmopolitan New Yorker than these implements from red states, as we now call l them. Much of the equipment is obscure to the urbanite and seems completely divorced from function, yet is a matter of life and death to the (pre-agribusiness) farmer hacking a living out of the land. The exhibit follows the core principles of what Smithson called the "non-site"--a real place in the world transplanted into the white cube. The show is also "difficult" because of flirtation with kitsch far more threatening to refined urban sensibilities than Noland's Canal Street, dollar store ephemera: these battered, time-patinaed harrows and spinning wheels can be found all over the heartland tucked away in antique stores, used as flower pots, and so forth. The difference is the "Barr treatment" Schwarz gives them; the objects are arranged for maximum formal elegance, so that they resemble shows of mid-20th Century modernist sculpture, much as Barr arranged tools and machine parts, deliberately pointing up their affinities to Brancusi, the Cubists, et al.
The price of radicalism can be obscurity. The Gibson show was reviewed in Artforum
and other publications but the work is not in museum collections. Now that we have the Net, it's possible for shows to be seen in a fleshed-out way that a back-of-the-mag Artforum
review accompanied a single tiny picture could never convey. These images are completely relevant with Cady Noland back in the news, with the media attacking the "appropriators of the appropriator."