Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock

Free Museum of Dallas

James Cope

Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock (Dave Smith & Thom Winterburn), Untitled, 2010; graphite on paper and offset lithography on paper; dimensions variable; courtesy Free Museum of Dallas; photo by Free Museum of Dallas

January 2011, 2011; digital file for printed mailer; printed: 6 3⁄8 x 9 3⁄8 inches; courtesy the artist and Free Museum of Dallas

What Makes Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock Run? at the Free Museum of Dallas is difficult to classify (not unlike its venue, the campus office of conceptual artist Michael Corris, Chair of the Division of Art at the Meadows School of Art, Southern Methodist University). According to exhibiting collaborators Dave Smith and Thom Winterburn, an exhibition this is not. So what exactly is it? The struggle to label or categorize is likely just what Smith and Winterburn hope to provoke. These two English artist-gallerists formed the combined practice known as Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock (JCHP) in 2005 as an art gallery without a physical space. The gallery exists without an address and the exhibitions typically take place without walls, manifesting instead through the distribution of invitations and instructions by mail and email, and the subsequent participation of the recipients of this informational ephemera.

The exhibition, or non-exhibition, here consists of nine unframed drawings on paper ranging in size from 24-x-20 inches to 18-x-10 inches installed above thirty text-based cards ranging in size from 7-x-5 inches to 10-x-6 inches. The graphite drawings reproduce, using a hand-drawn grid system, such masterworks as The Earthstopper on the Banks of the Derwent (1773) by Joseph Wright, Glacier of Rosenlaui (1856) and Stonebreakers (1857–58) by John Brett, and The Stonebreaker (1857) by Henry Wallis. Unpreciously hung at just above eye level, without titles or any supporting information, and casually rendered if not smudged, the drawings reveal JCHP’s intentions. The drawings appear insignificant (especially as art), devalued and accessory to the non-exhibition. Moreover, these works are apparently not meant to be displayed or sold but instead will be given away as gifts to friends and other interested individuals. The exhibition’s real significance lies then in the disparate essays and announcements presented on the cards, which do not clearly relate to the drawings but visually dominate the room. By emphasizing the written over the pictorial, Smith and Winterburn attempt to deny the desire for a standard art-viewing environment and experience—to not, following the exhibition press release, contribute to “the valorization of public display.”

JCHP stifles any means for its work to be valued or even reproduced by refusing to call it art, instead strictly referring to their production as “art-like” even while presenting it in an art context. Similarly they claim that the process “of actually sitting down with a drawing board and drawing…[is] a bridge between doing nothing or doing something,” thus keeping the ambiguity of the entire project firmly in place. When an act such as drawing produces a tangible object, which then occupies (gallery, showroom or other public) space and is finally distributed for sale, the gesture is automatically reduced to a commodity and the original intention is redirected if not removed altogether. Could it be that JCHP purposely presents disinformation to confuse the ever-hungry art collector or viewer? The want for a constantly expanding art market keeps the collector chasing, the artist producing and both exploiting each other. JCHP is keen to oppose the economy of the art market by giving away their finished work, thus offering an interesting alternative model to capitalist consumerism.

James Cope is Curator of The Goss-Michael Foundation based in Dallas.

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