Jerry Truong takes on the discourse of the American education system, while delving into the dialogue of the contemporary art market with his works in, “Social Studies” at Hamiltonian Gallery. Truong’s chalkboard pieces like “Conflict Management or How to Not Be Unpatriotic,” carry the weight of discourse in the American education system, by concept and design. Truong is an academically-trained artist and an educator himself. His unique personal perspective adds to the depth of his interaction with the educational system through art.
Truong's depth of commentary reaches far beyond his conceptualization of the education system, to reconcile with the contemporary art canon. Truong’s works are relevant to the textual works produced by other artists, but are also relevant to the greater arena of contemporary art in his approach to aesthetic.
All too often emerging contemporary artists sacrifice aesthetic for concept. However, this unexplained artistic preference doesn’t reflect the evidence of the greater art market, which suggests that those most successful contemporary artists, i.e. Jeff Koons, Damien Hurst, demonstrate a clear sense of both aesthetic and concept.
Truong has made the wise choice to blend his intellect with his craft for a cohesive union of aesthetic and concept. The brilliant combination of graceful imagery and fierce substance is most recognizable in “My Kind of Capital Punishment or A Modest Proposal.” Its strength is its simplicity. The unfortunate trend in contemporary art has artists bombarding their work with multiple complex meanings and dozens of elaborate aesthetic choices, when in fact the streamlined approach allows for the intrinsic depth of the art to shine, like in Truong's chalkboard pieces. When it comes to aesthetic and conceptualization, intentional complication for the sake of complexity does not necessarily add value.
Artists utilizing text as aesthetic or concept are interacting with a very specific arena of other established artists. There are very few artists who use text alone in their aesthetic. In contemporary art, Glenn Ligon is the forerunner of textual art, and he hasn’t been met with much relation until now. Truong’s textual works in "Social Studies" are powerful, in the high contrast aesthetic of white chalk on blackboard, in the graphic repetitive statements laid out like punishments from school-years, and the dramatic lingering left of the conceptualization.
It’s refreshing to see contemporary artists taking part in the greater dialogue of contemporary art as Truong has with his chalkboard pieces. Looking at the subtleties in visual clues of his chalkboards one is drawn to the similarities to Ligon. The smudged chalk disrupts the legibility of some words and phrases. In Ligon’s famous “Mirror” (2012) the imperfect coal dust lettering gives the same effect.
In Truong’s work the smudged removal of words and phrases plays a significant role. The ease of smudging, smearing, and wiping the carefully laid out chalk sentences suggests a temporariness in “My Kind of Capital Punishment or A Modest Proposal.” At once you are transported to a moment of school-age reprimand but the weight of the words brings you back to the complications of your adult life.
“My Kind of Capital Punishment or A Modest Proposal” is at once looming and fragile – placed so momentarily in time and so susceptible to being wiped out of existence completely. It’s aggressive and yet so delicate that it permeates all the complexities of life, education, coming of age, formation of identity, and place in a nation.
Jerry Truong makes a strong case for himself as a leader in the D.C. contemporary art scene with his educational system-inspired pieces in "Social Studies" at Hamiltonian Gallery.
The exhibit is open through March 23, 2013. Hamiltonian Gallery is located at 1353 U Street, NW Washington, D.C.