Josh T. Franco (Hyattsville, MD)
Southern Constellations Fellow. February 2019. Watercolor and pastel on paper, museum collection animal figures, frame, table; performance video documentation. 18” x 24 in.

As an artist with an art history Ph.D., Franco makes the discipline itself his primary medium. For PICTURES ELSEWHERE combines three acts of reverent and irreverent gratitude to art historian Michael Baxandall and Elsewhere matriarch Sylvia Gray (Full Title), he considered art historian Michael Baxandall’s pivotal approach alongside Franco’s inheritance as an Elsewherian, the space and materials passed down from original store proprietress Sylvia Gray. This resulted in 3 new works: a series of works on paper, a performance for video, and a live performance.

The 46 works on paper follow a clear formula: each depicts one animal figure from Elsewhere’s collection, one gem or mineral from Franco’s personal collection, and a verb from Baxandall’s list of ways in which artists enact their agency on previous artists’ legacies. These are listed in Baxandall’s Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures published in 1985, the year Franco was born. The series also reflects the artist’s ongoing engagement with rupestrian art: the earliest marks left by humans’ earliest ancestors on rock surfaces throughout the planet.

For over 2 hours, Franco filmed himself deinstalling, cleaning, and reinstalling the works and surfaces in Elsewhere’s 3rd floor Ghost Room. Timed to bridge sunset and darkness, the viewer witnesses Franco shedding the cliché monochrome black uniform of the art historian in favor of “haint blue.” Wearing black is a tactic art historians use to avoid distracting from the images they discuss, to become visually insignificant in the presence of artworks. Haint blue is a Southern tradition intended to trick spirits into thinking the blue-painted ceilings are the sky, thereby passing through, if not avoiding, the residents. Franco’s donning of haint blue is a declaration of his physical presence and an invitation for Baxandall and Gray to pass through him. He cleans in honor of the gifts they left behind and to prepare to visit with them.

Set in the prepared Ghost room after sunset, Franco’s live performance consists of shooting tequila and shooting the shit with Baxandall and Gray. This takes place over the works on paper which combine both legacies to make a picture. Audiences are invited to witness the conversation and join in if they so choose.

Project in Response To: Southern Static, Action, Recalibration: no. 4Revolving SpectrumReceiver, Speakeasy (The Whisper)

Performance video documentation. Video with sound. 2 hrs 3 min.

Live performance video documentation during opening exhibition. HD video with sound. 11 min 53 secs.


Process

Documentation of museum collection subjects, pastel color palette, and rubbing process using a metate: a Mesoamerican stone tool typically used for processing grain and seeds. Photo credit: Amelia Nura