Tearing Up Power One Book at a Time, Samuel Levi Jones at Patron Gallery

Apr 1, 2016 / by Laura Volkening / Newcity Art



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The title of Samuel Levi Jones’ show “Reciprocity” is ideal for a gallery whose namesake is a person chosen as a special guardian, protector and supporter. In this case, Patron Gallery does just that by presenting work sparking conversation around the need to restructure current power dynamics. To do so, Jones uses encyclopedias and law books stripped down to their “skin” to form his raw, gridded canvases. Books commonly associated with authority and knowledge, the artist questions these assumptions by physically dismantling them and rendering them into material support.

By surveying the remains of this process, the viewer is implicated in Jones’ cynicism. Encyclopedias and law books are the material manifestation of judicial and academic power, but unlike these abstract notions, these objects can be altered and their physical changes can be seen. These unbound compositions are an all too timely reminder of the long history of systematic disenfranchisement through policies like New York’s racially selective Stop-and-Frisk practices and Chicago’s public school closures. The encyclopedias in the show call attention to the chapters of history omitted from these books, with their pages now literally missing. However, unlike his recent exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, none of the works on display at Patron have visible text, perhaps allowing more flexibility for the viewer to insert their own understanding for the book’s specific content.



The only books represented in their bound entirety are an encyclopedia volume in a work titled “Crux” and a law book in a work titled “Cornerstone.” In comparison to the canvases, which bear titles like “Wasting Tears” and “Undulation,” these sculptures seem to be more substantive in title and form; pulped beyond recognition of their subjects yet maintaining more of their original bookish content and form than the hanging pieces. Titling the show “Reciprocity” acts as a call to action for the viewer to take as much action in the restructuring of power as Jones has by revising history, law and knowledge with an urgent, teardown edit-a-thon. (Laura Volkening)

Samuel Levi Jones’ “Reciprocity” shows through April 30 at Patron Gallery, 673 North Milwaukee.