Winkleman Gallery, in collaboration with Schroeder Romero, is pleased to present Offenses Against One’s Self, a solo exhibition of new work by New York artist Michael Waugh. The exhibition includes labor-intensive, micrographic drawings in which line upon line of delicately handwritten text comprise a series of evocative landscapes and portraits. Also included are equally labor-intensive sculpture and video that utilize related texts, including documentation of an eight-hour performance-reading. Waugh will stage a similar non-stop reading on February 1st, starting at 10:30 AM and continuing without break until 6:30 PM.
The exhibition’s title, Offenses Against One’s Self, is taken from the title of an essay written in 1785 by British philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham, in which he argued for the elimination of laws that limited same-sex relations in his era. It’s an ironic title, given that this exhibition’s most present subject matter is capitalism — specifically text from Adam Smith’s book The Wealth of Nations. Smith’s book has been used to argue for the elimination of laws limiting capitalism and for promoting a libertarian, greed-is-good ethos. In this show’s context—amid images of shipwrecks, mass shootings, lynchings, and model-perfect young men—greed, becomes the “offense against one’s self.” Smith’s other major work, also utilized in this show, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, engages with social responsibility—a concept seemingly at odds with the notion that entrepreneurial greed could be good.
Waugh’s work has always been fueled by such contradictions. Formally, his work is simple, even elegant—terms not often used to describe highly political work. The drawings are classically beautiful and representational. The sculpture falls into that most conservative category of object, utilitarian, while the video appears to fall into another straightforward category, documentary. All the work takes conservative forms to ridiculous extremes. The first video in the show, for example, offers a single, eight-hour long shot—virtually impossible to watch in its entirety in a gallery context. While the second video, entitled The Invisible Hands, uses the incidental sound of a rowing machine to guide the editing of a months-long process of oarmaking and physical training, reducing the process into a frantic eight minutes that end in failure.
Viewed as a whole, the work in this exhibition implies a narrative; an aggressive narrative in which facts are ignored in deference to dogma and structure, a narrative in which the everincreasing volume of hard-learned truths remain always on the verge of overwhelming us. A final contradiction may be that Waugh’s work itself does not overwhelm. The drawing, video, and sculpture sit as testament to the thousands of hours of labor invested by the artist. The traces of his efforts remain always on the surface—forestalling the inundation of information and pointing out the solution that we always knew existed: hard work.
Michael Waugh earned his graduate degree in painting from New York University in 2000; but he also has degrees in writing from Texas State University and history from the University of Texas. These three distinct disciplines come together in his work—in narratives that play out across his richly detailed drawings and performance-based projects. Throughout his practice, Waugh forges unexpected, satirical comparisons between topics, such as the fall of the Roman empire with art world excess or the privatization of social security with dog breeding. His work has been exhibited at Winkleman Gallery (NY), Schroeder Romero Gallery (NY), Ronald Feldman Gallery (NY), Diverse Works (Houston), El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Havana), the Arkansas Art Center (Little Rock), The University of Connecticut (Storrs), and the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art (AR), among others. He has received awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, The Marie Walsh Sharp Space Program, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundadtion.