The One Word Project, currently showing at the historic James Monroe house, offers explanations of its art work. Unfortunately, this contemporary approach isn’t wholly successful.
Curator and artist J.T. Kirkland began to compile The One Word Project in 2004 from discussions on his blog, “Thinking about Art” (thinkingaboutart.blogs.com). Each artist involved in the exhibit was given a word, not necessarily connected to his or her work, to discuss freely. The results of this unique prompting offers a “rare glimpse into the mind of the artist,” as the exhibit brochure declares, and turns an hour-long tour into an intensely self-reflective experience.
The works are arranged modestly on the walls of the Monroe house, an old but surprisingly roomy home built at the turn of the 18th century that has housed the Washington Arts Club for nearly a century. Every hidden hallway, room and cabinet displays a piece of art, giving the exhibit the feel of a personal collection rather than something carefully staged or curated.
To the right of each painting, sculpture or photograph is a small white card containing one of Kirkland’s words, followed by the artists’ philosophical anecdotes. Their words were engrossing enough that I managed to forget the actual art. Wrapped up in Gregory Ferrand’s discussion of extraordinary “Experience” in daily life, I nearly bypassed his “Judgment (For I Judge Only You).” While Ferrand’s assertion that “experience drips onto his canvas” put his cartoon-style painting into a more concrete context, the relationship between his words and art remained unclear.
The works on the first floor, all paintings, were overwhelmingly intense; the second floor, however, consisted primarily of sculpture and seemed to lessen the blow of the more philosophical art.
I delighted in the simplicity of a circular painting of a peppy blonde licking a multicolored lollipop, accompanied by a discussion of internal and external “Personality.” If she could communicate, that blonde might not have been as obnoxiously cheerful as she looked.
By far, the most understandable piece is “Capitalism,” in which the artist discusses the effect of money on art. His collage piece consists of a painted woman, clasping herself in fear, pasted above an actual dollar, both of which rest on a paper background covered in the word “ART.” Simple enough.
Though Kirkland’s intent for the exhibit was elucidated by the statement, “I am utterly fascinated by the mind of an artist,” the amount of mental concentration required to connect the mind to the work is shocking. If the discussion cards had been presented artistically beside their works—as opposed to being lamely taped to the walls beside them—then perhaps the harmony between the Art and the Word would have been greater. Unfortunately, when approached as an art gallery, The One Word Project seemed superfluous; when approached as The One Word Project, the art suddenly became superfluous.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 29 at Arts Club of Washington 2017 I Street, NW. The gallery hours are Tues-Fri 10-5; Sat 10-2 For more info, call (202) 331-7282.