Julia Martin Gallery | October 6–November 18
WORDS Noah Saterstrom
“I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all. I am for an artist who vanishes.”
Claes Oldenburg made this observation about the role of the artist and the point of Art. And Devin Goebel may turn into one of these artists who vanish. That’s not to say he doesn’t exist, for he does, of course. In fact, his very real and very visible exhibition Yard Sale opens at Julia Martin Gallery in Wedgewood/Houston on October 6.
But the word “vanishing”—or even more, the related “evanescent”—is a good way to describe Goebel’s approach: quickly receding from sight.
Goebel, like Oldenburg, has a way of making bold, funny, brightly colored works which appear deposited, almost anonymously, for the amusement of others. There may be a range of possible readings of these objects, but the artist is there to make them and vanish, not to stand and lecture about them. His simple humor has a deadpan delivery; his work is suffused with the sense of a series of well-executed one-liners. The show title of Yard Sale, like that of his recent body of work Pool Party, sets up plenty of amusing associations before you even get to the work itself.
Most of us have been on both sides of the familiar ritual that is the American yard sale. One household is purging, trying in Sisyphean desperation to minimize their belongings, while strangers riffle through them with the hope they’ll find something cheap enough to consider a good deal but valuable enough to add to their own household’s stuff. It is a perennial exchange: cyclical, timeless, and exhausting. Those sitting vigil at yard sales, slouched in folding chairs with coffee, are both welcoming and dismissive—they want you to believe there are treasures there, but heck, they know it’s mostly trash. After all, they’re the ones who put on the “50- cents” stickers.
Goebel welcomed me to his studio, behind a transmission repair shop in Inglewood, early one Saturday to look at his show in progress. I passed several yard sales on the way. With only a few weeks left before the opening, he has a laundry list of tasks to complete for each piece. The works—mostly over-sized, hard-edged, painted-wood constructions—are representations of specific items he has (and we have) bought at yard sales: a lamp, a shirt, a coffeepot. His decisions of what to buy, what materials to use, what size, how to construct them, what details to articulate or stylize are determined with a quiet resolve. Once an approach has been decided, it is hewed to with faith. I am reminded of Sol Le Witt’s admonition (from his Sentences on Conceptual Art) that “irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.”
Goebel uses the shared visual language of yard sales as his leverage in this group of objects. We are coming with enough foreknowledge; the vocabulary is already understood. There is the ubiquitous knick-knack- covered card table. Here are the Day-Glo circle stickers marking items as twenty-five cents, fifty cents, a dollar. There is the sign, redolent with Sharpie marker ink and desperate handwriting, that points to the sale.
Yard Sale is Goebel’s first solo show since moving from Indiana to Nashville in 2015 to work as a design printer at Hatch Show Print. The theme of the show came naturally as he drove to his studio on Saturday mornings and saw the neon pink and green poster board that is the agreed-upon substrate for yard sale signs. Goebel observes that yard sale signs show no attempt at composition, beauty, or even readability. The human urgency comes through the line quality, which seems to scream, “Please come get this stuff out of my life!”
After the sales, Goebel collected signs, isolated the line qualities, and created intuitive compositions by faithfully reproducing them, with a printmaker’s eye to detail, in graphite on high-quality paper. The words are gone, but the no-time-to-waste quality of line has been distilled into choppy abstractions.
I ask him about his experience of following a conceptual theme. Did his faith in the idea sustain throughout? I mean, as an artist, when things are going well, it’s easy to feel like you’re just doing your work. But if the wind leaves your sails, even for a day, art-making can feel like little more than culturally sanctioned time-wasting.
“Yeah, it’s a constant cycle of this is great, this is dumb, this is great, this is dumb. But ultimately if people see the work and can relate to it, that’s a good thing.” Goebel’s show, like a yard sale itself, is a simple exchange that doesn’t need exposition but is worthy of reflection.
Goebel shares some of the foolishness of Dada, but not the wartime nihilism that propelled that rebellion. His casual dismissal of overthinking but high regard for simple ideas and crisp craftmanship put him squarely in the company of Pop Art.
As Jim Dine said, in what could serve well as a tagline for Yard Sale, “It [Pop Art] is the American Dream, optimistic, generous, and naïve.”
Yard Sale by Devin Goebel opens on Friday, October 6, from 6 until 9 p.m. at Julia Martin Gallery. An artist talk is slated for Friday, October 13. The exhibit is on view through November 18. For more information, visit www.juliamartingallery.com.