What Remains…: A Month of Jack Pierson at Albert Merola Gallery

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by G.W. Mercure

This weekend, the Albert Merola Gallery will open two very unique exhibitions of New York artist Jack Pierson’s work. The shows are distinct from one another and will run parallel for most of a month at the gallery.

Pierson’s celebrated “word pieces”—marquee-like assemblages of words and phrases made largely from found or reclaimed materials—will be the focus of Miss Otis Regrets, and the other will be a dynamic exhibition called Remnants, which Pierson compares with “a flea market or rummage sale.”

Remnants was first done in New York recently, the “remnants” had been test strips and test prints from collage projects. Pierson found the material “too good to throw out, even if it’s just a scrap,” he says. “I got the idea, ‘Okay, let’s see if we can sell these for like a hundred bucks a piece.’ And so we just piled them in, put them up on the wall. They all looked great together as little bits of information. I kind of am super-involved in that kind of ephemera, and I like snapshots and I like little odd things and it seemed like, ‘Well, if I like it maybe someone else would.’ We had enormous success with that.”

Work from both Jack Pierson shows running concurrently

Despite the success of that first Remnants show, Pierson had plenty of material left “for no good reason other than Yankee frugality and just stubbornness,” he says. He and Merola’s directors, Al Merola and Jim Balla, had been working on a way to mark Pierson’s 30 years with the gallery. “I offered the idea to Jim and Al and they wanted to do it,” he says. “All the other work in the show is brand new, so how do we get something in that might tell the story of 30 years?”

Work from both Jack Pierson shows running concurrently

Pierson’s association with the Albert Merola Gallery goes back almost as far as his association with Provincetown. “In 1980 I came here and spent a summer…and then from 1980 to 1990 I never came back because it was untenable—I couldn’t afford it.” In 1991, Pierson returned and didn’t stop returning. “I came back to Captain Jack’s Wharf and stayed there for three years probably, and I’ve been here every summer by hook or by crook, either for the whole season or at least a couple of weeks.”

 In 1992, a mutual friend introduced him to Merola and Balla and he has been a star in the gallery ever since. It was also around that time, 1991, that Pierson created his first word sculpture when he positioned discarded marquee letters in a surplus store into the word “Stay.” “That one is an idea, a statement, it’s a command, it’s a plea,” he says of the word. “It goes a few different directions. Kind of by chance I came across this pile of letters and just immediately started seeing what I could make out of it.”

The word sculptures have become one of his signatures. The work has its roots much earlier in his creative life, however, during his time earning a Bachelor of the Arts degree at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (he is originally from Plymouth). “I was in a very peculiar—at the time—department called the Studio for Interrelated Media, and it was basically performance art, and at that time it was the only performance art program in America,” he says. “I was actually doing more graphic design and kind of advertising for performance art than I was actually performing. It was the punk rock era, so mix-and-match lettering was the vogue. I think of the word pieces as being fairly theatrical and kind of like supertitles or subtitles. I’m still trying to make a connection to performance art now. It seems like the best thing I could have done and I’m not sure how it informs my practice except that I feel like I do a bit of performing ‘The Artist’ as part of my work.”

He considered whether the word sculptures belong among visual art work, among text-based work, or if they are something theatrical. “They are supposed to be visual and they are supposed to be language-based and word-based. And I’ve always been enamored of the power of words at that scale, but also the power of words in poetry and fiction and writing. So, it’s all of those things, I would say.”

It might also relate to music: For the show at Merola, the word Stay has returned. Fitting for a retrospective. “I have done it repeatedly, and in this show in Ptown, there’s a flourish of them,” he says. “There’s a lot of repeated words…Words repeat sometimes. Song lyrics repeat: a chorus, or a haunting refrain.”

Have they changed in 30 years? “I hope they’ve gotten slightly more universal,” he says. “But I don’t know that they weren’t that to begin with.”

They are refrains and choruses. They are sculpture and assemblage. They are theater and they are advertising. They are ephemera and they are artifacts. They are words and phrases and graphic design. They are art. And they will be on display with their kindred remnants at the Albert Merola Gallery where Pierson will be in attendance, stamping Remnants for lucky collectors.

Jack Pierson’s twin shows, Remnants and Miss Otis Regrets will be on view August 19 – September 14, at Albert Merola Gallery, 424 Commercial St., Provincetown. There is a dual reception on Friday, August 19, 7 – 9 p.m. and Pierson will also attend to stamp remnants at other times, to be announced. For more information call 508.487.4424 or visit albertmerolagallery.com.