When Dee Mitchell approached Ludwig Schwarz about doing a retrospective of Schwarz’s drawings, he told Mitchell he hadn’t drawn in years and wasn’t planning to return to it anytime soon. Not to be deterred, the two came up with something else, maybe something better, for the new The Box Company space in South Dallas.
In a warehouse just off Malcolm X Boulevard on the south side of Interstate 30, The Box Company joined a too-short list of project spaces dedicated to contemporary art in the city last year. Since opening the space, husband-wife duo Jason and Nancy Koen have hosted shows of work by young, Dallas-based artists Francisco Moreno and Luke Harnden, projects by international artists such as Hermann Nitsch and Teresa Margolles, and a show of the late John Wilcox’s drawings, among others. All of these shows, like the current exhibition of Schwarz’s now nearly 20-year-old drawings and collage pieces, would not happen without multiuse art spaces like The Box Company.
This is undeniably a good thing. Rick Brettell, The Dallas Morning News' art critic, called Schwarz one of the most important artists in the city’s history, and while Schwarz is still prolific — he’s in a painting show with Howard Sherman in Houston and had a three solo show series come conclude at Conduit Gallery last year — it’s rare to see a show of his older works. (Oliver Francis Gallery’s 2014 show of Schwarz’s work in Retrospective 1990-2014 was a wonderful exception.)
The show at The Box Company, however, is a little more focused than the 2014 retrospective. Although The Box Company space is massive, Schwarz’s work is hung only on the walls and placed on the floor of a small, white-boxed gallery set up in the middle of the warehouse. Inside the gallery, 24 of Schwarz’s drawings in identical frames hang at the same height. On the opposing wall, collage pieces composed of consumer product packaging hang alongside a series of eight rather banal photographs of people engaged in various generic activities: grocery shopping, at school, camping, etc., with the interruption of duct tape placed over individuals' faces and the words “not for resale” scrawled haphazardly across each image in pen.
All of the works date from the early 2000s or earlier, except for two sculptural works Schwarz created for this show. One is an assemblage piece consisting of a small television and a blue outdoor chair squeezed inside a wooden enclosure; the other is a small section of a white door that seems to be made out of a cardboard box.
Yes, it’s all very random.
Schwarz’s work, when characterized at all, is variously described as abstract, conceptual or absurd. He is truly an interdisciplinary, multimedia, however-you-want-to-define-his-practice artist, someone who works in any and every medium, occasionally making up his own. What medium consists of collaging consumer product packaging? And what about his "drawings," which include a grainy photo of Teen Wolf glued to a piece of paper and pieces I like to call “Ludwig has fun with fonts,” in which he types out dryly humorous phrases such as “From the people who brought you EVERYTHING we are proud to announce we will be bringing you NOTHING” and prints them out on generic printer paper? In Schwarz’s world, everything is conscripted and repurposed as art.
Mitchell chose the 24 drawings on view at The Box Company from about 150 drawings Schwarz had in his studio. (Of course, there are a couple hundred more floating around in collectors' homes.) Schwarz also had quite a few collages of product packaging for Mitchell to choose from.
Schwarz has called himself as a hoarder in at least one exhibition note, and I enjoyed this 2012 quote by art critic and professor Ben Lima in a D Magazine review of a solo show of Schwarz’s work at Conduit Gallery: “Anything can be ‘artified’ or conscripted for art-making, and since the need to make and consume art never stops, eventually, everything can and will become art.”
Work like Schwarz’s is confounding to the uninitiated arts viewer. Sometimes it just looks like crap. Much of the work on view at The Box Company, if it had been made by you or me, would have wound up in the trash can decades ago. Thank goodness Schwarz is an artist and a hoarder.
The artist is anything but absent in these works if you know what you’re looking for and where to locate him. The work is funny. It’s light, sometimes ironic, and at least in the case of this show, it’s like getting an invitation into the artist’s brain. It’s like a puzzle without a solution.
Sometimes we create context for work like Schwarz’s drawings, the casual detritus of creativity. Mitchell did not. Instead, viewers are asked to create their own context — an entirely different experience for viewing art and one that can be far more rewarding if you take the time.
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You can make of these works whatever you want, or you can guess what might have been going through Schwarz’s mind as he fit the pieces of his leftover spaghetti boxes and microwave dinner packages together like a puzzle — again, one with no one solution. Maybe you’ll also have a nostalgia-tinged response to the works. Maybe you’ll realize how evocative consumer products, in all of their kitsch-infused layout and dated designs, can be.
Or maybe not.
I’ll leave you with another quote, this time from Mitchell, found in his curatorial statement for the show: “Art is the broad category of things and experiences that may cause some awkwardness and tend to get in your way when you are trying to get where you think you need to be.”
The Box Company, 2425 Myrtle St., is open by appointment only. The exhibition is on view through Dec. 4.