The Perfect Kiss (QQ)*
Matt Morris with James Lee Byars
Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH
May 15 – October 11, 2015
Bouquets of roses, love notes, commemorative snapshots, boudoir décor: typically associated with romantic courtship, how might these gestures be read when used to remark on relationships that connect the art world? In this installation of works, Matt Morris interprets these forms literally and abstractly in order to consider how connections are made between art histories and contemporary praxis, between exhibitions and the museums who host them, and amongst a global network of collectors, curators, couturiers, and other cultural producers complicit in the scripting of stories that characterize how an artist is understood behind his work. In Morris’ research-driven practice, examinations of recent artistic pasts compel the shape of his work, conjoining conventional modes of object-making (like drawing and photography) with shifting roles of artist-as-curator and scholar.
For his most recent project, Morris considers the life and work of American artist James Lee Byars (1932–1997), seeking to depict an alternative, more softly intimate portrayal than what has been represented in dominant canon. Over several decades, Byars was committed to posing poetic questions and the pursuit of ideas of perfection, problems that are placed here into conversation with Morris’ own inquiries into queer identity. Subverting easy categorization, Byars’ oeuvre includes post-minimalist formal investigations, performance, and a daily ritual of correspondence that merged drawing and flirtatious letter writing. He wrote profusely to curators, collectors, and art world luminaries such as the German artist Joseph Beuys. In many cases these valentine-like texts went unanswered. Morris’ selection of Byars works looks closely at the ephemerality, rejection, and absence that permeates the cultural field in which both artists are positioned—seeking to trace where personal histories and social contexts meet.