Amy Beecher sat cross-legged and casual on a magenta carpet in a thoroughly pink and red room on a warm Saturday night in May. Speaking in a clear, precise, and uninflected lilt, Beecher read aloud to an audience surrounding her, the group ensconced in the rose-filled room. “What a beautiful evening,” Beecher read. “And I’m going to meet my husband tonight.” The lines seemed arbitrary, as if pulled haphazardly from a teenage rom-com. “Will,” spoke the seated Beecher. “Will you accept this rose? Will, will you accept this rose?”
Beecher was reading “XX OO OK,” her poem written with phrases taken from the reality television show The Bachelor. Slicing and splicing together these words, originally spoken in earnest by contestants looking for love, “XX OO OK” is verse teetering between absurdity and sincerity. It also served as the conceptual centerpiece of Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Rose!, Beecher’s recently closed installation at GRIN. Like the poem, the works presented there—video, sound, literal red roses—didn’t cohere as much as they tangled together within a theoretical frame.
Framing and containing seem principal to Beecher’s process. She acknowledges her “fraught relationship with painting,” explaining that her work follows the medium’s logic more than material. “Every show I do is like a huge frame, and then I put stuff in the frame,” Beecher writes to me via email. “You’re supposed to walk through the frame and activate the relationships between the things.”
Indeed, even “XX OO OK,” when not read aloud, was activated as you moved through the installation. Printed on eight distinct gummed paper pads, Beecher arranged the work in two sets of four, installed caddy-corner in the gallery. Each sheet of paper had verses from the poem printed on both sides, forming an X and O. Viewers could take a sheet, thereby removing a sculptural and textural fragment of the work. Taut between “XX OO OK” was a single free-standing gallery wall, presenting three sound pieces on one side and a video on the other. A female’s voice, strong, clear, and devoid of any effect, read snippets from reviews written for purchases of red roses on Amazon. The reviewers’ words are sincere but tinged with sentimentality bordering on saccharine. “This is by far my favorite rose. Lovely! Realistic!! Life-like!,” deadpans the voice, which could be heard via individual headphones. Underfoot were strewn petals of red roses, deepening in color before eventually shriveling and rotting. Hearing the exuberant reviews, delivered in such monotone, while feeling (even through shoes) the texture of mangled roses much past their prime, truncated the consumer experience in one sensual, tactile, and experiential (proverbial) brushstroke.
Less (materially) tactile was the video on the wall’s other side, which depicted a single female hand delicately holding a single red rose. The petals of the rose shake just slightly with movement so faint that it almost seems imaginary. Playing with our perception, Beecher confronts artificiality, questioning the substance of social gestures like giving roses. Further exploring the paradigm between authenticity, artificiality, and sincerity was “Catching Lead.” The most sensual video in the exhibition, “Catching Lead” is an homage to Richard Serra’s “Hand Catching Lead” (1968), substituting single red roses for pieces of metal. Like Serra, Beecher alludes to the mutability and ephemerality of formalism and her material, the hackneyed red rose. In so doing, she undermines the significance of both material and form.
“Allowing something not to have boundaries, to not feel polished, to remain empty, to wander aimlessly, feels subversive to me right now,” Beecher writes. This sentiment is apparent in the BBBR! artworks, which strive for a prettiness that teeters between petty and sophisticated. That subtle dissonance is all surface in these works, jarring through their presentation more so than their premise.
Such incongruity is a hallmark of Beecher’s recent projects. For instance, for last year’s Amy Beecher: tbh at Providence College-Galleries, she created an environment of distinct, inchoate objects loosely connected to an absent protagonist, Susannah. Represented through an audio-recorded monologue, Susannah talks about her boob job gone awry in anti-climactic narrative. Though Susannah was invisible, viewers did see vestiges of her story inside the gallery, such as wallpaper patterned with wilted cabbage leaves, prints of red plastic bow ties on top of paper towels, and a platform stage covered with beige velvet. Beecher deconstructs narrative by fabricating a context for autonomous, but connected, objects. “I’m hoping that the objects in the space give dimension to the story,” explains Beecher in the tbh catalogue interview. “These are loose, associative, proximal relationships I’m trying to get at.”
In seeing much of her work, viewers are asked to enter a relationship of sorts with Beecher. All of the work at GRIN was created in collaboration. “XX OO OK” was written via contestants on The Bachelor, but it was created at the AS220 with master printer Jacques Bidon, inspired by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. (Beecher tells me she also looked at Karl Holmqvist and Christopher Williams). In paying tribute to Serra with “Catching Lead,” Beecher worked with Corey Towers. And in “Fuchsia Cascade,” the bright, rose-strewn carpet, Beecher respects Rudolf Stingel and empowered us to create our own conceptual response based on our bodily experience. Walking onto that red carpet, Beecher asked viewers to “accept this rose,” that is, to consider how our relationships are formed through associations of meaning.
Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful Rose! was on view at GRIN May 17-June 24, 2017.