Yellowed book pages with grainy black-and-white illustrations from the fictional “Nicholas Frank Biography” hang in Western Exhibitions as a part of Nicholas Frank’s new show, titled “Reality, whatever that is.” These ruthlessly self-referential pages chronicle events from Frank’s past exhibitions and projects, including the Hermetic Gallery in Milwaukee. They adopt the look, feel, syntax and grammar of an art-historical monograph. Frank writes in third person, alternately A) lampooning the self-important style of art writing or B) sincerely analyzing the ideological basis for his artistic output. In order to complete task A he packs in superfluous details including hearsay and quotations from friends, snapshots with captions, self-defeating references to his unknowable emotional states and other private information. Additionally, Frank likes to dangle important concluding thoughts from the last paragraph deliciously just off the page.
On page 263, Frank records photographs of group exhibition (and here I am inadvertently mimicking the written style of the pages themselves) containing the works of an “artist” Roni Layne. These same paintings accompany the book pages in the exhibition at Western, but attributed to Frank. The small square paintings contain text and read together as /JUST WAIT/ IT GETS GOOD/ NO REALLY/ NO/ REALLY/ REALLY. Layne is a fictional invention by the artist, as revealed on page 264 where a confidant of Frank’s calls the gesture “snide and ungenerous, an exercise in self-dramatization.” A small point of the show is a critique of the real, through the device of the fictitious artist (whose painting says NO REAL-LY), written about in the fictitious book. This is a fairly recognizable topic that Frank nonetheless executes inventively. But the more worthy attributes of the “Nicholas Frank Biography” come in the passages where he, the narrator, debates with himself, the artist. This allows a glimpse inside the history of a robust and witty thought process that’s sifting through layers of reality. (Dan Gunn)
Through December 19 at Western Exhibitions, 119 N. Peoria