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Musings on UH OH: Frances Stark @ MFA Boston

by Brianne Chapelle 

The MFA Boston recently exhibited a monographic show featuring LA-based artist Frances Stark called, “Uh-Oh Frances Stark 1990-2015.” She is also a writer and much of her work has textual elements if that interests you. I urge you to run to the museum, upstairs to the contemporary wing, and enter through the door noticeably screen-printed with an image of a woman (Stark) bending over and looking between her legs. If you are instantly enveloped by the sound of a digitized reading of a chat-roulette conversation, one raunchy turned philosophical, you have arrived. If you missed it, maybe try to do a thorough Google search to see where “Uh-Oh” is going next and while you’re there, lust over Stark’s work in Google images. Definitely worth it, trust me.

Reminiscent of the Salon method, there were clusters of works hanging close together on the gallery walls. I can only describe the works as collage or mixed media, making what I perceived to be an innovative use of paper as an artistic medium. I liked the way it was done here. What seem to be photocopies of pages within books then traced by the artist in her own script, on an almost translucent paper, garnered my immediate attention and focus. Pieces of the text are underlined and annotated, which was quite charming, content-wise. I instantly thought of the books living on my shelves which have faced a similar fate, and thought it reflexive of a particular kind of engagement with art in a broad sense, one I smiled at in recognition. 

I sincerely enjoyed Stark’s self-portrait which was of a reclining woman holding a paper that reads: “Why should you not be able to assemble yourself and write?” I found the referenced difficulty in her creative labor fascinating. The idea of an artist and writer referencing the artistic process, and its struggles, was thought-provoking. Having just finished my undergraduate thesis a few weeks prior to seeing the show, I, again, smiled in recognition, remembering those moments of writer’s block spent reclined in an armchair.

In general, I found it quite brilliant that she made the stuff of everyday (creative) life into art. On paper that does not sound quite so refreshing an idea. Art, in so many cases, is the stuff of the artist’s everyday lived experience. It seems a definite possibility that the reason that I felt it to be brilliant was because I recognized myself in her in a particular way that I didn’t often find on the walls of galleries. When art makes us feel something like that, we take notice.

As an aside to this point, I left the museum needing to know more about Stark, so, as one does, I engaged in a deep Google search and came across a review of this show from when it was at a different museum. It, oddly (I felt), accused Stark of narcissism. Eyebrows raised, I wondered how using the stuff of everyday life as an artist was somehow different in this case than it was for the major writers championed as “classics” who wrote heavily autobiographical work. I thought maybe this just had to do with taste.

An older woman who I got to talking to after she observed me smiling, looking one of the works. Come to find out, she was an artist herself and she said she did not understand the art and it wasn’t her taste, but thought maybe it was a “generational thing” after having heard that I liked it. It seems that only two opinions, only one from each respective generation, could not be conclusive towards such an end, but it was a conversation of interest none-the-less.

As someone who probably occupies a niche in which this work is highly relevant to my own life content-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed “Uh-Oh.” I even bought the catalogue with much excitement, probably a rare move for a college student. I suggest you utilize Stark’s escape method from Emergency Exit to similarly escape your responsibilities and get lost in the delight that is “Uh-Oh” and Stark’s work. 

Frances Stark, Emergency Exit, 2009. Text at bottom reads: “Exhibitionist’s venue repurposed to entertain the possibility of a way out for a performer between acts.” Photo author’s own.

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