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FAS

Postcards From Vegas

Rob and Nick Carter


FAS

14 January— 15 February 2011

Postcards From Vegas

Rob and Nick Carter


Postcards From Vegas

In 2009, the British artists Rob and Nick Carter installed a billboard embellished with multicoloured neon lights outside the Business Design Centre in London. Titled Read Colours Not Words, it consisted of six rows of seven words. Each word, spelled in neon, denoted a different colour (blue, yellow, red, green, purple, pink, orange) but emanated light that was at odds with its meaning—‘ORANGE’, for instance, was surrounded by a soft penumbra of glowing blue. Read Colours Not Words could be understood as a distillation of the Carters’ work to that point. The title was a manifesto, suggesting that the effect of words is subordinate to the ravishing impact of irradiated colour—which has always been crucial to their art. Since 1997, when they married and began collaborating as artists, the Carters have repeatedly investigated the properties of colour and light, innovating with photography, painting and light installations to create chromatic experiments of ever-increasing

Alastair Sooke

intensity. P rivileging pure, abstract colour over figurativeness and narrative has been the common denominator of their career. No longer. Colour remains an essential part of Postcards from Vegas , their new exhibition at the Fine Art Society in London. But, to fully understand the works, other elements must be appreciated. Suddenly, figurativeness and narrative are integral ingredients. As a result, Postcards from Vegas represents a significant waymark in the Carters’ artistic development. Pioneer Pawn was the first work from the series that I encountered. Like all of the Postcards from Vegas, it consists of a blown-up reproduction of an old postcard—in this case, a snap of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria (the inspiration for the stylised fairytale castle used as a logo by Walt Disney) against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains—mounted on aluminium and overlaid with a recreation of a real neon sign from America, spelling out the words


‘PIONEER PAWN 24 HOURS’. Printed using the professional Cibachrome process, the image of the castle preserves signs of the original postcard’s wear and tear. A white crease can be seen in the top left-hand corner. Just as energy can be generated by the collision of nuclear particles, so the initial impact of Pioneer Pawn is sparked by the deliberate disjunction of its different elements—the fantastical romanticism of the view of the castle versus the shrieking brashness of the commercial sign; the cold blues and greens of the background versus the hot oranges and yellows of the sign itself; the age of the postcard (indicated by the crease) versus the up-to-the-minute connotations of neon light (a favourite medium of living artists such as Bruce Nauman, Tracey Emin and Martin Creed); the flatness of the picture of the castle versus the neon tubes, which exist in three dimensions.

Moreover, Pioneer Pawn plays with clashing art-historical styles—the picturesque image of the castle belongs to a tradition of naturalistic landscape painting, and feels at odds with the sign, which would excite the American Pop artist Ed Ruscha. All of these juxtapositions have a surreal, nonsensical quality, not unlike those witty paintings by Magritte in which words do not match the images they label (the most famous example is The Treachery of Images, in which the words ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ are visible beneath a realistic painting of a pipe). But closer inspection reveals that Pioneer Pawn actually coheres. The opposing colours are nearly complementary. The shapes created by the words of the sign mirror the shapes of the scene behind—the word ‘PIONEER’ sits neatly above the evergreen tree branch which dominates the


horizontal band at the top of the composition; ‘PAWN’ is spelled out vertically, a visual echo of the castle’s towers. Visual Echoes like these occur in most of the Postcards from Vegas. There is also a subtle correspondence between the ‘meaning’ of the castle (a popular destination coopted by the German tourist industry as well as Walt Disney), and that of the sign, which alludes to a lowrent world of financial transaction—the image of the castle, if you like, has been ‘pawned’ in exchange for the money of tourists and cinemagoers. Don’t forget the connection with Vegas, either— after seeing Pioneer Pawn, it is impossible to look at Neuschwanstein Castle without thinking of the overblown casinos aping far-flung architectural styles in the Nevada desert. In this way, the work alludes to the visual rhetoric employed by property developers, as well as advertisers and mass-market filmmakers. This is the world we live in, where culture is co-opted for tawdry ends. Not any old combination of vintage postcard and neon sign would have worked—after rummaging through Rob’s collection of postcards mainly from the 1960s and ’70s (many of which exhibit scalloped

