For our summer exhibition, the George Adams Gallery is pleased to announce a survey of paintings and constructions by California-based conceptual artist Tony May. As May’s first solo exhibition in New York, it will include examples from his entire career, spanning 1965 through to the present.
May combines a humble yet exacting approach with a conceptually rigorous mindset, repurposing found objects or engineering ‘improvements’. His paintings and sculptures riff on the idea of function, often with a humorous twist. Much of May’s work is self-contained: incorporating a box or case to either hold the various pieces, or as part of the piece. A highlight of the exhibition is the set of paintings done between ‘78-’81, recording various minor “Home Improvements” May executed on his San Jose home. Displayed in both a custom-fit glass fronted case and individually on the wall, the series is accompanied by an artist-made box with a built in display tray, made to store and transport the paintings. The care and labor gone into documenting these meticulous projects confers an absurdity (though elevated) status to the otherwise mundane upkeep of May’s house.
The sculptures May constructs continue in this documentarian vein, most often presenting objects – both found and fabricated – in tidy boxes. While each painting is captioned in a crisp, white-on-black text, giving them the feel of technical illustrations, the constructions likewise include descriptive plaques that identify the materials and their sources. For instance, the cat whiskers that form the bristles of a brush were collected from May’s own cat; Bruce Nauman had the pair of moccasins illuminated by ‘foot-lights’ made for May; a re-finished nightstand was found on the side of the road. In doing so, May gives his work the feel of a personal diary, as he records the actions, discoveries and constructions that are the crux of his practice. The exception is a number of variable, or collapsible, constructions, which include the earliest of May’s work in the exhibition, from 1965. Combining the aesthetics of minimalism with an absurdist bent, these echo the verbal and visual punning of the paintings and constructions. Similarly, they are self-contained, portable and easily erected: a type of functional sculpture, which can be neatly packed away and stored. This performative aspect will be demonstrated over the course of the exhibition, as the variables are periodically reinstalled in the gallery.
Tony May was born in 1942 in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and received his BFA and MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1966. May moved to San Jose, California in 1967 where he taught at San Jose State until his retirement in 2005. His work has been exhibited at various institutions on the West coast, including a career retrospective in 2010 at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. He has also been commissioned for several public projects, such as the Capp Street Project in San Francisco and a permanent installation at the San Jose Museum of Contemporary Art.