Michael Jones McKean: The Astronomer, The Builder, and the Volunteers
by Sean Carroll
First Published January 2008, ArtsHouston Magazine
History has always been a large touchstone for Michael Jones McKean; his materials reflect typical American life more than an artist’s tools. In complex installations he has taken over galleries with his sprawling narratives, like the 2007 River Boat Love Songs for the Ghost Whale Regatta at DiverseWorks, but here the rules seem different as McKean takes on a smaller space with a different purpose. Thinking sculpturally, the three works on display were conceptualized differently without the physical space viewers can engage in with installations.
The Builder and Science is mounted as a low shelf on the wall with an eclectic assortment of objects on display. A chainsaw is draped in archival paper hardened with resin. A wooden box, a papier-mâché plant and board are sloppily painted white and arranged with a large triangular web of tubing. If this was a suburban garage there would not be a second thought about them, but here our attention can focus on the why and what of daily materials. The swirling associations provoked by McKean’s constructions vary wildly for different people. In this show his materials include a 27 pound meteorite and the fabric from a 1984 Ocean Pacific windbreaker; the more specific bits of information tie down the narratives McKean has woven into The Astronomer and the Wake and Volunteer. The artist’s strengths lie in his ability to draw the viewer into his own subjective world, and despite the large change in his presentation an imaginative narrative is still in place with a power beyond its humble origins.