A UNIQUE piece made of gray stained wood with incised text from Ezra Pound, Canto 91. SIGNED with incised initials “R P” + date on one end & “Pound C 91” incised on the other end.
1/4h x 1/4w x 7d in
Pettibone Carefully Polishes His Role As Cultural Custodian
Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1995
The late literary scholar Richard Ellmann once wrote that art proceeded by a series of thefts, with the greatest works involving the grandest larcenies.
This is relevant to the sculpture of Richard Pettibone, at the Arts Club of Chicago, not only because he was a pioneer of the kind of theft known in the visual arts as "appropriation" but also because he approaches it in much the same spirit as the literary figures-W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot-about whom Ellmann was writing.
Pettibone is, in fact, a student of the works of Pound, lines of which he quotes on several of his pieces. He particularly admires how Pound quoted in his works the literature of many countries and, by so doing, drove readers from one source to another in a personal process of acculturation.
That's a different attitude to art of the past from the one displayed by most appropriation artists-and Pettibone himself when, in the 1960s, he copied from the pages of an art magazine works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and others.
Then, he was more concerned with issues of originality that later appropriation artists emphasized; and when he copied the pieces in the same size as their magazine reproductions, he also indicated a nice sense of irony.
Such irony is missing from Pettibone's sculpture now on view. He copies works by Marcel Duchamp and Constantin Brancusi as well as anonymous craftsmen who made Shaker furniture. But by incorporating their visions with a line or two from Pound, the result is a hybrid that clearly relates to (but is nonetheless different from) the other two artists.
The important difference is a tone that goes beyond Pettibone's reductions in size, reworkings in different materials and odd, unexpected combinations. You begin to get it from a line quoted by Pound that Pettibone incises on some of his pieces: `Slowness is Beauty.'
There's a nice story behind this. Laurence Binyon, an Oriental scholar with whom Pound was to develop a long correspondence, spoke the line 50 years before the poet grasped its truth and requoted it in such a way as to give the speaker credit.
Pettibone attempts-and succeeds at-the visual equivalent. He formally quotes Brancusi and Duchamp, sending viewers back to investigate the originals in, essentially, an act of teaching.
He wants the viewer to be as bowled over by, say, Shaker furniture as he was. So he captures its aura, so to speak, in a way curious enough to motivate further study.
Pettibone functions as a custodian of culture. The references he gathers are like the ruins in Eliot's "The Waste Land." They are artifacts we need to preserve. They are what makes life worth living.
It's highly appropriate that this evocative show should be the last at the Art's Club's present, historic location. (Through March 11.)_____Alan G. Artner, Tribune Art Critic.