Minimalism Meets Bebop: Jennie C. Jones at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

With her sound installations, Acoustic Paintings, and collages, Jennie C. Jones investigates formal and conceptual links between abstract art and jazz. Now the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is devoting a comprehensive exhibition to the artist sponsored by Deutsche Bank.
Jennie C. Jones titled her first retrospective “Compilation.” It would be hard to be find a more apt title, inasmuch as it refers to that which is at the center of her artistic work: music. Compilations are CDs or records on which previously published pieces are gathered together into a collection. In the show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, such a selection can be seen – and also heard.

“Sometimes, when I am really ‘in the zone,’ I almost feel that the gesture of making a line is the duration of a note and it becomes a conceptual practice – the relationship between listening and drawing,” explains the Brooklyn resident in an interview with ArtMag. Indeed, she draws music, transposes it into collages, or transforms record players, cassettes, and headphones into sculptures. Her sound works, in turn, are based on short samples of pieces by African-American musicians. These artists stand for the self-empowerment of this community. The spectrum ranges from jazz – Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Nina Simone – to avant-garde composers such as Alvin Singleton and Olly Wilson. Jenny C. Jones transmutes their sounds into something completely new. For one of her installations, she looped a few short bass tones played by Charles Mingus and condensed them into orchestral droning – a dark sound that develops a sculptural presence, as it were, in the space.

Her Acoustic Paintings, too, are complex, and a suite of them is on view in Houston. They are based on soundproofing elements used to dampen sound studios. Jennie C. Jones transformed the industrially manufactured panels into monochrome paintings which she mainly presents in groups. With these cool, elegant, gray or black Acoustic Paintings, she not only confidently appropriates Modernist icons – Malevich’s Black Square, Ad Reinhardt’s Black Paintings, and sculptures by Minimalist artists. In addition, these object-like paintings change the perception of the room by subtly muffling its acoustics.

Her small-format paintings, drawings, and collages also conjure up Russian Constructivism. But the lines, which grow out of black squares and rectangles or are interconnected, turn out to be filigree cables and microphones – the composition coalesces into an abstract sound system. “The blocks of color become conduits harkening the mechanics of devices that are input and output,” explains Jennie C. Jones. “That makes for a very tight metaphor for communication, either in art or sound – or how things are connected to each other, going in one channel and coming out another. Something that starts off as abstract/avant-garde goes through a conduit and crosses over into mainstream culture.”

A selection of her works on paper was purchased for the Deutsche Bank Collection and was also on shown in two group shows at Deutsche Bank’s 60 Wall Gallery in New York. Back in 2006, her works were included in a show called pa.per.ing featuring the works on paper of a young, conceptually oriented generation of artists, and in 2012 works by Jones were exhibited in The Sight of Sound, which examined relationships between music and contemporary art. The nexus between these two fields is essential for Jennie C. Jones’ artistic development. “It was really an epiphany, a moment while I was listening to The Modern Jazz Quartet that I decided I wanted to go back to paper, to start from scratch, to start with mark making again.” She made this remark fifteen years ago. That it was the starting point for an oeuvre of astonishing aesthetic and intellectual consequence can now be experienced at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Jennie C. Jones: Compilation
12/12/2015 – 3/27/2016
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston