A cabin for artist residencies, a restaurant menu reimagined as a family meal, a series of self-portraits — John C Gonzalez makes things with other people. Broadly concerned with processes of collaboration, the visibility of labor, and exchange relationships, Gonzalez’s project-based artworks involve painting, sculpture, and performance and emerge from the daily routines of the institutions and organizations into which he is invited. Works well with others is the first retrospective of Gonzalez’s collaborative projects—many not previously exhibited—and premiers a new project, a garden built inside the Bell Gallery with landscapers who often work with Brown University.
Committed to the ethics of partnership, authorship, and collaboration, Gonzalez’s projects act as platforms for foregrounding the work and efficacy of others. Oil Paintings Produced for Export (2009-2011)—on display in the lobby of List Art Center—presents the commissioned work of over 50 painters working for China Oil Painting Wholesale and Yayuan Art Company, companies in Dafen, China who produce hand-made oil paintings on demand. Gonzalez requested custom paintings, commissioning artists to paint “the room you are in while making this painting,” swatches of their favorite colors, and self-portraits. Some of these works include the artists’ signatures—a gesture of authorship which is uncommon for paintings produced in this way.
Other projects present temporary shifts of work away from production towards self-determined authorship of the participants. In Family Meal (2013)—commissioned as part of Odd Spaces, a one-day performance art exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—Gonzalez collaborated with cooks employed in the cafeteria and restaurant of the MFA Boston who chose to replace their menus for a day with one inspired by a “family meal” or “shift meal” — a meal traditionally created by cooks for staff and employees. In Jerry’s Crew and Fire and Ice (2014) laborers in the Philippines, employed by Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar to produce woodwork for resort developments, addressed the impact of climate change on their community: the participants chose to make sculptures 79 cm tall referencing the projected rise in sea level by the end of the 21st century. Larger projects involve groups working collectively to determine and collaboratively build new structures and situations. A cabin made with his fellow employees at Home Depot #4285 in Providence when Gonzalez was employed there, Home Depot House (2013–2014)—commissioned as part of the 2013 deCordova Biennial—was exhibited in the store and later transported to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum to house a local artist residency program.
With a similar spirit, Gonzalez’s most recent project, Collaborative Garden (2016), takes the form of an indoor garden for reflection and meditation. Transforming the center of the Bell Gallery, the garden was made with employees of Bel Terra Landscaping who regularly contract with Brown University to maintain the grounds around works in the Public Art Collection. Pamela Rodgers of Verde Design + Horticulture and Phil Taylor of Bel Terra facilitated the production of a template for the garden and a list of seasonally available plant materials and stone elements. Working with these materials, the Bel Terra team, in conversation with Gonzalez, collectively designed and created the garden—a shared space for self-healing and personal reflection with others.
In parallel to these collaborative projects, Gonzalez maintains ongoing participatory art projects. Included in this exhibition are a new iteration of his Daily Painting series (2013–2016), Daily Square (2016), which invites visitors to repaint a square using discarded mismatched paint from Home Depot and Lowe’s. Similarly, Installation Box, Version 4 (2016) invites visitors to collaborate with Gonzalez in making sculptures using standardized sets of materials assembled by the artist. Visitors are also invited to explore the gallery to find a new iteration of Hidden Paintings (2013–2014, 2016), an ongoing collaboration with Thomas Willis. Gesturing towards the contributions to collaborations that sometimes go unseen, the two artists made a painting on the walls of the Bell Gallery hidden in plain sight.
About John C Gonzalez
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Gonzalez received an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has attended artist residencies including Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the MacDowell Colony, SubSamson, Vermont Studio Center, Wassaic Project, Jentel Foundation, and Escuela de Bellas Artes in Bataan, Philippines. Recent exhibitions include the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA, Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA, Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI, and the Socrates Sculpture Park and Le Petit Versailles, both in New York, NY. Gonzalez has also held visiting artists and academic appointments at Wellesley College, the Brooklyn Museum, Massachusetts College of Art, University of Rhode Island, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Montserrat College of Art, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, and Rhode Island School of Design. He currently lives and works in Lincoln, Rhode Island.