Installation view of Austin Thomas’s studio; courtesy the artist and Storefront
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It’s surprising to learn that Austin Thomas, whose works-on-paper are the subject of an exhibition at Storefront, takes inspiration from Joseph Beuys.
What could a temperament as convivial and light as Thomas’ glean from the tedious pedantry of the Teutonic Andy Warhol? The notion of “social sculpture,” apparently “a Gigantic project,” in Beuys’s estimation, “in which the principle of production and consumption takes on a form of quality.” If that much allowed Thomas the leeway to festoon the gallery with her elegantly unkempt collages, then more power to her. Be thankful she didn’t take to heart Beuys’ dour pretensions.
She couldn’t, really. Her work—conversational, diaristic, susceptible to precious distractions and buoyed by off-the-cuff esprit—has more in common with, say, Virginia Woolf: Stream-of-consciousness powers Thomas’s musings on the everyday, the systematic and the vagaries of memory. The mind wanders and material attempts to catch up with it. That’s the conundrum and the charm.
Cutting and cobbling together graph paper, sketch book abstractions, old ledgers, a Ridgewood High School letterhead and the stationary of one Vera Loebner residing at Karl-Marx-Alle in Berlin, Thomas reconfigures them into deceivingly ramshackle constructions. Imagine the precocious love child of Joseph Cornell and Sol Lewitt making origami in math class and you’ll get some idea of Thomas’ flighty, contradictory art.
The Storefront show is divided into four sections, respectively: travel diaries, “studio wall,” sketches and text-based pieces, the last of which transcribe overheard snippets of talk (“A head butt to the nose can really ruin your whole day”) to marginally clever effect. But it’s in the approximation of Thomas’ workspace wherein her scattershot delicacies take root, thrive and, ultimately, win us over.
© 2010 Mario Naves
Originally published in the October 13, 2010 edition of City Arts.