The Avant-Garde…again

Amelia Perron

Self-proclaimed avant-garde artist Brad Killam opened a new exhibition, “Five Reasons to Build a Bench,” at the Wriston Art Center’s Hoffmaster and Kohler galleries, with an opening reception lecture last Friday.
Killam admits a strong admiration for artwork that stretches the limits of what materials belong in the gallery. During the lecture, he quipped, “When I heard about this exhibition I thought, ‘Oh, great, I can clean out my garage.'” He was not kidding.
The exhibition looks like the contents of a garage, tidied up, separated into discrete piles and spread out on a clean wooden floor to examine. There are no obvious signs of manipulation; the disassembled bed, the pile of boards, and the bundle of insulation must have looked exactly the same, albeit somewhat dustier, in his garage.
It is an honest portrait of a garage, with the sorts of quirky pieces of junk that are too odd or ugly to be invented and yet are somehow universal. There was the inexplicable small bowl with the large towel bunched up in it, the broken-off trailer hitch from a truck and a few things I could not identify.
One piece of whimsy was the sawhorse-painting table with a yellow balloon sitting on it. Killam was not trying to be cute. “That was Oliver [his son],” he explained. “He was decorating for a birthday party and put a balloon on it, and I said, ‘Look at that. It’s beautiful.'”
To decorate the gallery walls, Killam moved from the garage to, presumably, the fridge door. He made a couple large collages of notes, notes from his kids, lists and to-do lists — another honest portrait of the clutter in our lives.
In contrast to the found materials theme, Killam also tacked up a few unframed blueprints of a small shotgun house. The design, of course, was simple and functional, in keeping with his affinity for modernist architecture, of which Killam said, “I can’t get enough.”
Most out of character from the exhibit were the few painted landscapes scattered around. “I wanted to make connections between traditional art and the stuff from my garage,” Killam explained. “I have some hesitation with the advancing world.”
While those connections may not be obvious, the contrast gives a little more depth and interest to the exhibit.
In his lecture, Killam walked us through a couple dozen slides of his work that has been shown elsewhere and other works that have influenced him.
His pieces often experiment with fences and communication. In one gallery, he built a tall fence that greeted viewers as they walked through the door. In a backyard, he built a two-family picnic table straddling the two yards, forcing the families to interact.
Throughout many of his influences, there is not only the eagerness to explore unusual materials and stretch the everyday into art, but also the interest in engaging the viewer, even making them part of the work.
Killam has brought uncommon attention to common objects; the action of the viewer may be to decide what they mean.