Guilford Alumnus Alex Gingrow and The NY Times

Guilford college alumnus, Alex Gingrow, was recently reviewed in the New York Times for her new gallery, All the money IS in the label. The Times raves about how Alex “specializes in nipping the hand that feeds her” and does so with “considerable deadpan wit.” At first glance, gallery appears to be composed of factory made 22” x 30” gallery labels. However on closer inspection, one discovers that each word in the labels has been careful rendered by hand.  It is then that you realize that the information of the labels are of the art pieces themselves.  For example, the artist is named as Alex Gingrow, the size of the piece is 22in by 30in, etc.

You may wonder why Alex would choose labels as a subject matter.  Well as it turns out, Alex has been working a full time job as a mat cutter at a frame shop that can be found in midtown Manhattan. This has allowed Alex to collect many stickers and labels from the backs of frames and art pieces.  She also has been privy to the dealings of clients and “gallery gossip” that passes through the frame shop. A particular phrase stuck out from one conversation in which a client said “all the money IS in the label” pertaining to removing provenance stickers from old frames and sticking them to new ones. In speaking about her gallery Alex says, “my work explores both the idiocy and the irony of such a sentiment and is essentially a sharp critique of the world in which I choose to maneuver.

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Here is a link to the NY Times Article.

Here is a link to Alex’s Portfolio.

Here is a link to Alex’s Website.

Alex was kind enough to answer some interview and follow up questions. Check it out!

1. Each piece in your exhibition, All the money IS in the label, is very carefully done. How long on average did it take you to complete one painting?

Each piece takes approximately 30-40 hours of working time.  The pieces are all 22 x 30 inches and I use anywhere from a size 0 to a 0000 brush.  The tactile surface of each piece is very important to me.  I want the viewer to have a new and different experience with the work at each step closer he or she takes.  From a distance the immediate grasp of the work is the text, then the jokes settles in, then perhaps the deeper implications of the story appear.  After that, as the viewer nears the piece, he or she can see the tiny brush strokes that make up the surface, the faint pencil outline of the text, the obsessive attention to surface and the overall hand of the artist.  This is, to me, what lends validation to the art object: the hand of the artist.  It’s the quiet signature of the maker which reminds the viewer that someone actually worked on this piece. That he or she is not looking at a mass-produced object or a mechanical product.  Rather, the piece is a labor of love.  This is why I choose to render the surface with such a time-consuming process.  It is symbolic of the hand and of labor.

2. Did you ever have to redo a painting because some of the lettering was off?

No, by the time I get to painting, the drawing is firmly in place and I know exactly where all the text will be.  I start with an actual provenance label that I have gathered from my job at a high-end frame shop in midtown Manhattan.  Once I have the title I want to use for a piece and a label from the corresponding gallery, I do research to determine that gallery’s label system.  I try to figure out what font they use, the order of their provenance stickers (is it artist, title, medium, date or artist, date, medium, title, etc.), the format of their labeling, their inventory code system, etc.  Each sticker piece is made specifically to match the corresponding gallery as closely as possible.  Once I have this figured out I type everything up and literally cut and paste my new information onto the gallery label.  I usually go through several drafts in order to make sure that my phrasing is exactly what I want, to ensure that the size of the text is correct for the size of the label, to make sure that I have the placement of the text exactly right on the label, etc.  I then use a vintage opaque projector and project the image onto the paper and then carefully and lightly trace the outline of the image.  The rendering usually takes a couple of hours and when that is finished I start the painting part of the process.  Once the painting is complete I add the drop shadow which gives a trompe l’oeil  effect and sign the back and then start on the next one.

3. How do you feel labels effect your own life if at all?

Do you mean rhetorical labels?  I don’t feel they have much of an effect except in that I try to avoid them when and where I can.  I don’t want to be labeled a “woman artist” or a “southern artist” or a “text artist” or a “political artist”. I make art.  That is all.  There is more freedom in that brevity.  I don’t ever want to be pigeon holed into someone else’s perception, and for the most part I feel it’s easy enough to avoid with a little due diligence.  For example, when the gallery was putting together the press release and bio for the show this summer my one stipulation to them was that they not refer to my husband in any of the press materials.  He is an artist as well and exhibits widely and is relatively well known in smaller circles and could be considered an asset in trying to establish my own career.  However, I absolutely refuse to be defined as someone’s wife and desire to establish my name and credentials based on my own merit and not his.  They understood and obliged my request.

