Ron Terada: Who I Think I Am
By Aileen Burns
Ron Terada: Who I Think I Am
Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre
May 15 – July 25, 2010
From the dim lobby outside of the Walter Phillips Gallery, sentimental verses could be heard emanating from the furthest of the two spaces that make-up this installation of Ron Terada’s traveling solo exhibition, Who I Think I Am. Music by indie-favorites like Jens Lekman, Beirut and The Magnetic Fields softly saturated the show, and as the title of the work indicates, offer a Soundtrack for an Exhibition (2010).
The first of two rooms contained a series of black canvases, Jack (2010), featuring text in white lettering. The story told is an appropriation of Chapter 14 from painter Jack Goldstein’s memoir Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia (2003). These stark and memorial-esque paintings recount one of the more important friendships and loves in Goldstein’s life. With brute honesty, he tells of his addiction to hard drugs, and his reliance on art dealer, friend and lover Rebecca Donelson for financial, professional, mental and physical support: “The only way I could get off the stuff was by being put in a straightjacket — Rebecca locked me up in an institution for two months. She wanted me to have the best help possible and sent me to a prominent psychopharmacologist in Chicago, who was very expensive. She said, You can afford him, just sell a painting! And I’d say, Okay, let’s sell a painting.”
On viewing the exhibition, my initial instinct was to unpack the relationship between the deeply personal narrative presented in the paintings and the person presenting them in this context, Ron Terada. After all, the exhibition is titled Who I Think I Am. Perhaps Terada also struggles with his position within his peer group, or with the status of painting in today’s art world. Or, maybe, he too relies on strong female figures in times of trouble. It may be a purely conceptual strategy — appropriation for appropriations’ sake. The aesthetic of the show is certainly in line with the cool style of a conceptualist like Joseph Kosuth, whose Photostats of white text on black ground could easily be compared to Terada’s Jack series. The ambiguity of the gesture is interesting in and of itself. The appropriation of text is characteristic of Terada’s practice but, in this instance, there seems to be something distinctly intimate at stake.
The sense of intimacy created by the memoirs in Jack is further emphasized by Playlist for an Exhibition. The second space of the gallery featured a secondary space, a theatre-like black box; in it was a projection depicting a record spinning the twelve tracks that comprise the show’s soundtrack. The installation at the Walter Phillips Gallery is one of a series of three being organized with Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, U.K., and Toronto’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery. Each version is distinct. At Ikon, for instance, visitors could take away copies of a vinyl playlist, and the show featured a chapter of Jack dealing with Goldstein’s unglamorous life off the grid in East Los Angeles in the 1990s. If the questions raised by the intersection of appropriations that never quite reveal Terada’s identity are of interest, the final instalment of the exhibition will arrive at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in January, 2011.
Aileen Burns is an emerging writer and curator based between Toronto and New York. She recently completed her MA in critical and curatorial studies at Columbia University and has held positions at the Whitney (New York, US), Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (Toronto) and Mercer Union (Toronto). In addition to contributing to Magenta Magazine Online, her writing appears in Art in America, Canadian Art and C Magazine.