Aaron Flint Jamison

Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf, Germany

It is likely that, if you are reading this, you are an artist or art student; work in the arts; follow art out of cultural curiosity, or for professional gain. In other words, you probably fall on one side of what writer Janet Malcolm once icily characterized as the ‘gap’ between the ‘tiny group of people who consider themselves the professional art public’ and the ‘ordinary literate’ person. What determines this gap and its width? Questions as to whether what we do, make, curate, critique, has any value whatsoever, also nag, privately, at many of us. Rarely, though, are we forced to account for them as directly as Aaron Flint Jamison did last year, when he appeared in court to defend the public value of contemporary art space Yale Union (YU).

web_afj-gmm-06.jpg

Aaron Flint Jamison, Britain Awake, 2017, Plastic stand, letterpressed folio Iron Lady as broadside, 115 x 52 x 44 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

Aaron Flint Jamison, Britain Awake, 2017, Plastic stand, letterpressed folio Iron Lady as broadside, 115 x 52 x 44 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

Jamison co-founded YU in Portland, Oregon, in 2013, in what a court dossier from this year describes as ‘a century-old former industrial laundry’, gifted by an anonymous benefactor. YU applied for tax-exempt not-for-profit status in October, 2013, and received a rejection in September of the following year, a fact that would be anodyne were this building’s size (a city block) and history (protected) not cause for a (massive) property tax liability. Jamison’s exhibition at Gallery Max Meyer, ‘YU Contemporary, Inc. vs. Dept. of Revenue and Multnomah County Assessor’, contains a printed book re-printing the court deposition that followed this rejection; bagged remnants of a Lutz Bacher floor piece (The Secret Garden, 2016), once shown at YU; an R.H. Quaytman edition published by Jamison (Orchard Spreadsheet, 2016) with YU designer Scott Ponik’s presentation tables. Britain Awake (2017) is a plastic display stand containing letterpress folios, one reprinting Margaret Thatcher’s 1976 inaugural speech (Iron Lady, 2017). Such inclusions reference past shows at YU, strain between private gain and public interest, while also prodding at the contradictory notions of portability, exchange and site-specificity.

Rarely has accounting been so thrilling. Denied not-for-profit status, YU was declared of ‘only incidental benefit to the public at large, if at all.’ There’s a haziness in what conceptual art looks like – when and why dead time, diffuse labour, and the hard-to-explain can become ‘art’. A tax assessor observes that, ‘much of the time’, the ‘primary exhibit space sat empty and was not utilized at all, let alone for artistic purposes.’ He questions: ‘how is Yale Union any different than slightly older art school graduates getting together and partying in a building’?

web_afj-gmm-03-cmyk.jpg

Aaron Flint Jamison, installation view at Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf, 2017. Courtesy: Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

Aaron Flint Jamison, installation view at Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf, 2017. Courtesy: Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

Why did people appear to be sleeping in this building? Why were animals allowed in? What is the meaning of ‘residency’? Is Veneer, Jamison’s magazine, printed on letterpress machines installed at YU, a commercial entity? In short: how does an art space contribute to the public good? In the 448-page dossier at the heart of Jamison’s exhibition, we read an earnest untangling of the couched implicits about showing art and why it’s done. The protagonist of the story becomes its adjudicator, Honourable Henry C. Breithaupt, who listens with responsiveness, curiosity and humour (‘is that a picture of decapitated chickens?’). His reasonable semantic yield signs – ‘What do you refer to as a time-based performance?’ – meet with defensive, revealing answers: ‘sorry, some of my rhetoric is – it’s stuck in – art language’.

Breithaupt admonishes the tax assessors’ creaky reasoning and cranky word-twisting. For Breithaupt, the trial was ‘very interesting in terms of a view on a world of art that goes beyond my Janson’s art history text, which I had in the 60s’. In his closing statement, he suggests printing the deposition by letterpress. In the old days, he expands, ‘people were much more careful about their briefing’ because ‘it was literally sent out and printed’. A surprisingly entertaining courtroom drama about art’s broader significance has ensued, in the form of Jamison’s exquisite, testimonial exhibition. Exemption was granted – on letterpress, to boot.

Main image: Aaron Flint Jamison, Iron Lady, 2017, letterpressed folio, 14 x 23cm, edition of 18. Courtesy: Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

Pablo Larios is senior editor of frieze. He lives in Berlin.

Issue 190

First published in Issue 190

October 2017

Most Read

The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018