Review: Joseph Havel — Talley Dunn Gallery

[Originally published in The Dallas Morning News]

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Joseph Havel has a pedigree that ranks him as a blue blood in the artistic community. He is also highly articulate and speaks with ease about ponderously footnoted texts. That kind of intellect makes for challenging art that sings with discourse. His recent show at Talley Dunn Gallery, “Plus or Minus,” is a case in point. One gallery wall is covered, top-to-bottom and edge-to-edge, with woven shirt labels, each of which is embroidered with the word, “nothing.” The work is white on white on white. Walls, labels and thread are all white and the labels are pinned like butterflies. In fact, they undulate in surprising ways and the piece becomes a revelatory experience with regard to the ways in which objects morph into moments of disclosure.

A visual conversation is evoked by the label installation as well as Havel’s bronze sculptures, each of which is beautifully rendered in elegantly pale (bluish) tones. One piece, “On History 3,” moors the show. It operates as a mast for both “nothing,” (pinned) and a series of works that greet the viewer like missives. The latter works are graphite and oil paint on paper. One way to grasp them is to imagine them as postcards from your own psyche. They are furiously brilliant Rorschach tests and further enliven an already intriguing show.

This intimate exhibition exudes a heady coolness that, ultimately, is a kind of poetry. Havel, in fact, is fond of John Berryman and a host of other writers. The word “poiesis” originated with the Greeks. It means “to make” and the verb enjoyed a grand treatment in Plato as well as a renaissance with Heidegger. While this may seem grandiose stuff, there’s no doubt that Havel knows plenty about it. He is a lovely and brilliant man who wields his gift for “making” supremely well. We are fortunate to see this caliber of work in Dallas. It’s marvelous stuff.

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