Arts Here Today, Gone Today

Dallas-based Ludwig Schwarz is sincerely 'zeitgeist'

Bespoke or mass market? Record of an event, or testament to a prolific imagination? Dallas-based Ludwig Schwarz plays games with originality, autonomy, and production to question the role of art in a consumer culture. His one-man show, chronologic (carry on) is at Three Walls gallery through Friday, March 26, by appointment.

Dallas-based Ludwig Schwarz is sincerely 'zeitgeist'

"Once I rose above the noise and confusion/just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion," opens the lyrics from Kansas' 1976 hit, "Carry On Our Wayward Son," a guitar loop from which plays noisily in the background of Ludwig Scwharz' exhibit, chronologic (carry on), at Three Walls through Friday. Observers and critics of Schwarz' 15-year career have credited him with exposing the economic mechanisms that drive the art world, for instance by commissioning large-scale paintings from China for mass production, or pricing starving-artist-style pictures with tacky furniture in a show called Rentown; and with laying bare the directionless hubbub that comprises contemporary society in a choppy animated video of an out-of-sync horse.

Schwarz' work does not submit to easy encapsulation, however. As Three Walls director Michele Monseau forewarned me, it's highly conceptual work, and viewers often have a lot of questions about it. And, like contemporary society, there is constant noise and distraction that must be filtered in order to find a transportable meaning, if it's there to be found.

After a brief, and economically circumscribed, flirtation with bespoke consumer goods, mass production is back in style. How could it not be with 6 billion people and counting on the planet?
When the guitar loop stops cold, the soundtrack of one of two films playing on a small digital screen, Bad Boys starring Sean Penn or Carlito's Way starring Robert DeNiro, becomes audible. The films are mean-streets, extra-judicial justice stories, and the screen rests atop plexiglass shelves, one of which encases a fermenting package of corned slab beef, another of which holds Time magazines from December 2003 through January 2004. Against another wall sits an enigmatic L-shaped pile of Crate & Barrel boxes, and directly opposite the screen is a series of same-size oil paintings projected perpendicularly like street signs. Commissioned from anonymous painters adept in pedestrian representational painting, they purport to commemorate a series of exhibits from 1987 to the present, including group, solo, and curated-by shows, in which Schwarz has participated. At least one, Rentown, appears on his curriculum vitae, but the rest could be figments of Schwarz' fertile imagination, including The Michael Jackson Paintings in Longview, Texas. Of these "posters," the best is, We Got Him, proposed for the Galerie Seth Plume in January 2004 and featuring a fine portrait of the captured Saddam Hussein. We did get him, but as on-going events show, he may simply be a symbol of how much we've lost control of the situation now that the monster has an unknown number of heads instead of just one.

Perhaps the best clue to pair with that painting is the title above the film descriptions, which reads, "Carry On (Time Heals All Wounds)." The decomposing piece of meat could be a pointed rebuttal that many things just worsen with time until they rot away entirely, but we're kidding ourselves to call it healing. As part of the shelf which supports the screening movies, it's also a reminder that it's very easy for ethnic and poor males to be seen and treated as slabs of meat - consumable, dispensable, replaceable - whether it's as soldiers, inmates, or former pawns, er ... allies.

chronologic (carry on)

By appointment
Through March 26

Three Walls
106D Blue Star, Bldg B #106D
The Crate & Barrel boxes feel superfluous here; there's plenty to think about and string together without them. They are an extension of Schwarz' themes, but in Three Walls economical space, they're reduced to a physical manifestation of the intrusion created by the Kansas loop. This raises an interesting question about conceptual artists who work in this vein. Our highly developed consumption- and media-based culture can co-opt almost any critique. That's why the scene in Fight Club in which the club begins to chant Edward Norton's brief eulogy about the uniqueness of their fallen member is such a smart commentary. We've already acknowledged, absorbed, and learned to celebrate - if that's the right word - the glut of information, enticements, and products with which we're bombarded. Baby Boomers fantasize of escape facilitated with the same products that create the problem; Generation Y plugs in further with every new integrated technology that comes on the market. After a brief, and economically circumscribed, flirtation with bespoke consumer goods, mass production is back in style. How could it not be with 6 billion people and counting on the planet?

And as populations continue to explode, and immigration and resource depletion create greater pressures, we are likely to become more, not less, militaristic and enamored of conformity. To that end, we need critiques that encompass the actual possibilities for change or improvement as much or more than we require subjective laments. Schwarz' work has a playfulness that can be liberating or irritating depending on how oppressed one still feels by "art," but a sense of sincerity and thoroughness comes through, making the shortcomings worth the price of passing insight. •

` By Elaine Wolff `