Donelle Woolford

Donelle Woolford

Donelle Woolford

There is a Patricia Highsmith novel, Ripley Under Water. One of the subplots revolves around an art dealer who represents a lucrative but very depressed painter—a real Mark Rothko type. The dealer anticipates that his star painter might one day commit suicide, so he begins to practice making credible copies of his work so that his cash flow can be sustained after the artist is gone. The inevitable happens—the artist kills himself. But the more paintings the dealer makes the more depressed he becomes, until one day he commits suicide too. I like the idea that paintings are not representations of an artist’s psyche; they are what give the artist her psyche in the first place.

— Joe Scanlan

Do Artists Make Work?

Or Does The Work Make The Artist?

We often try to understand artworks by considering the artist’s biography. With Donelle Woolford, Joe Scanlan suggests instead that the artist’s biography, or persona, is in fact a manifestation of the work.

In Woolford’s case the work does indeed make the artist. With many counterfactual artist identities, the identity comes first and then that identity produces art. But in Woolford’s case the constructivist pieces came first, and then when Joe Scanlan felt that his might be the wrong, or not the ideal hands to make the work, he invented an artist who seemed somehow to better connect to the work.

Scanlan has given Woolford wings. But perhaps clipped wings. All of her work / webpages say “Copyright Joe Scanlan” at the bottom.

Woolford’s performance Dick’s Last Stand explores the central role given to the male sexual organ in both American art and politics, perpetuating the tradition of phallic humor in popular culture. It is a reenactment of Richard Pryor’s stand-up routine from the last episode of his short-lived 1977 television show, in which he continually played with the notion that Richard Pryor, comedian, was someone who could not be pinned down or controlled. Dick’s Last Stand honors Pryor’s brash political humor and marks its return to the live stage, with Woolford playing Pryor playing Pryor playing Mudbone, across generations and in drag!

— Whitney Biennial 2014

One Comment

  1. Joe 07/05/2014 at 20:52 #

    Hi vanessa, I love your site and look forward to watching it grow. But just a quick note re Donelle’s clipped wings: the reason I have to copyright my pages is to protect the faces of the actors who are depicted there. It is a standard agreement I have to make with them in order to be allowed to use their images. But I do agree with the gist of your comment: copyright grounds everything.

Where do you think truth lies?