The Affordable Art Fair has been getting a good deal of coverage from AFC these days, especially considering the fact that it is now closed. If there hadn’t been any art worth mentioning, there would be no reason to revisit the subject, but the work of photographer Thomas Allen at Foley Gallery deserves discussion, especially in light of the fact that there has been so little from the mainstream press. It’s unclear why these oversights happen, though I suspect it has a lot to do with a surface reading of these works which in turn result in comments that lack any kind of intellectual investment. Artnet provided a typically empty piece last year when covering Scope whereby Ben Davis applied such mindless comments as “pure superficial fun”, to the artists work, prefacing that the art was amongst those made in the spirit of the Hamptons, and was happy to embrace frivolity.
I think the photographs of Thomas Allen deserve from a little more thought than this from such sources, and generally speaking more response from print and online media. Yes, the images are playful, but the word frivolity suggests that these works are empty in content, which is simply not true. The relationship between illustration and narrative is more complex than these passing remarks insinuate, which is evidenced by the four years of vignettes Allen has created each investigating different aspects of this connection.
For example, Spar, which is amongst the first works in this series, is a lighthearted take on the combative relationship between illustration and text. Encore references three years of past work, making explicit the theatrical nature of the work, while visually demonstrating the weight that text has. Given the increased importance that text and illustration has taken on in contemporary art over the last two to three years,(even Matthew Barney added script, albeit ill-fated, to his previously dialogueless films) this work has particular relevance as it takes on many of the issues artists are currently working with. How does one use illustration and text without having the weight of text either take over or carry a piece? Does Allen succeed in using nostalgic subject matter without it dominating the work? No artist bats 100 percent on this, but I do think Allen manages to maintain a fairly high average. Works such as Cover, Encore, and Slim are more than just the blurring of documentation of the real and the fabricated – they present the idea that narrative, be it historical, or fictional, is built through the presence and absence of text.
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