Not to be confused with a mentalist, the millenials or the minimalists, a menialist takes objects associated with menial tasks and attempts to elevate them into the art context. It is not a new concept. Duchamp's "readymades" and much later Beuys' "everyone an artist" took art into the banal and the menial realm, both embraced by art history. The direct simplicity of using the everyday has always interested me. One of my very early pieces- MISSIONARY (the extended family as sculpture) started with the act of a 12 year old boy, residing in a flop house hotel, taking it upon himself to sweep up Minna Alley in SF, CA., of the broken Thunderbird and Night Train bottles. This simple act resonated with a reporter for the SF Chronicle, who penned a human interest story on the boy- Darrell Monroe. Reading this article, I contacted the boy's family, and over a period of three months "got to know" this boy. In the end the family disappeared without a forwarding address, allowing me to show the detritous of this act in writing and object at SFMOMA.
The year was 1978. I was a young, idealistic artist at the beginning of my career. The little show got no press and was basically forgotten as soon as it went up. It was a powerful lesson. MISSIONARY informed almost all the work I've done since. What got me thinking about this piece was my latest attempt to elevate the menial in my work. I read in the local paper of the county's attempt to open a homeless shelter that would serve the needs of the community in the most brutal of the winter months. Anyone who has ever been so down and out as to need the help of social services on a night when the mercury drops below zero, certainly doesn't care about art. But.....why not? My idea would be to integrate art into the design and construction of said shelter to the degree that it would augment the hot meal, clean sheets and safe environment. Why should artists cater to the rich, chasing their seal of approval, hoping to get representation of a good gallery or shown in a museum. Should collection by a small group of ultra-rich tastemakers be the end game?
As a menialist I sadly admit that I am susceptable to market and historical envy. I know i shouldn't be. It is a constant struggle to keep one's sense of self in tact year after year without shows or sales. Money goes out. Nothing comes in. Sure I tell myself that the "art" is what matters. Sometimes I actually believe it. This is what led me to engage the community directly with the lawn work and the church services. Yet, even this is limited to people with cars who drive by. Why not bring art to the hungry, the cold, the desperately downtrodden, who just want a bowl of hot soup and a cot for the night. Why make that experience that much more sadly debilitating with bullet proof glass, institutional green paint and horrible lighting? Why not elevate the experience? I have a few pieces I know will cheer the place up. I can't wait to get started.