Being there: Jordan Tate’s Antiquities Mural on High Street, Columbus, OH

After an amazing year in Spain, I am now back home in Columbus, Ohio. It is taking some adjusting, especially to the constant driving and the quiet after the walking and noise of Madrid. A few days ago while driving along High Street a striking mural caught my eye, surreptitiously positioned next to Yoga On High between 4th and 3rd and it made me stop the car to get a closer look. 

Here is what I found (please excuse the photos with the dappled sunlight and shade of the nearby trees. If you want to see what it looks like in a more pristine, gallery setting, click here).

I discovered this mural was a photographic work by Cincinnati based artist Jordan Tate called New Work #169 and it found its way onto this wall courtesy of a temporary mural series created by the Short North Alliance of partner galleries and the Columbus Museum of Art exhibition Viewpoints: Murals by Young Professional Working Artists.

From what I have read about Tate’s practice, he questions the boast of photography as allowing us to somehow ‘be there’, both geographically and temporally, by adding complicating layers to the medium itself. This is specifically generated through the jarring effect of the ancient sculptures being presented as appearing in the work as printed on partially unfurled paper-rolls.

In New Work #169 this takes on an institutional critique focus of the way museums valorize Classical Greek and Roman antiquities – even with their unknown artists and ambiguous subjects – especially in contrast to contemporary artistic practices (and, as far as I understand Tate’s other work, other so-called ‘primitive’ ancient artifacts).

In describing New Work #169, Tate notes how: “This installation is an examination of institutional authority and the canonization of works of art. These unknown works carry whatever value and prestige they have based on two powerful forces: the weight of the notion of a museum and the value of preserved history.”

But what I enjoyed most about the experience of encountering Tate’s New Work #169 in acclimatizing to the driving-culture on my return to Columbus, was how the fact that it was a temporary mural not only added to the nuances of the artist’s exploration of the medium of photography and institutional critique, but also my own experience of the work.

As I hope my own snapshots make somewhat visible, the way that the print works as a mural and how it has aged and flaked since it was created earlier this year. This aging of the mural was particularly striking when I left my car and took a closer look at the individual sculptures:

The wall’s presence through the photographic image, both with its brick-structure and its cracks, parallels the fragmentary condition of the ancient sculptures of busts and torsos.

Furthermore, where the photographic image blurs the features of the faces and bodies of antiquity, the acute details of the wall’s (and photographic print’s) deterioration comes into clearer focus.

Jordan Tate’s New Work #169 is perhaps the best place in Columbus to see how the intersection of Classical and Contemporary Art can work together to generate intense and novel meanings that bear looking into to in an active and detailed way. In short, it is the kind of work you need to get out of your car, off your computer, out of the museum, and see for yourself.

For more on Jordan Tate, visit his website here.

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