05.11.13 - 05.25.13
Wednesday, May 11
Culture Room is pleased to announce the exhibition “Rejectance” by Ben Noam. The exhibition will feature an installation exploring the artist’s decision never to attend a master's program.
Secular Americans in the 21st century enter life as debtors, owing unspecified and unpayable emotional debts to their parents as well as exorbitant financial debts to educational gatekeepers. In order to secure desirable employment and make good on their parents’ early investments in their futures, Americans pay enormous tolls to the academic establishment, which functions like a secular priesthood, amassing land and capital in the manner of the medieval Church.
The original universities in the Western world organized themselves as guilds. From the first, their chief mission was to produce not learning but graduates, with teaching subordinated to the process of certification. In their zeal to exclude and accredit, they mirrored the artisan guilds, who had long burdened new members with lengthy and wasteful periods of apprenticeship under the guise of “training.” By erecting barriers to entry, artisans kept their numbers small and their services expensive.
In the intervening centuries, the concept of apprenticeship has spawned a massive and powerful academic infrastructure whose primary function is to stratify entrants to the workforce. For this privilege, students often pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. The purchase of a degree bestows a ranking as well as an affiliation with a cartel of fellow graduates. Beyond the Ivy walls, of course, the only training that matters is on the job, just as the only preparation for life is life.
In “Rejectance,” artist Ben Noam, born to academic parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts—the epicenter of the credentialing establishment—dissects and rejects the culture of accreditation. In a series of framed drawings, Noam shreds together collegiate seals oxidized on copper first with acceptance letters from MFA programs, then with his own rejection of these matriculation offers, and finally with an email from Noam's mother in which she proposes to provide the artist with $200 for each completed Masters application. On the wall opposite the drawings hangs a large, colorful painting entitled "Ivy League Autumn." In the painting, ivy foliage with an autumn-themed gradient clings to the foreground while in the background distorted Ivy League seals psychedelically swirl into abstraction. Noam uses analog painting processes to produce a cyborg blend of expressionist painting and contemporary digital-image manipulation.
Two neo-classical pillars stand in each corner while concrete cast multiples are scattered on the floor below. The first pillar, constructed of solid wood, is sanded bare. The second pillar is covered in decades of cracked, gray lead paint, into which Noam has hammered 32,500 copper nails. Copper nails are typically used to secure roofing and institutional domes throughout New England; they are also used to kill trees by process of oxidization, earning them the nickname “stump killers.” The number 32,500 corresponds to the dollar amount of one year’s tuition at Yale’s School of Art.
This pillar’s brutal treatment and bristling surface recalls African power idols, highlighting the connection between power, totem, credentialing, and violence. Noam’s “Rejectance” is directed not only at the specific institutions whose tokens he defaces but also, by extension, at the baroque system of accreditation that pervades the art world and defrauds the artist.
-Christopher Glazek, 2013