reck room
Patrick McDonough

The title of Patrick McDonough’s September 2010 exhibition at Flashpoint Gallery is a deliberate misspelling of “rec room,” the multi-purpose room in suburban American homes reserved for recreation, leisure activities, and hobbies. reck room is a proliferation of just that. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a combination foosball/ping-pong table that allows four participants standing on the long sides of the table to play foosball, while two on the short sides play ping-pong on a clear plexi-glas overlay. Sports posters and cyanotypes, hung salon-style, line the walls of the gallery, evoking the sentimental, if haphazard, decoration of domestic spaces. Further into the gallery is a seating area surrounding a coffee table, complete with artist-made quilts to cuddle up with and self-published books to peruse. Projected on the wall, where one might normally find a television, is a slide show of time-lapse photographs of Coors Light cans, depicting the fading of the cold-indicating blue pigment in the mountains. These individual works come together to form a hybrid of two discrete social spaces: the gallery and the home.

This transformation of the white cube into domestic space questions the distinction between art and non-art, decoration and utility. The majority of works in the exhibition are fully functional, challenging formalist notions of art production by providing the opportunity for the viewer to play, use, or interact with the art. Some instances demand interactivity; one must step on certain works, such as the rugs, in order to access other pieces. If the history of art has privileged the visual, propagating a hierarchical relationship between voyeur and object, interactivity in art subverts that hierarchy, ultimately questioning not just how art is appreciated but who can appreciate it. This exhibition, then, is not just a rec room, as the very title suggests. “Reck” is the Old English word meaning “having significance.” reck room is literally a room of significance; these functional everyday objects attain new meaning through their status as works of art.

This deliberate misspelling, familiar to viewers through internet-speak, text message vernacular, and kitschy advertising language, creates a laid-back, colloquial mood. McDonough employs not just vernacular language, but also vernacular techniques and materials, blurring the line between high and low, art and craft. The “Accent wall” is painted with BEHR brand “Gallery Taupe” latex paint. The top 10 tabs from Ultimate Guitar Tabs.com book is a self-published book. The rugs placed around the ping pong/foosball table were designed in Photoshop and then fabricated by a do-it-yourself rug-making company. These objects are all things people may produce in their leisure time with materials purchased at a local craft store. These techniques embody a commonplace approach to making objects, one of middle class means. Such objects beg questions about autonomy and self-actualization. What differentiates art from other forms of material culture? If anyone can paint a wall taupe, who is an artist?

And yet, fine art references fill the exhibition. The “Basketball shot chart” paintings, in which a solid or outlined circle represents a player’s location on a basketball court when making a shot, resemble the experimental score of a John Cage chance composition just as much as a coach’s game strategy board. The “Accent wall” is just as much an ode to Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings as it is a design tip from the Home and Garden Television Channel. The “Coors Light slide show” nearly resembles 19th Century Romantic landscape painting and owes just as much to the serial photography of Eadweard Muybridge as it does the tradition of family slide shows. Ultimately McDonough’s exhibition strikes a harmonious balance between high and low, occupying an unexpectedly comfortable liminal space where the boundaries between art and material culture dissolve.

Game play, the raison d’etre of the rec room, has a firm legacy in fine art as well as the domestic sphere. Marcel DuChamp was a well-known chess player for most of his life, and later conceptual artists, such as John Baldessari, likened the work of an artist to a strategic game. This notion of game play as artistic strategy underlies the production of all the works in reck room; play is both the subject and the method. The foosball/ping pong table centerpiece for the exhibition provides games as the subject matter, while McDonough’s conceptual mischief owes credit to game play as its theoretical underpinning.

This exhibition is not McDonough’s first experiment in game play as artistic practice. His thesis exhibition play.games.man similarly explored household games and their possible transformation into art objects. In his “Target” works, McDonough sewed targets onto canvases. He then threw axes at them, attempting, as one would in target practice, to get a bullseye. He displayed the remnants of the action in the gallery. The canvas, then, served simultaneously as an autonomous art object and as performance documentation. The target practice performance, occurring in the studio and not in the gallery space, served as a metaphor for McDonough’s personal artistic practice. The game reified the artistic strategy: artwork as a game; game as artwork. If play.games.man used games as microcosms of individual studio practice and art-as-process, reck room advocates for art’s social function. Like the “Target” paintings, the game-table-cum-art-piece literalizes the artistic-experience-as-game-play metaphor, but by calling attention to the exhibition as a social space, McDonough asks viewers to contemplate the intersections of art and everyday life.

Martha Joseph