Steve Wolfe on Paper

Apr 2 – Jul 25, 2010
Main Building

Steve Wolfe was born in Pisa, Italy in 1955 and lives and works in San Francisco, California. For the last 20 years, Wolfe has created objects and drawings of astounding craft and visual presence that investigate intersections among material culture, intellectual history, and personal and collective memory. This exhibition focuses on the artist’s works on paper, some of which are purely drawn, but most of which combine aspects of drawing, collage, and printmaking. The artist’s transformation of common objects requires the viewer to rethink what they mean as such, placing emphasis on craft and the handmade to transform the common into the uncanny and the sublime.

Wolfe’s art represents objects of cultural mass dissemination—books and records. Rather than the ordinary depiction of books on canvas or another two-dimensional framing device, Wolfe’s painted objects employ the tradition of trompe l'oeil, to trick the eye. Tattered books and worn album covers are meticulously produced to convey marks of time and handling, and often literally fool the eye on first inspection. The tears, creases, and basic wear point to human contact and become metaphors of enlightenment and culture.

Indebted to Pop Art, Wolfe’s optical strategy manifests an updated approach to craft. But while creating a patina of time is crucial to Wolfe’s art, perhaps what is most interesting about the collection is its sense of autobiography. Wolfe’s work is conceived and made with both personal history and personal touch, and suggests an almost erotic representation of the fact that one can fall in love with that which is ephemeral (ideas, music, etc.). For the artist, it is not just any book that necessitates scrupulous handmade reproduction with wood, ink, paper, lithography, and paint. His carefully considered subjects include reproductions of books by Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Raymond Chandler, Frank O'Hara, Marcel Duchamp, and James Joyce, thus creating a portrait of the artist as a perpetual student.

This exhibition is organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Menil Collection, Houston. It is curated by Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Department Head and Curator of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Carter Foster, Curator of Drawings, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

This exhibition is generously supported by Laura and John Arnold, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Lois and George Stark, Scott and Judy Nyquist, Michael Zilkha, and the City of Houston.

Photos: Paul Hester