David Kordansky Gallery is pleased to announce Res Gestae, an exhibition of new work by Alan Michael. Concerned with a densely cross-referential network of reflection, repetition, and subtly conflicting stylistic choices, Michael’s practice represents an investigative, even experimental, approach to the contemporary fascination with reference material and the narratives that accompany images and objects of all kinds. The exhibition will consist of oil paintings and oil and silkscreen works on canvas. Michael’s attention to detail, and his deep understanding of the history of the medium, bring the work into conversation with a surprising lineage of photorealist, pop, and appropriation-based forbears.
Res Gestae, the show’s title, is commonly understood as Latin for ‘things done,’ and was part of the Roman emperor Augustus’s funerary inscription, itself regarded as an early, mortuary-inspired version of a CV. In legal terminology, the phrase is also used to describe facts incidental to a case but nonetheless admissible as part of deliberation. Michael seems to refer to both uses throughout the works made for the exhibition, in which the juxtaposition of images both directly and tangentially related to fashion poses questions about the formulation of artistic personae. Long interested in how branding reflects both the cultural landscape and the vertiginous carousel of subjectivity and self-identification, Michael takes an oblique look at the development of individual style. Of particular interest are the places and moments when general cultural ambience is on the verge of giving way to differentiations of celebrity or commercial success.
The exhibition itself functions as a kind of inwardly turned hall of mirrors. Images are repeated on several canvases, their color tones altered from one to the next; paintings of well-known figures like the designer Kenzo Takada or the stylist Terry Jones alternate with imagery that has been appropriated from fashion industry wholesale magazines or decontextualized advertising; and text-based works using images of a book about the cult midcentury designer J.M. Frank are seen alongside paintings of retro student fashion designs from the 1980s. The amateur, the subcultural, and the rarefied are treated with the same apparent objectivity, resulting in an evenness of tone that is all the more startling for its seeming detachment.
Even the technical elaboration of these works establishes a sense of disorientation, as Michael’s essentially conceptual practice draws from strategies that can be read as antithetical to his concerns. This can be seen clearly in his willingness to incorporate repetition, and therefore reference to photographic reproduction, in the kind of technically accomplished photorealist painting style historically used to mimic photography, not enact its procedures from within. Though highly labor-intensive, these paintings do not prevent Michael from engaging altogether contemporary issues of seriality and authorship––to the contrary, they allow him to take on such issues from an uncannily embodied position.
Furthermore, the question of how an artist incorporates reference material is addressed in terms of influence as well as subject matter: techniques initially popularized by relatively unfashionable pop artists like Richard Hamilton or Alain Jacquet are utilized for their paradoxical ability to disrupt established connections between popular culture and artistic trends. While this allows Michael to engage in a wide-ranging critique of the uses of images, it also allows him to uncover the ways in which subjectivity––i.e. the simultaneously inward and outward gaze that defines each viewer’s position in the physical and ideological world at large––is a function of projections, visual and linguistic translations, and idiosyncratic attachments to certain signifiers of class and taste. This closeness of observation finds its analogue in the care and intensity with which Michael approaches the selection of his source materials, as well as the physical production of his work.
In recent years, Alan Michael’s work has been featured in Space Oddity, CCA Andratx, Mallorca, Spain; BigMinis: Fetishes of Crisis, CAPC, Museum of Contemporary Art, Bordeaux, France; Depression, Marmes Centre for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht, Netherlands; The Associates, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, UK; and The Tate Triennial, Tate Britain, London. In 2008 he was the subject of Mood: Casual, a solo exhibition at Tate Britain, and Touch Void, a solo exhibition at the Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh. Other recent solo shows include exhibitions at HOTEL Gallery, London and Galerie Micky Schubert, Berlin. Michael lives and works in Glasgow.