ASHES/ASHES is pleased to present In Absentia X: Property from a Private Collection, featuring artworks by Israel Aten, Tony Hope, Michael Pybus, Mike Shultis, and Joel-Peter Witkin. The exhibition will be on view from September 7th to October 23rd, 2022, with an opening on Wednesday, September 7th, from 6–8PM.
The artworks assembled here and now were sourced from a vast and formidable private collection of contemporary art. They were highly coveted by their owner, who loved them with an intensity that is rare among collectors. In all of our years, we have never encountered another patron who identified so totally with art nor have ever known such a person to just as suddenly relinquish it. He asked for our confidentiality in the matter which in one sense was easy enough to grant because he wouldn’t explain himself but slightly more tricky because he didn’t commit it to writing. What was most important, he insisted, was that everything be gone.
Our collector was born into an old family of unquestionable status and questionably gotten wealth. At a young age he felt himself sinking into the morass of his charmed life, prompting him to shift gears from a slow-motion life of privileged stagnation to a fuck-it-all downward spiral. His path out of seedy clubs was through museums, which he discovered was a decent enough place to dry out since no one *fun* ever went there. The greatest moment of our collector’s lost years was discovering art as a distinct high, coming upon artworks that engaged such a deep part of his being that the only way to describe it was though he had finally discovered he’d had a soul.
New dimensions revealed themselves. He swore he could make out angels amid the grime and garbage of a perfectly squalid photograph and giant, Luciferian wings peeking out from the murk and mire of a brutally well-worked canvas. He bloomed in the presence of artwork that spoke to not feeling real, of being marooned in one’s self, or in his specific case: afloat on money but adrift of purpose. The artworks he latched onto across all media fixed a ground to reality and fit a sky to heaven. If the floors were creaky and the horizons hazy all the better; perfection was not only boring but more often than not a straight-up lie.
Our collector began acquiring more and more artworks. He hoped that with a sheer volume of the stuff he could elevate their combined mass to blot out the sun, or at the very least cast some shade on the side that was so profitably evil. He was fascinated by the casual violence that flickered across screens and the first-person sadism of engaging with them. Why did it all have to be so childish? Why did every fresh horror have a root in curdled daydreams and imagination gone to rot? Everything – sex, boredom, hatred, love, addiction, anime – coexisted on the same plane with no higher principle above it. It seemed cringe to even hope for one.
Upon the last of his collecting binges, our collector was beyond forgiveness. He listed off all his frustrations – about the real world, about the art world – to anyone in earshot before deflating in a heap over the pointlessness of his own outrage. Where once he had been wounded valuably by art, now even the most explicit and grotesque work barely registered as a pinch. He would wander through his galleries and lament that, though the grounds for his pessimism were well founded, his own capacity to resist it was growing less and less firm. In acquiring so much he had let something slip crucially by the wayside. Without a fixed core of virtue, nothing.
We do not know his whereabouts nor where the proceeds from this sale will go. Though we wish him the best in his pursuits. Our hope is that our collector finds a degree of peace and that you yourself might discover some meaning in these artworks.
– Harry Tafoya
Israel Aten (b. 1986; Detroit, MI) lives and works in Detroit, MI
Tony Hope (b. 1989; Redford, MI) lives and works in Detroit, MI
Michael Pybus (b. 1982; Darlington, United Kingdom) lives and works in Manchester, United Kingdom
Mike Shultis (b. 1987; Albuquerque, NM) lives and works in Albuquerque, NM
Joel-Peter Witkin (b. 1939; Brooklyn, NY) lives and works in Albuquerque, NM