Late last week, an email from an acquaintance caught our attention. It seems that a small art exhibition in Clark County was being shut down after less than a week. It was supposed to be on display through the month of June. We wondered why it was going to be removed.
The exhibition was created by artist Las Vegas-based artist Cory McMahon. It's titled "Space Available." His art was commissioned by Clark County, and he’ll be paid $750 for it.
Last Friday, the day before the art was removed – by the artist at the insistence of the county - we decided to visit the Clark County Government Center to find out what this was all about.
The government center is a big, shiny stone modern building. On the main floor there’s a big rotunda – a lobby – that pretty much everyone has to pass through: government employees to get to their desks and everyone else who has business with Clark County.
Spread around the lobby is Cory McMahon’s art show.
Seven piles of --- well, stuff two by fours, six or seven feet long, a shovel, a stack of ten or twelve moving boxes some with clothes and also videos: “Men in Black” “Doctor Doolittle, on another pile, bubble wrap, luggage, some paintings stacked up, one painting leaning up against a wall, bookshelves, cases of bottled water. Looks like personal belongings. But we weren’t sure – we were a bit confused.
And so were some people passing by:
"Right now it just looks like garbage sitting around ready for construction, ready to be thrown out. Like recycling. But I like the other art – the art that they had previous. They have some nice art out here," Melissa Harris said.
"I believe art is in the eye of the beholder. I do “get it.” It’s of some beauty to someone. It’s different. And I see what they’re attempting to do. A different form of art. Abstract art. Using materials that artists may not ordinarily use," William Covington said.
Scott Dickensheets of Desert Companion magazine is writing about Cory’s display. Dickensheets is Deputy Editor of the magazine and writes regularly about the arts.
"I’m seeing an attempt by the artist, Cory McMahon to make a statement about – or to fudge the line between personal space, private space and public space, which he’s trying to accomplish by piling a lot of his personal items - whether they individually look like art – he’s trying to stack them around into this public space as a way of turning this public space into his private storage space, which is kind of a witty idea," Dickensheets said.
Schoenmann: What’s witty about it?
"It’s just the gall that it takes for an artist to say, I’m going to stack my stuff in YOUR public space. It’s high-concept wit but there’s something funny about that," he said.
Schoenmann: "How is it art? I see stacks of – other people will see a stack of boards. Tell me about it."
"There’s a 100-year history of artists using these kinds of ready-mades – they call them ready-mades – ordinary manufactured, everyday items re-purposed into works of art simply by the artist declaring them to be works of art. So, it’s a very conceptual thing. It’s not necessarily about the skill it takes to paint a beautiful image. It’s about the thought and the concept of crafting or creating an idea," Dickensheets said.
“You know, we’ve had a lot of art here over the last two decades," Erik Pappa is a spokesperson for Clark County said, "Some of it’s been excellent. Some of its been okay. This is unlike anything I’ve seen here in my 16 years with the county. We have two concerns: One is that it’s not what was proposed by the artist initially. And two: You’re not supposed to use discarded materials when you create art in the Rotunda. This is a really nice building. It’s an architectural gem. This Rotunda gallery is a really nice open and inviting space. This exhibit here doesn’t meet our standards."
Schoenmann: "That sounds like you’re making an aesthetic judgment."
"Oh, sure. Yes. Yes. I think anybody who runs and manages a gallery is entitled to make judgments about what can be acceptable for a gallery," Pappa said, "You know, Does anyone really think it’s appropriate for someone to empty their apartment into the middle of a government facility and call it art? I don’t see any art that was created here. It just didn’t meet our standard and does not reflect what he told us he was going to put here."
Schoenmann: "Do you know what that is? - off the top of your head – did he say he was going to put here?"
"Normally, when you display art, there is something that is created and displayed. In this case, he appears to have simply emptied his apartment in the middle of our rotunda," Pappa said.
As for his part, McMahon said he there is a series of emails between himself and county officials about what his plans were. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that what he actually installed was very close to his original proposal to the county.
"I wanted to empty thing that I own into the space, including past paintings that I’ve made, materials that I collect as an artist to work on things with, including my personal possessions including my clothing, my books, my movies – everything that I own, I wanted to empty it the space and arrange it in a way that the audience coming into the building had to be confronted with it," he said.
McMahon said part of the idea for the installment was the idea of trust. Could he trust his things with strangers? And trust that the county would back up his idea, which he says they didn't.
From Desert Companion: Rumble in the Rotunda
Scott Dickensheets, Deputy Editor, Desert Companion magazine; Erik Pappa, Director, Public Communications for Clark County; Cory McMahon, artist
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