Joseph Havel - Plus or Minus

Joseph Havel: Plus or Minus

January 14 – February 25, 2012

Joseph Havel’s artwork employs everyday objects such as fabric, used clothing and books as means to explore the construction of identity through the re-working of found materials or texts, often as a way to form new meaning by building upon the significance of its original context.  For other pieces, Havel utilizes text so that its initial framework is retained and explored, in an attempt to push the viewer to consider other interpretations of possible meaning. Inspired by the writings of David Foster Wallace and David Mitchell, the artist seeks to present the various interpretations and levels of meaning embodied within each work.   By setting no determined explanation or reading of an artwork, Havel presents the complex, interwoven nature of meaning itself.

The exhibition begins with a major site-specific installation of tens of thousands of shirt labels presenting the simple text, “nothing.”, carefully installed row after row, perfectly spaced apart from one another, across a vast wall of visual interpretation.  The repetition of the word reinforces the original meaning of its script yet floods the viewer with numerous associations, ranging from the literal to the personal.  While Havel has seemingly made order of and presented a systematic way to see “nothing,” the viewer begins to understand the futility of relying on one fixed interpretation to search for meaning.

In the south part of the main gallery, towers of found objects stacked into balanced forms and cast into bronze contain details of the clothing and books that these sculptures meticulously render.  Havel refers to such works as “The Stacks,” similar to the shelved partitions of the library that hold and organize a school’s collection of books and periodicals.  Havel’s “stacks” present memory as a collection of experiences, one leading to the next often in a non-linear, circuitous path.  At times haunting in their stark forms, Havel’s bronzes are anchored by pedestals of stacked books (also cast in bronze), alluding to the fundamental importance of history and memory.

Lastly, a series of minimally rendered watercolors entitled Variations of White Nothing feature a play on meaning and interpretation through different configurations of the word “nothing”, each presented with slightly varied punctuation, spelling or capitalization. While “nothing” refers to the lack or absence of a place or thing, Havel’s numerous renderings present the concept as unfixed, as though in a state of transition.  Using the simple text as a starting point of investigation, Havel’s conceptual play relies on viewers to figure out their own interpretations and relationships to possible meanings for his works.

Joseph Havel was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1954.  After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1975, Havel received a M.F.A. from Pennsylvania State University in 1979. Recent solo exhibitions include Nothing at Yvon Lambert Gallery, Paris, 2010; The Devil and Daniel Buren at Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie, Paris, 2009; Drinks Are Boiling. Iced Drinks Are Boiling at the Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, 2006; and a ten-year retrospective entitled Joseph Havel: A Decade of Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2006.  The artist’s work was included in the 2000 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Havel’s sculptures and drawings can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Honolulu; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Musee Arte, Roubaix, France; and the Whitney Museum of American Art.  The recipient of numerous awards, Havel was named “Texas Artist of the Year” by the Art League of Houston in 2010.  The artist lives and works in Houston, Texas, and currently serves as the Director of the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.