[Originally published in Visual Art Source]
Conceptual art can lean so far into our own cranial turf that there’s little on the “outside” for our imaginations to work upon. Consequently, the work of Vernon Fisher — currently on display at the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth — is the surprise in the Cracker Jack box; it’s visually splendid. In fact, it offers an embarrassment of riches for our active imaginations to plunder. His show, K-Mart Conceptualism, shows us a series of works displaying dexterous montages of television, cold war and pop iconography that, taken together, make for an interesting visual experience and a cerebral thrill.
Fisher uses text in a highly effective manner to insert a bit of humor and swagger into his art that makes it especially engaging. Everything from radio dial-in chit chat to an exploration of a widely held infatuation for the young Annette Funicello on the Mickey Mouse Show becomes fodder for reeling us in and capturing us — surely and willingly. His work is mischievous in a boyish way, but it also shoves us squarely into the American mindset from which many of us sprang — and that, of course, is emotionally compelling. It’s a wave of recognition in which we all feel most at home. It’s snug as moon pies and Kool-Aid — but with a decidedly quirky edge.
Stick-Chart Navigator is a triptych displaying a floating diving board as its centerpiece. As a kind of contemporary altarpiece, it works nicely. We’re made to contemplate cleaving the surface of water and plunging its depths. But it becomes far more complex. Layered on top of that central image is text relating a narrative involving a love affair gone awry. We’re told the story of an attempt to understand a perceived dalliance by gathering information about converging radio signals and re-programmed radio buttons. Thus, navigational clues are given that situate us in a narrative in which we, too, participate. The radio becomes a buoy to which we all (narrator included) can cling to gather information about love and its vertiginous rise and fall.
Bikini (top) shows us a nuclear explosion blasting up from an otherwise idyllic beach. The water is tranquil and the palm trees are wafting in a delicate breeze. However, those of us who saw “duck and cover” films in preparation for the stand off at The Bay of Pigs will see an eerie resemblance of Fisher’s beach to those we were shown in footage of nuclear holocausts. It was an era of bomb shelters and survival packs. Couched inside the black-and-white image is a colorful bit of splendor bleeding through in a bright red. We see palms again and looping arcs. But look more closely and you’ll see two trotters plunging downward. Even this contrasting, colorful, world is tainted with tragic import.
But what are we to expect? After all, this is some terrific art. It’s no sunny paradise. Fisher doesn’t just give us a slice; he’s baked a whole pie. The kind you’d recognize from ’50s commercials. K-Mart, indeed.