4. You come from a family of English majors. Is there a specific literary work that has greatly inspired your art?

Specifically, no.  On the whole, yes, everything.  I am a complete glutton for storytelling.  As a little girl I used to make my grandparents make up stories to tell me ad nauseum.  I am an only child so I made up my own stories all the time.  Books always seemed to come alive for me and to this day whenever I am immersed in a book my whole perception of the world is influenced by the narrative.  The last time I reread Native Son I suffered a terrible week long depression.  When I read Sylvia Plath I stay up all night and write terrible poetry and prose.  The last time I read To Kill a Mockingbird I tiptoed all over the house in childlike wonder and kept thinking I was going to find secret little gifts hidden in each corner.  It drives my husband crazy and I think he subconsciously wishes I was into Harry Potter or lighter, more emotionally stabilizing fare.  No dice.   I was an English/Art double major at Guilford until my final semester when I was working on my art thesis.  I had only my 400 level English class and then the capstone for the degree, but I got overwhelmed and, honestly, lazy and felt that I couldn’t handle the Virginia Woolf seminar and the thesis work and so I dropped my English major.  It’s a mistake I regret to this day.  I should have just worked harder.  In all honesty, I want to be a writer.  I always have.  I write all the time.  In my studio there is a bookshelf behind my drafting table full of a lifetime’s worth of journals.  I read through them often, which is what keeps me in the art business—the writing is terrible.  That and I am totally, madly, head over heels in love with art, art making, art materials, the art world, and other artists.  So, that helps.

5. In your artist statement, you compare a frame shop to a “red-headed step-child of an already dysfunctional family.” Where did you get that interesting and amusing metaphor?

Well I made it up, I guess.  Calling someone or something a “red-headed stepchild” in the South is just a way to say that that person or thing is strange and mildly out of place.  And anyone can tell you about the dysfunction within the art world as a whole but especially in New York.  But it is a small world and terribly incestuous.  Some people can’t stand each other, some are honest about it, others are just catty.  Some people are more interested in other people than they very well should be, other people are repulsed by some people’s behaviors, and on and on and on.  We all know or at least recognize each other.  Some of us get along, some people are gently tolerated, other players are dismissed quietly, and then there are epic raging battles.  But this is what makes us all family, dysfunctional or not.  Besides, artist statements are typically so awful, droning, and boring to read.  I never envy curators during calls for art.  I would hate to have to read 100+ statements in any given lifetime, much less in preparation for just one show.  So, in crafting my statements, I try to not only explain my work, but also to give the reader a little something to chew on, a little nugget of a story.

6. Being in the New York Times is quite an amazing feat. How has this effected you  and your art, if at all?

I don’t think the Times review has had any impact on my work in the least.  Honestly, there’s not a lot going on in the New York artworld during the summer months as everyone is either at the Hamptons or a European holiday, except for those of us who work two jobs and have STILL yet to grow out a Ramen noodle-esque phase of life. We knew going into it that the majority of collectors and curators would be gone during the run of the show, therefore the goal of the Mike Weiss exhibition was to try to attract press by putting on a large (41 total works), biting, and loud solo show.  Which we did.  And since the rest of Chelsea was either summer drowsy or on a complete hiatus, there weren’t really many other shows to write about.  This is not to say that I wasn’t absolutely thrilled with Ken Johnson’s review; I was.  He touched on a few elements that reassured me that he really did get what I was doing: the idea that each piece can be its own short story and that sometimes the comic effect hinges on the use of one word.  I was overjoyed that these intentional devices were perceived and appreciated.  Even Peter Plagens’ review in the Wall Street Journal, while not in favor of the show as a whole, was refreshing to read.  I don’t mind being lumped into a category with Marcel Duchamp or Ed Ruscha or John Baldessari, and I certainly have no problem with my art being called “smart-ass.”  I don’t think Plagens “got” the intent of the works, which is fine.  Not everything is going to be for everyone all the time.  That’s a risk we take as art makers.  Which is why we have to always be very careful about the intent of our practice and our craft.  We have to be vigilant in our process to always create from a place of integrity irregardless of what critics, gallerists, collectors, peers, or curators might think.  We can never control the audience.  We can only make what is true to us and to be fully aware of our intents, concepts, and choices so that if we are every questioned about something in our work, we can discuss it fully and truthfully instead of letting the question itself formulate our idea of what we’ve done.

7. I think we can both agree Guilford is an amazing school. Have your past experience at Guilford effected and inspired your work and if so, how?

Yes. Guilford is a very special place and I am to this day so grateful for the education and experience the college afforded me.  If there is one overarching skill set I took away from Guilford, it is that I learned how to think critically, write clearly, empathize widely, and to never settle for the status quo.  These are qualities that affect every single facet of my day to day life, from riding the subway into Manhattan for my day job, to talking with friends about current and cultural events, to hunkering down in my studio to work out a problem in a drawing or painting in progress, to being able to talk to people about my work and my process, and most importantly, in helping me to set the bar high for myself and working hard to reach those goals.  I keep in very close touch with a large number of Guilford people and have met many Guilfordians along the way.  Usually when I meet up with or run into another Guilfordian we give each other a huge honest bear hug and I always feel immediately comfortable and at home.  We Guilfordians seem to know that we have a similar world view and a common ethical understanding of the world even if we don’t always agree 100% on everything, and I like that feeling.  I don’t think there are many places with the ability to instill those values in their students as widely and gracefully as Guilford does.  And the older I get, and the more people I meet, the more and more grateful I am that I have that Guilford grounding.

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