Last couple trips to Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, I had admired Charles Ray’s Unpainted Sculpture — the depth and total flatness of the gray primer covering every square millimeter of the wrecked vehicle (down to the primer-gray “Jesus is Lord” emblem on the back lip of the trunk) is totally enveloping.
Nothing is as it seems; yesterday realized the wreck isn’t what I thought it was at all. Ray did purchase a wreck from a junk yard. But he didn’t paint it. Instead, he disassembled it bit by bit, cast every last junked part in flat gray fiberglass, then painstakingly re-assembled the car from fiberglass simulacra over the course of two years.
He has said of his past work that he was trying to â€œmake something that was so abstract it became real and so real that it became abstract.â€
This photo doesn’t do it justice – you’ve got to get up close to see just how convincing the final product is. So now the concept — and the awareness of the labor — that went into this work deeply affects the way I perceive it. I no longer see a painted wreck, something virtually anyone could have done. I now see a thoughtful representation of a wreck — but one that looks exactly like a painted wreck that anyone could have done.
I want to believe that art speaks and stands for itself, that it needs no back-story to explain itself. But this wreck — or wreck-representation — makes that impossible. The back-story changed my eyes.