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Generating another Jim Hodges exhibition

ASPEN ” When Jim Hodges steps back and looks at a new work of art he has made, his reaction includes a sense of disappointment. As much as he might want to get away from himself and his past, as much as he might want to expand his vision, what he sees in all his work is something familiar: “Oh, it’s a Jim Hodges piece,” said Hodges.

To anyone observing the mounting array of Hodges’ works in Aspen, this is an interesting perspective, bordering on the absurd. It’s hard to nail down these various pieces to any particular corner of the creative realm, much less one artist.

The daily lift tickets the Aspen Skiing Co. is selling this season ” those wispy pieces of paper with the straightforward, candy-colored message, “Give More Than You Take” ” came from the mind of Hodges. So did “Generator,” the massive, predominantly black series of wooden panels that is part of the new installation, “you will see these things,” in the lower gallery of the Aspen Art Museum. The other half of the installation ” half in number, not in mass ” is “Golden Straw,” a 30-foot piece of gold-leaf copper that stands straight up from the floor of the museum. (The building itself is only 22 feet, so the work extends through the roof and 8 feet into the sky. It is easily visible from outside ” though the best view of “Golden Straw” is on the museum’s second floor, where it puzzlingly passes through the offices of the museum staff. Knock and ask for a look.) Something else you will see, in the museum’s lobby ” though it is not technically part of the current exhibition ” is a sublime piece of black-and-white wallpaper, originally created two years ago for the St. Louis Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition, I Remember Heaven: Jim Hodges and Andy Warhol.



All of these ” the throwaway lift tickets with the uplifting reminder; the meticulously crafted wallpaper; the imposing “Generator,” which is as much a construction project as an artistic endeavor ” Hodges sees as coming from the same creative wellspring. Fortunately, Hodges is a complex guy.

“I think these kinds of conflicting energies are interesting,” said the 51-year-old Spokane native, who has lived in New York City since 1983. “It’s a condition of the reality where I am. It’s something one carries around, different states of mind ” a dark weightiness, and a comforting feeling. They’re not exclusive. That kind of complexity is very real, at least in me.”




It should prove real to those who look at Hodges’ Aspen projects. Each work interacts with viewers in a different way, and with varying results.

The ski tickets are warm and inviting. Hodges sees the design as a form of communication, as a request, asking people to join in a contemplation of giving, receiving and the intersection of the two activities. (Visitors to the museum are greeted by three large banners, mounted on the outside walls, that duplicate the ticket design.)

“Just to have something decorative on the lift ticket ” that’s not what I want,” said Hodges, who himself is warm, open and eager to communicate. “I wanted a question: What is giving? What is taking? What is an exchange?”

Hodges says he was thinking beyond the boundaries of the material with “Give More Than You Take.” Creating the design, he pictured kids riding up a chairlift, thinking about their next run, absorbing the mountains and snow. And, hopefully, having a talk inspired by the words. “It’s not the lift ticket. It’s what’s happening in people, in their conversation. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to put something out in the world,” he said.

Where “Give More” is an invitation, “Generator” is practically the opposite. Visitors to “you will see these things” are faced at the entrance by a literal wall of black that they must maneuver around. By dint of its size alone, “Generator” is imposing. Add in the forbidding color and it is a work of art that confronts, rather than embraces the viewer. It has a similar relationship to the building itself: “It confronts the building; it’s indifferent to it,” noted Hodges.

“Golden Straw” is, in many ways, a counterweight to “Generator.” “One is thin and light, the other is a big mass,” said Hodges. “‘Golden Straw’ is in beautiful relationship with the building; it supports it.”

Perhaps the reason Hodges thinks of his body of work as a connected entity is that the process of making a piece generally follows the same path.

That route always starts with a drawing. Even in the case of “Generator,” it began with paper and pencil.

“Drawing is where I’m rooted. It’s the only language that I really know,” said Hodges. “Drawing is very alive. The drawing is always dictating the direction. I’m using only the visual instructions that the drawing gives me.”

The next step is taking in the space where the work will be exhibited, and starting a conversation with the keepers of the space. “I look at space or invitations as an arena for expressing, eliciting what is inside me to come out,” said Hodges. “It’s about rising to the occasion of each arena. If there’s anything in my practice that’s consistent, it’s to rise to people’s invitations to do something. My job as an artist is to put out what I am, my honesty and complexity, when the space interacts with where I am.”

A vital component of the job description is an open mind and flexibility. For “you will see these things,” Hodges built several maquettes and installed them in other spaces around the world. Ultimately, none of those ideas made it to Aspen.

“It’s a little like walking through the woods ” you find an entry point, and then you move well beyond it,” said Hodges, who was the recipient of the Aspen Art Museum’s Aspen Award for Art in 2007. “That’s the most engaging place to work ” wandering around in the dark. I try to work blindly, to not know.”

Because of that approach, Hodges never knows whether he will actually like what he creates. It is entirely possible that the completed “Generator” ” it was still under construction when we spoke last week ” will be an aesthetic let-down.

But it may also thrill him, and strike him as something different. “Generator” is bigger by far than anything Hodges has made; the only thing that comes close is “Subway Music Box,” a 1999 work that featured 23 scenes of street performers in New York City subways, shown in seven wall projections. He adds that he has made “nothing so aggressive” as “Generator.”

It may turn out to be the piece the artist will look at and not see as “another Jim Hodges piece.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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