Ad Reinhardt once said that a “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting", but what if there is no painting to look at, only the packaging material? Alan Frost’s paintings could be anything, from utterly fascinating to plain boring. The fact is, there is no way to tell because we were instructed to throw them into the garbage and exhibit the packaging material instead. The only sure thing we know about these paintings is their size, and perhaps also their width.
Alan Frost is a pseudonym; we know as much of the artist as we know of the artwork but then again, does it matter who made what? We are not only barred from looking at the paintings, for some good reason, we are also barred from knowing any autobiographical evidence. It is a good thing as it leaves you with the responsibility, as a beholder, to interrogate the hard evidence.
This work is, of course, reminiscent of Piero Manzoni’s “Merde d’artiste”. We are invited to contemplate the enclosure but remain, to this day, ignorant of its contents. What we learn is that unless we come to know its actual contents, we are stuck with the enclosure. The enclosure becomes the de facto artwork.
It would be in fact unadvised to focus on the packaging material as if it were a substitute for the paintings. We could instead look at it as if it were a sculpture, fixing on the volume, the placement in the room, etc. Or we could concentrate on our forensic skills. We may not actually want to see, let alone smell, the contents of Manzoni’s canister. However, there is something to profit from trying to figure out what kind of paintings they were from the smell of the paint, if any, still lingering in the packaging material.