“Blue Collar Modernism,”at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia through September 13,is an exhibition of 12 new works by Scott Ingram. It’s intelligent without being cold, and the work is thoughtfully staged. Ingram is highly prolific, and his decisions are deliberate and exact. The sculptures and works on paper presented here make numerous direct references to modern art and architecture of the mid and late 20th century.
Stack is another floor-to-ceiling work, and it provides a visual counterbalance to the nearly insubstantial Wall. It comprises 8-by-4-foot sheets of plywood bound into three large blocks with nylon ratchet straps. The blue straps cross the yellow-brown bundles of wood in a manner that creates an asymmetrical arrangement of rectangles. The results are surprisingly painterly, and the physical weight of the piece is palpable. Ingram cites Brancusi’s Endless Column as a reference for Stack, but the comparison feels forced, especially when considered with other more successful references.
Two large-scale paintings, Untitled 23 and Untitled 11, simultaneously mimic the mudding of unfinished walls and the reductive language of painters like Kline or Marden. White paint, mixed to resemble joint compound, is troweled across squares of drab brown and gray-blue, alluding to both modernist painting and to humble construction work.
Seven small framed wall pieces are hung around the gallery, similar in scale but each differing slightly in material. These material distinctions convey Ingram’s focus on the making of things and their physicality. Catacombs is a digital photo of a cinderblock wall, conventional in its presentation except for the fact that it is framed in concrete. Sheetrock Drawing is a humorously simple trompe-l’oeil. God and Man uses an old-school DYMO label maker to place the weighty titular words under a set of postcards depicting homes by Mies van der Rohe and Phillip Johnson.
Ingram lays out a profound respect for certain humble human endeavors, such as construction and building. He couples this attitude with a sense of admiration pertaining to the grand narrative of modernism. At times this admiration seems ingenuous, but Ingram is always self-aware. His attitude shifts from work to work—some pieces are more humorous than others, some celebrate their own esoteric qualities. What consistently carries through the works in this show, however, is Ingram’s urge to reconcile the modern with his own personal experience.
Functional aspects of the made world act as a lens of reinterpretation here. In this regard, Ingram follows a tradition marked by others in the late 20th century. Haim Steinbach’s shelves and consumer objects come to mind. Scott Burton’s benches are relevant, as are the austere crates of Richard Artschwager. Dan Peterman’s Running Table uses the public picnic table in much the same way that Ingram employs the freight strap. Ingram’s palette derived from utilitarian materials is related to some of the day jobs that young artists often occupy: framing, fabricating, and art-handling to name a few. This workaday aesthetic makes the referential aspects of the work more likable.
Since the ’90s, 20-somethings have contemplated clean modernist forms as they fill their borrowed pickup trucks with IKEA furnishings, or consider the newest streamlined Apple product. Ingram wants something else. In the ebb tide of modernism, he posits himself as a kind of beachcomber, sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of mid-20th century formalism with the eye of an affectionate collector. He wants to connect with the idealism of the past, is aware of the folly of this endeavor, and is willing to share that folly with us. Ingram manages to combine childlike childlike wonder with the melancholic yearning of an adult who wonders if the future has already happened.
Orion Wertz is a painter and graphic novelist living in Columbus, Georgia. He is a professor at Columbus State University, where he teaches drawing and painting.