“Fabliaux: Tom Marioni Fairy Tales”

Pub date February 10, 2009
WriterAri Messer
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

REVIEW I like Tom Marioni for the same reasons that I dig New Order. Though the band came after Marioni’s early sound sculptures, both arose with driven clarity, holding up 20th-century culture to the eye of the storm. They’re like woodsy fairy tales gone splendidly, mockingly urban: you’ll remember the imagery, hear the melody, find them in your dreams, and hallucinate them on old concrete walls long after you’ve left the show. So it’s fitting that "Fabliaux: Tom Marioni Fairy Tales" includes both a selection of Marioni’s printmaking work, published with various master printers at Crown Point Press, and a book of sardonic, remixed fables, with the prints as illustrations of the tales’ philosophies. From the ghostly aquatint Process Landscape (1998) to the bold, blood-like lines of A Door Must Be Either Open or Closed (2002), the exhibition summons noisy spirits and stands up to multiple listening sessions.

I suffer from an inability to experience art, especially "silent" or conceptual art, without hearing things, and Marioni, a keystone in the California Conceptual Art movement and a San Francisco resident since 1959, makes it outright impossible for me not to hear a soundtrack alongside his prints, whether New Order’s song "Your Silent Face" or the faint sound of a poet repeating herself in the Northern California fog. At the recent Martin Puryear exhibition, across the street from Crown Point at SFMOMA, Puryear’s painterly forms had a hypnotic effect, and the most striking of Marioni’s prints here — A Rose … (2008) and Flying with Friends (Drypoint) (2000) — ring out like a reversal, a dis-assemblage, of that exhibition’s solid circles of wood, which were described by the curators as "wall-mounted ring forms" and by Puryear as "occupying the same space as paintings yet lacking a center." A Rose … references Gertrude Stein’s unforgettable phrasing, and looking at Marioni’s grassy drypoints I hear Stein’s wry lilt, her words running round and round.

Or maybe I just hear things because of all the free beer. Marioni recently staged a comeback of his seminal project, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art (1970-ongoing) at a time when, as friends remind me every time Kanye West starts whining on the radio, nobody’s popping champagne.

FABLIAUX: TOM MARIONI FAIRY TALES Through Feb. 21. Tues.–Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Crown Point Press, 20 Hawthorne, SF. (415) 974-6273. www.crownpoint.com