NEW YORK, NY.- Only a couple of centuries ago, the idea of prehistory had not been properly formulated. As Colin Renfrew noted in the introduction to his Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind (New York: Modern Library, 2008), European scholars mostly followed the arguments of the seventeenth century scholar Archbishop Ussher, who had calculated that the earth was created in 4004 b.c.e., a claim based on the ages of characters appearing in the Old Testament. Many world cultures and literary traditions shared a relative disinterest for prehistorical time, or what we could describe as "deep" time. Most cultures are indeed founded upon views of the world and beliefs that explain "how" the world came to be, rather than exactly when or why. The inability to read beyond religious time frames, creation myths and the like was surpassed during the Enlightenment, and sparked by earlier astronomy studies such as those by Galileo and Copernicus.
Today, prehistory is a fact and, as a field of studies, it is remarkably young and alive. The existence of this infinitely expanded time stream has been not only scientifically validated, but painted in increasingly expansive and all-encompassing detail thanks to technologically advanced dating methods. After Relativity, time cannot be taken as a stable continuum but rather understood as connected to space, an elastic matter as pervasive as it is hard to grasp and, ultimately relate to. Where does that leave us as human beings? What time are we, so to speak, left with to experience or imagine, and where do individual notions of prehistory begin and end?
As an exhibition, "Personal Prehistories" was inspired by a group of artists summoning a sense of timelessness via archaic, archetypal forms and materials. From the kaleidoscopic textures found in petrified wood by Davide Zucco to the nuanced, stratified execution and geological suggestions of Ethan Greenbaum's vacuformed prints, to Kristen Jensen's ambiguously anthropomorphic, enigmatic glazed clay objects, and Joe Brittain's quasi-alchemical concoctions of juxtaposed natural and artificial matters, the artworks selected for this exhibition connect human experience to imageries that reference prehistorical time in a variety of forms and concepts.
Borrowing from Robert Smithson's 1968 essay "A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art," we could describe the works in "Personal Prehistories" as engendering an amorphous struggle between the stable and the unstable, a fusion of action and inertia dealing with present concerns while projecting them on a remote timeline, far beyond reach, melting into the horizon of unascertainable and uncompromisingly personal notions of history before history. The recurrent use (or evocation) of multifold, space-time scenarios, positions the works in a blind spot along the path to historically acquired notions of natural evolution, a no-go zone where the artists' inclination to universally-attuned, all-inclusive signs is formed and ideas can finally take shape.
Joe Brittain (Arcade, New York) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Solo exhibitions include Ramiken Crucible, New York and Toomer Labdza Gallery, New York. Brittain's work has been exhibited collectively at Regina Rex, New York; Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York; Ramiken Crucible, New York; Oliver Francis Gallery, Dallas, TX; and CUAC, Salt Lake City, UT, among others. In 2011, he was awarded a NYFA Fellowship in sculpture. Brittain studied Art History at SUNY University at Buffalo and graduated in 2003 with Honors.
Ethan Greenbaum (Tom's River, NJ) received his MFA in Painting from Yale School of Art and is currently an Artist-in-Residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Workspace Residency. His work has been exhibited at Derek Eller Gallery, New York; Thierry Goldberg, New York; Circus Gallery, Los Angeles; Marlborough Chelsea, New York; Steven Turner, Los Angeles; The Suburban, Chicago; The Aldrich Museum, Connecticut; and Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, among others. Recent projects include group exhibitions at Michael Jon, Miami; the Abrons Art Center, New York; and a solo exhibition at Kansas, New York. His work has been discussed in The New York Times, Modern Painters, Artforum, New American Painters, ArtReview and Saatchi Daily Magazine. Co-founder and editor of The Highlights, an online arts journal devoted to artists' text based projects, Greenbaum is also the recipient of The Robert Blackburn SIP Fellowship, The Socrates EAF Fellowship, The Edward Albee Foundation Residency and The Barry Schactman Painting Prize.
Kristen Jensen (Glens Falls, NY) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She earned a BFA in printmaking from Syracuse University and MFA from Hunter College. Jensen's work has been exhibited domestically and abroad, most recently with Sundaram Tagore at the Singapore Biennial; in New York at Nicelle Beauchene; Hotel Particulier; Bureau; Martos Gallery; Bortolami; Sculpture Center, Long Island City; and Regina Rex at NADA New York 2014.
Davide Zucco (Belluno, Italy) has exhibited his work in solo exhibitions at Luis Adelantado, Valencia, Spain; Perugi Artecontemporanea, Padova, Italy; and Mogadishni, Aarhus, Denmark, among others. Zucco's work has been featured in group exhibitions including Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice, Italy; ARCOS, Benevento, Italy; State Institute of Sofia, Bulgaria; Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico; Jaus, Los Angeles; and Katzen Arts Center, Washington D.C. He is the receipient of residencies at ISCP, New York; Bevilacqua La Masa, Venice, Italy; and beginning August 2014, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Process Space. Zucco lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Marco Antonini is Executive Director and Curator at NURTUREart as well as an independent curator and writer. His curatorial projects have been produced by Japan Society; the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; ISE Foundation; Elizabeth Foundation Gallery; The Italian Cultural Institute in New York; Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation, Venice; The International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP); FUTURA Center for Contemporary Art, Prague; CCE/G, Guatemala City.