Review by John Houck
An operating system is a collection of software that abstracts the physical world of hardware into the virtual world of software. This utilitarian layer of code creates a foundation for more expressive software to be written on top of. Guyton has created an operating system of sorts by printing shapes created with software onto the hardware of stretched canvas and book pages. Operating systems only work if they are built on standards and Guyton has appropriated dozens of Modernist standards. I puzzled through this new kind of operating system as I made my way through Wade Guyton’s shiny black retrospective catalogue.
The cover looks like faux patent leather and opens with an essay by Whitney curator, Scott Rothkopf. Exhaustively thorough in describing Guyton’s practice, the lengthy essay discurses through topical sections: Default Window, Bigger Pictures, Display Cases, and Duplicate Copy, to name only a few. While the essay goes on a bit too long, its redemption lies in the familiarity between Rothkopf and Guyton. It is apparent that Rothkopf has been a scholar of Guyton’s work from the beginning. The personal insights keep the handbook length essay lively.
A screen capture of Guyton’s computer desktop precedes the essay. The shallow and divided attention inspired by the scattered desktop speaks volumes about Guyton’s methods. Reading descriptions of Guyton and his assistant watching the printer for snags as it slowly lays down its ink, sounds about as arousing as watching someone play video games.
At the end of the book, to borrow another software term, there is an easter egg, a bonus. On the colophon page there is an image of Epson ink cartridge boxes. These cartridges are antithetical to the messy desktop image on the first page of the book with their rationality and order. One after another, they are lined up like minimalist sculpture and photographed with the precision of a photographer hired by Christopher Williams.
The meat of the book consists of shadowless images of individual works on the right of each spread with caption and installation shots on the left. A few of the right hand pages are generous fold-outs.
The work is expertly documented and the printing is beautiful. Too beautiful, in its perfectly crafted gloss and maybe this is the point. I had an overwhelming desire to tear the pages from the book, add a glitchty drop shadow in Photoshop, and run it through my Epson over and over and over.
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Scott Rothkopf, Wade Guyton OS, (The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2012)
Images: Interior of Wade Guyton Os catalogue, and install image from exhibition at The Whitney Museum of American Art.