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Wade Guyton: OS at The Whitney by New American Paintings

Paper jams, leaking toner cartridges, formatting errors—there are few who haven’t been frustrated by the glitches and hiccups common to printers. But artist Wade Guyton depends upon these errors in the process of his art making. The “paintings” displayed in his mid-career survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York draw on his use of inkjet printing to create large-scale works on linen, as well as small-scale works on found magazine and book pages.

The show describes Guyton’s early experimentation with mark-making to alter his materials, but says that he quickly learned typing the marks in Word documents was much more efficient. The ‘U’s and ‘X’s that have become his most signature marks dominate the works on view. These letters take on a multitude of meanings when shown without context, gesturing towards connotations of ‘you’ the viewer, or towards the myriad uses of X in pop culture—The X-Files, XXX, Xbox, X-Men. – Nadiah Fellah, NYC Contributor

Installation view of Wade Guyton OS; photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.

Installation view of Wade Guyton OS; photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.
Installation view of Wade Guyton OS; photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.

Once Guyton discovered he could combine scanned images and simple typed marks in Word or Adobe documents, he tried transferring the images from computer screen to canvas. This process creates the visual idiosyncrasies of his work. In his earliest experiments Guyton used an Epson printer with a 44-inch printing length. To create a larger work he would fold pieces of linen in half, split his document into two halves, and run the piece through the printer twice, flipping it over between runs. The process resulted in works that bear a small seam, which runs down the length of the work. In some cases the two halves do not line up, or the printer stopped printing before reaching the sheet’s end. Often the printer would jam, forcing Guyton to pull the canvas out and start again. As a result, each work bears unique markings—drips where the printer has deposited too much ink, and color gradations where it began to run out of ink.

Wade Guyton |
Untitled, 2005, Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen, 65 x 38 inches, courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery.

Displayed alongside larger works printed on linen are also smaller works, in which Guyton has taken pages from books, magazines and newspapers, and printed his signature marks and lines directly on them. The results are images and texts that are obscured or unintentionally redacted in some places, conjuring similarities to government-censored documents, or defaced artworks. The show’s curator, Scott Rothkopf, writes that the process as “both vandalism and homage…suggests Guyton’s intimacy with and distance from his subjects,” allowing viewers to speculate as to which he is evoking in each case.

Wade Guyton |
Untitled, 2002, Epson DURABrite inkjet on magazine page.
Wade Guyton |
Untitled, 2002. Epson DURABrite inkjet on book page, 10 5/16 × 7 3/8 inches, photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.

Integral to Guyton’s art is also his method of displaying it. Over eighty small book and magazine pages are displayed in glass-topped vitrines that fill the length of one large gallery. The vitrines are lined with a cobalt-blue linoleum that matches that of the artist’s kitchen floor, linking the works to their site of creation and the artist’s process of making, choosing, and sorting the dozens of pages he produced. The vitrines also make reference to the popular method of displaying books and physical ephemera, thus becoming a reminder of their impending obsolescence in a digital age. This installation speaks to Guyton’s concern that the art not become too uprooted from its original context, as he says that “the studio is in the work, and when I show the work in exhibitions, they [remain] connected to that situation.”

Installation view of Zeichnungen für ein großes Bild, 2010, linoleum-lined vitrines and eighty-five inkjet prints on book pages; photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.
Installation view of Zeichnungen für ein großes Bild, 2010, linoleum-lined vitrines and eighty-five inkjet prints on book pages; photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.

In an adjacent gallery, small works are displayed in wall-mounted glass cases, much like those used to display insect specimens. Rothkopf writes that this allusion “stresses how memory, history and taste are constantly subject to revision and misperception,” a tension that Guyton attempts to make use of in his alteration of found materials.

Many of the works in the exhibition also highlight Guyton’s ongoing engagement with the history of modernism, and minimalism in particular. Didactics make reference to similarities between his paintings, and the monochromatic canvases of Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin, among others. Yet upon closer inspection of his seemingly most uniform works is an evident layering of textures that makes them uniquely different. Not only can one see the seam that bifurcates most large works, but one can also see the faint, regularly-spaced lines where the inkjet printer’s nozzle has failed to deposit color, as well as the irregular fibers of the linen’s weave, which are finely imprinted on the works’ surfaces. In addition, his process is not so different from John Cage’s use of chance operations in their creation, as each time Guyton runs surfaces through his printer, he is essentially rolling the dice on their outcome.

Wade Guyton | Untitled, 2008, Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen, 84 x 69 inches, courtesy Friedrich Petzel Gallery.

The exhibition is organized non-chronologically, making use of several free-standing walls on which works are displayed. This installation allows viewers to encounter Guyton’s work from the last decade or so unimpeded by a designated route. The installation also allows for stunning sightlines, such as Guyton’s variously-sized, stainless-steel U sculptures against an expanse of black-and-white stripped canvases. And despite the use of terminology that may confuse more technophobic visitors—the show’s title ‘OS’ refers to the acronym for ‘operating system’, and many wall labels use terms like ‘bitmapping’ and ‘outputting’—the amount of written text is generous, an advantage that can make work such as Guyton’s, at first impression abstract and cold, more dynamic and comprehensible.

Installation view of Wade Guyton OS; photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.
Installation view of Wade Guyton OS; photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy The Whitney.

Wade Guyton is an American artist originally from Indiana, who lives and works in New York. Born in 1972, he received his BA from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and MFA from Hunter College in New York. Wade Guyton: OS is his first large-scale solo show at an American museum, and is on view at the Whitney through January 13th.

Nadiah Fellah is a graduate student of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY in New York.


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