Friday, 19 October 2018 11:28

Artist Returns to Spa City for Major Art Show at Tang

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Tim Davis roams the corridors of the Tang Museum, surveying the gallery landscape where the work is ongoing in preparation of this weekend’s opening of his new show.

“This is the first time I’ve ever really done a show on this scale of things - things that aren’t just pictures that I took on a wall,” he says, the sonic echo of swinging hammers and buzzing drills flowing all around him. “This has a lot more going on.”

There are photographs – which he calls cartoons, selfies captured in the South Sea, videos of radios that he filmed in Tunisia; There is a self-portrait sculpture composed of multiple copies of Bob Dylan’s “Self Portrait” album, and a multitude of grave rubbings of people with funny names. “I can’t believe that I spent all this time in the summer doing these grave-rubbings,” Davis says, with a laugh. “It just seems insane.”  

“While I’m out there making photographs about the immediate moment, I’m also collecting stuff all the time,” he explains, posing for a photograph in front of his Library of Ideas. Here, the book shelves are lined with titles that boast the word “Idea.” 

 

2-Neighbors Davis.jpg

 

 "It all started with the sheet music of the song ‘(When We Are Dancing) I get ideas,’ Davis says. “I started collecting printed matter that has the word IDEAS in it, thinking that if I ever needed more ideas…”

Davis had staged solo exhibitions in Italy and France, Belgium and Canada. He has been involved in group exhibitions in spaces like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “When We Are Dancing (I Get Ideas),” - which opens on Saturday at the Tang Museum - marks the first large-scale exhibit in Saratoga Springs for the artist who spent his childhood here.  

Davis grew up in Saratoga where at a young age he went around town with his friends making home movies with a Super 8 camera. He played in local bands. He created handwritten stories that were published in a homemade newspaper created by his friends. The TV news was their inspiration.   “We were all obsessed with this weekend news anchor in Albany named Joe Moskowitz,” he recalls. “We got his 8x10 glossy, signed. We were in his fan club…”  

The artist’s father, longtime Saratogian Peter Davis, was the program director of the Flurry Festival and plays a variety of instruments with numerous bands in the region, from Annie and the Hedonists to Saratoga Race Course house band Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers. Music also plays a prominent rule in the exhibition. A monitor inside the museum displays music videos the younger Davis created for each of the 11 songs that he wrote for an album titled “It’s OK to Hate Yourself.”   

“It’s got many of Saratoga’s finest musicians on it,” says the artist who spent many years writing lyrics for his brother’s band, Cuddle Magic.  On Dec. 6, Tim Davis will perform all new material with his all new band.  “We’re called Severely Brothers. not THE. Just called Severely Brothers, OK?”

He is an artist, writer and a musician who makes photographs, video, drawings, sound, and installations. Humor plays a vital role.     

One of his earlier videos - “The Upstate New York Olympics” - depicts Davis leap-frogging over lawn jockeys. Sixteen different lawn jockeys in fact and some of which would be readily recognizable to residents of the Spa City. 

“On my 40th birthday, I said: I’m going to go out and just make something that’s super fun, something I enjoy. My birthday is Nov. 5 and it’s always cold and miserable and I came up with idea of making new sports. And I love playing sports, so I was like: Can I make art as fun as playing sports? For a year I made this thing – The Upstate New York Olympics - and I went all around upstate scanning the landscape,” says Davis, who is 48. “The lawn jockey leapfrog seemed logical. I get a rush out of doing something I’m not supposed to do. I never really got in trouble,” he says. “And I only went to the hospital once.” 

Another early video features 12 minutes of various Dollar General stores that accompany the lonesome traveler on a journey across the upstate landscape. 

“I was visiting a friend in Chenango County, out near Binghamton. You’re driving around an realize there are these Dollar General stores in like every town, these amazing glowing things where they leave the lights on really late at night. You’re like: Oh, there goes another one. He fixed his camera to the side window of his car and continued on his journey. ”I enjoy being out in the world and being dedicated to capturing something about the immediacy of the moment.” 

In the Tang Museum exhibition, two fixed walls play moving images that showcase, respectively, the formative beginnings of the hope-filled power of creativity - called “Counting In” - and its successful conclusion, called “Curtain Calls.”  

“This is all footage I shot. Counting In took a year of going to band practices and waiting for them to say: one, two, three, four. Filmed in their rehearsal spaces, I just take the part where they go: one, two, three, four and string all of those together, before the song even starts. Curtain Calls are of amateur theatrical plays. It’s the ecstasy of the thing being over. Different plays from all over the country, shot from the same vantage point,” Davis says.  

“A curtain call is what everyone is aiming for in a play - especially an amateur play that’s three hours long. Everyone’s like: can we get it there without messing it up? And Counting In is something that’s necessary to make music happen. I feel these two pieces are the real American Dream – which is playing in a band in your basement and doing an elaborate theater production. It’s not making a million dollars on Wall Street. “  

Another music-meets-culture depiction - Un-Easy Listening - takes up a glass housed section of the museum’s second-floor space.

“There are about seven or eight hundred easy listening record in here - records you pick up when you go digging through the Salvation Army,” Davis says. “Elevator music. Music meant to be in the background in a suburban house in the ‘50s, when people moved from urban ethnic-type apartment tenements to the suburbs, where they created all this music to fill up that space. That happened at the same time of the invention of the long-playing record and hi-fi stereo. So, it was the perfect storm of blandness.” A trio of record players simultaneously spin three different easy listening selections. “It’s interactive. People can come in and take records, put them on, change them out, take them home if they want. I would be grateful to get rid of them.”  

Davis lives in Tivoli, N.Y., near Kingston and teaches photography at Bard College. He previously taught a different generation of students at Yale, from 2001 to 2004. It was an era before Google, before Facebook and prior to Instagram. The technological changes of the past 15 years have been massive.

 “One thing that’s harder and harder is going out into the world (for a new generation of students). Computers and the Internet are things that make us… we know where we can go to get answers. Every question can be answered in one place. The idea of moving through the world randomly may lead you to your answers, and unexpected answers, but it’s harder for them to do that. So, I give an assignment that’s called ‘Let’s Get Lost’ and the idea is you have to be completely lost before you can take any pictures, and you can’t have a phone with you. For me, the idea is that there’s a heightened attention when we’re lost, a feeling of being hyper-aware,” Davis explains.

“On the other hand, the idea of their lives being something they want to share with other people is something that’s totally familiar to them. It’s easier for them to make work that’s more personal, that’s more connected, because they’re used to it. It’s something they’ve done their whole lives. Not only making art about their whole lives - but publishing it, for all to see.”

The exhibition reflects the wide variety of the artist’s works. “I’m paying attention all the time,” Davis says. “The thing is, we may run out of a lot of things, but we’re never going to run out of significance. We’re never going to run out of something to say. As long as there are human beings, there is going to be significance in a sense that: this is really important, let me tell you this. And that’s what I’m here for.”

 tang light Copy(photo: the artist in the spotlight, at the Tang Museum, Oct. 17, 2018. Photo: Thomas Dimopoulos)

 

Tim Davis - When We Are Dancing (I Get Ideas), a solo exhibition opens Saturday. Oct. 20 at
The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. Opening reception is at 5 p.m.

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, Davis hosts an evening at the museum of storytelling about how and why people collect things.  he will also stage a musical performance on Dec. 6. For more information, go to: tang.skidmore.edu.

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