September 18 – November 13, 1999
Joe Scanlan presented a re-design of his nesting bookcase– Product no. 2-– a modular, infinitely expandable object suitable for holding books, dishes, beanie babies, CDs, videos, vases, lamps, linens, candles, small sculptures, flowers, etc. In addition to the product, the show included “Serving Suggestions,” photographs of the objects in situ; and the premiere issue of Commerce, a magazine published by the artist, (which also functioned as the catalogue with essays by Michael Newman, David Pagel, and Laurie Palmer. )
Much of the artwork produced by Joe Scanlan over his ten-year career has grown out his particular responses to and adaptations of his immediate environment such as his bedroom, his wardrobe, and his library. In his early work, Scanlan recognized that certain of his mundane needs would be met only with the creation of particular kinds of garments, furniture, or other items that are not commercially manufactured. Based on a need for economy, an appreciation of ingenuity, and a do-it-yourself nature, he opted to fabricate the objects himself. A by-product of this practice is that he has become adept at several trades, especially sewing and carpentry, yet is in sentiment and in conceptual orientation, as critic Maureen Sherlock aptly stated, not so much a craftsman as an artist “closer to that near-defunct American, the tinker/inventor.” Pieces such as Nesting Bookcase (1989), Extended-wear Underwear (1991), and Bathroom Floor (Improved) (1993), suggest flexibility and adaptability as both lifestyle traits and as works of art.
Because they were created initially for private use, to bring Nesting Bookcase as well as other works by Scanlan into the gallery may challenge our understanding of their role and purported intention. Scanlan’s works have, as he says, “the uncomfortable posture of only ‘passing through’ the context of art — where they are momentarily frozen, held still for scrutiny — before returning to their mundane uses.” Of course, the works rarely return to their mundane state because they are mostly acquired by individuals and institutions that recognize the capacity of the work to address, poignantly, human traits such as desire, resistance to conformity, and imagination. In her article entitled “Home Economics ” (Arts Magazine, Feb. 1992) Sherlock says, “[Scanlan] resolves the problem of his own specific practical needs, while not being adverse to [his artworks’] patent potential. Added to these are their not-so-improbable layers of artistic meaning within a gallery context, but their aesthetic exchange value does not preclude their use value in singular or mass production: they can find a place in his home, Crate and Barrel, or the gallery; meaning, use, and exchange circulate in multiple systems.” Scanlan’s idiosyncratic responses to the limitations of his surroundings have become the basis of an artistic practice founded on inventiveness, adaptability, and hope.