Ryan Thayer

Ryan Thayer

Work from Ceiling Tile Wall, Untitled (Experience of Place), and IKEA Vattern variations.

“Ryan Thayer’s work ranges from architectural installations to photography and sound sculptures. He explores structures of power, and their often contradictory manifestations, in buildings and everyday objects. Through models of consumerism, anonymity, and boredom, he isolates these power structures as objects of contemplation.” – Ryan Thayer

“Despite the title of the current group show at Southern Exposure the work on view is, by turns, thoughtful, silly, absurd, self-effacing and sweet–none of the qualities that come to mind when I think of a smart ass. I count these as positive attributes because they keep the show Smart Ass, which is also sarcastic and irreverent at times, from being flip or arrogant. Instead the artists are premeditated, even sneaky, in their approaches…

…Before I get too far I should tell you that I personally know half of the artists in Smart Ass (I went to school with three of them). What’s more, I like their work. I also have ties to Southern Exposure. So you can take it with a grain of salt when I say that Smart Ass is amongst the most successful exhibitions Southern Exposure has presented.* Much of the credit belongs to curator Kelsey Nicholson who put together a show that does not simply hold together around the stated theme of sardonic humor but is bonded more tightly by a shared interest in coping with the paradoxes of contemporary life. Like the phrase “You gotta laugh to keep from crying” the works in Smart Ass, which span the gamut of artistic production, use humor as a coping mechanism–a way to stave off despair. This gives Smart Ass an overall feeling of compassion, or at least understanding toward the human condition.
There are other similarities. Most of the works stem from relatively simple ideas or observations–ideas that came suddenly in the midst of doing other things (not, it would seem, while “making art”): taking a walk, daydreaming at work, looking at snap shots, watching TV. This last activity was the impetus (perhaps the inspiration) for New York artist Shannon Plumb’s video Commercials, a collection of hilarious, manic spoofs of television advertisements shot in the style of Buster Keaton films. Amongst the physical comedy Plumb draws parallels between consumerism and Attention Deficit Disorder. In this way the work inSmart Ass is conceptual and personal. Here the ideas that are given form are nuanced and full of quirks. For me this allows the ideas to become visceral. Given this, it’s curious to me how each of the artist’s work in Smart Ass seems sealed off from the pieces that surround it. Imagine a sentence constructed entirely of parenthetical phrases.

I don’t doubt that the works benefit from being in the same room together, but usually I find more specific harmonies or greater dissonance between pieces in a group show. With Smart Ass these tensions are missing, replaced with an awareness of imminent dispersal. As I said this is more a curiosity than a criticism. The lack of tension may have something to do with Ben Riesman’sVisualize Sleeping Your Way to The Top, a believable self-help audioscape that satirizes the power of positive thinking to affect real changes in one’s life. The soothing voice of the narrator, his repetitive phrases, and the ambient sound track produce a truly relaxing if not hypnotic experience. So much so that if it weren’t for the gallery setting (which if you close your eyes as instructed you can block out) and Riesman’s idiosyncrasies, Visualize Sleeping Your Way to The Top could easily be taken in earnest.

More likely the encapsulated quality of the works in Smart Ass is due to the sense that all the artists are far more interested in what lies outside the gallery. Even the sculptural objects in the show point to everyday aesthetic encounters and have a kind of self-sufficiency that could survive less rarefied environments. I’m referring to Ryan Thayer’s large scale reworkings of homogenous office architecture (Ceiling Tile Wall, a modular acoustic ceiling, complete with fluorescent lighting fixtures and air conditioning vent, rotated 90º to become one entire wall of the gallery, or his claustrophobia-inducing office cube, Untitled (Experience of Place)….” – Shotgun Review by Scott Oliver

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