Gallery Address:
1821 W Hubbard, Suite 202
Chicago, IL

Mailing Address:
1747 W Division
Chicago IL 60622-4093

Gallery hours:
Wednesdays - Saturdays
noon to 6pm











September 16 to October 21, 2006

Pornographic Pantograph with Allusion to Juan Sanchez Cotan (In Progress, Patent Pending)

September 16 to October 21, 2006
Opening Reception:
Saturday, September 16: 6 to 9pm
Gallery Hours:
Wednesday through Saturday:12 to 6pm


Western Exhibitions, recently relocated to 1821 W. Hubbard Suite 202, is proud to present John Neff's new project Pornographic Pantograph with Allusion to Juan Sanchez Cotan (In Progress, Patent Pending). A "studio view," the exhibition includes preparatory blueprints, maquettes, presentation mannequins and patent application materials related to the Pornographic Pantograph, a sculpto-graphic device that Neff has been developing since 2001. When completed (projected prototype completion date fall 2007), the Pantograph will be a machine that enables users to replicate and re-photograph poses observed in gay male pornographic digital images using live models. Pantographs, long used by mechanical draftsmen and now being supplanted by digital technologies, are tools used to copy, reduce and enlarge building plans, production diagrams, and other two-dimensional images.

The preparatory blueprints, unique cyanotypes, are printed from negatives derived from existing gay online pornography but will include a broad range of stylistic references. The blueprint layouts mimic the design of pornographic websites. Superimposed over the photographic images, mechanical / technical drawings trace models' poses. These tracings will serve as guidelines for the design of the various body clamps, reinforcements and restraints that will be the primary mechanical components of the completed device. Pseudo-Victorian photograms of diseased flowers and foliage and common weeds around the edges of the blueprints allude to both the first published book of photography (Anna Atkin's 1843 British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions) and to the characterization of sexually expressed homosexuality as an undesirable, marginal abnormality.

Also included in the exhibition is a 1:5.75 scale maquette of the pantographic device, constructed in steel using parts from existing body-sculpting objects (exercise machines, medical instruments, office furniture). When produced as a production unit, the pantographic device will be large enough to constrain and control the physical movement of at least three full-size male bodies. Plaster casts of heads of cabbage hang within the maquette's "viewing window." The cabbage serves several functions: it is a stand-in for the figure of the model (much as fruit and carcasses are often used in industrial safety tests); it makes explicit the cross-genre nature of the pantographic device (it is both a still life and a figurative composition); it expresses the title's "allusion" to sixteenth century Spanish still-life painter Juan Cotan; and it refers to the German novelist Heinrich Böll's report (made by a priest in his novel The Clown) that cabbage was once believed to quell the passions.

The two mannequins, both cast from the artist's body, represent a seated figure looking directly at the pantographic device maquette and a standing figure facing the exhibition visitor. The seated figure is cast using plaster bandages in the manner of the late American sculptor George Segal. The cast components are assembled as fragments on an armature constructed of used wheelchair parts (using a technique similar to the method employed by conservationists attempting the reconstruction of figurative sculptures from Antiquity). The standing figure "presents" the exhibition to viewers, gesturing towards the other sculptures and towards an enlarged copy of the show's press release. The standing figure's vertical orientation and address to the viewer are in every way the opposite of the incomplete, silent, "absorptive" white figure.

Pornographic Pantograph With Allusion to Juan Sanchez Cotan (In Progress, Patent Pending) also includes studio artifacts from the production of the exhibition, including a series of "studio snapshots" (some overlain, in the style of an art magazine advertisement, with exhibition information), negatives and production molds. Contrary, however, to many "process oriented" sculptural and installation works now being exhibited, the Pantograph as a device will arrive at a point of definitive completion. The current presentation is a "studio view" of the in-progress work, but the idea of the device itself exhibits a will to formal autonomy at odds with the self-consciously theatrical (to borrow a term from art critic and historian Michael Fried), open-ended nature of much contemporary "sculpture-in-process." (Work in the tradition of Robert Morris' Continuous Project Altered Daily and Robert Smithson's Non-Sites). The theatrical work, by definition, is always incomplete in itself, acknowledging and depending, as it does, on the presence of an observer.

Art is in the midst of a crisis of appearances, one that arises — simultaneously and relatedly — out of the neo-avant-garde's rejection of the formal autonomy of the work of art (however contingent) and the rise the spectacle as a primary means of socio-political control in the West. Precipitated by the knowledge that today all things appear first as their exchange value, this crisis is all the more deeply felt in an artistic context of radical questioning of the stability of individual "acts of culture," a context that undermines — or preempts — emphatic self-definitions. Much serious contemporary art uncritically adopts a theatrical relationship to its viewers in an effort to respond to, resolve or intensify (hoping to exacerbate the collapse of Art as a disciple and, by extension, existing social orders) the crisis of appearances. The will to formal autonomy, on the other hand, necessarily entails an indifferent, conflicted or troubled relationship between the artwork / situation / device and an observer. In the context of a commercial contemporary art gallery, these statements are insane but necessary.

Historically, the Pantograph stands (humbly) in a long line of systematically sensual artworks stretching from Pontormo to the present. This tradition marries methodical — sometimes quasi-scientific — formal experimentation with a keen appreciation of the "excesses" of vision and body, those experiences that evade and respond inconclusively to analytical interpretation. The seventeenth century Spanish monk Juan Sanchez Cotan, for example, painted a series of still lives in which pieces of ripe fruit and vegetables hang from strings in dark window frames. These lush images were composed according to strict algorithmic formulae. On a page titled "Vegetables as Threat" posted in February 2003 on the website (since replaced, interestingly, by a pornographic hosting site) this mysterious claim was made: "Juan Sanchez Cotan's fatal obsession with vegetables led him to a hellish impasse, which he escaped only by the total renunciation of this world for a rigidly cloistered life."

In relation Neff's own oeuvre, the project will extend the interests of his installation pieces and works on paper. Like the Pantograph, the installations Vexations (1997) and White (1998), and the sets Empty Space (1999), Figure / Ground and Repetitions (both 2001), dealt with the relationship of flat images to three-dimensional space, the seduction of identical things, and the problem of the beholder's role (or lack thereof) in the creation of an artwork's "meaning." The artist's works on paper, notably those included in Papers on Work: Collages and Explanations (2002) have a two-fold action: they are simultaneously clear, concise expressions of a given set of rules and completely irrational objects.