edges as well as blemishes, folds and pinholes), the Carters created around 150 combinations on a computer, scanning in the postcards and superimposing images of American neon signs that had caught their eye while researching the series. Yet only 14 designs made the final cut for the show. When I first saw Pioneer Pawn , I now realise that I felt nostalgia for a fairytale castle that I had never visited but which occupied a primal position in my imagination thanks to the films of Walt Disney that I had watched as a child. Yet my nostalgia was tempered by the lurid neon message, which reminded me not to be seduced uncritically by such a charming image. This, I think, is how all of the Postcards from Vegas operate: they are complex studies in the imagery of nostalgia and kitsch, and how such imagery is constructed. In this context, it is important to remember that, unlike Rob, Nick has never visited Las Vegas. These works are called Postcards from Vegas , but they are not postcards about Vegas— they are symbols of how our memories and desires are shaped by powerful visual imagery which we encounter in the world around us every day.


Postcard 41/8 ›‹ 57/8 inches · 105 ›‹ 150 mm front

Neon

Forty Motel Columbus 3705 W. Broad St. Columbus · Ohio 43228

Rob and Nick Carter

Hawaiian Surfing

RN 785 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 39 ›‹ 28 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,000 ›‹ 700 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

“Hawaiian Surfing · Photo by Bob Zehring” back

message · address · stamped · franked

“Running before the finest surf curls known, Hawaiians, visitors and serious surfers from throughout the world enjoy the exhilaration and thrill of the powerful sea. Hawaii has come to be known as the surfing capital of the world.”


Postcard Neon

Pioneer Pawn Shop 520 N. Eastern Ave. Las Vegas · Nevada 89101 Making cash loans since 1938, Pioneer Loan and Jewelry is one of the oldest pawn shops in Las Vegas. But it’s not the only one— Las Vegas may well be the pawn shop capital of the world.

Rob and Nick Carter

Pioneer Pawn

RN 783 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 41 ›‹ 59 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,025 ›‹ 1,500 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

5 3/4

›‹ 4 inches · 146 ›‹ 102 mm front

Commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner, Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th century palace above the village of Hohenschwangau near Fussen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. back

message · address · stamped · franked

“Königsschloß Neuschwanstein mit Allgauer und Tiroler Alpen”


Postcard

Neon 4 1/8

Desert Flame Strip Club 11145 Apache Trail Apache Junction · Arizona 85220

Rob and Nick Carter

Topless

RN 790 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 39 ›‹ 28 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,000 ›‹ 704 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

›‹

5 7/8 inches

· 105 ›‹ 148 mm

back

“Yeoman Warders in Ceremonial Dress. Tower of London. 1974.”


Neon

Baltimore · Maryland Unknown sign from ‘The Block’—a dense assemblage of strip-bars, antiquated neon signs and grizzled doormen that makes up Baltimore’s red light district.

Rob and Nick Carter

Pink Flamingos

RN 787 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 43 ›‹ 59 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,089 ›‹ 1,500 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

Postcard 5 11/16 ›‹ 4 inches · 145 ›‹ 102 mm lenticular postcard printed in Spain


Neon

Blue Skies Mobile Park 4280 Calle Real #2 Santa Barbara · California 93110 For many years a beacon to travellers on Highway 101, this iconic neon sign was added to the Blue Skies Mobile Park when it opened in the early 1960s. One side of the sign still operates but is visible only to southbound traffic.

Rob and Nick Carter

Blue Skies

RN 778 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 48 ›‹ 77 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,219 ›‹ 1,957 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

Postcard 5 1/2 ›‹ 3 9/16 inches · 140 ›‹ 90 mm Published in Switzerland by mountain climber and photographer Emanuel Gyger in the 1930s. One of a set of colour gravure flower postcards on textured paper. back

“Wiesenblumen—Fleurs de champs”


Postcard Neon

4 ›‹ 5 11/16 inches · 102 ›‹ 145 mm

One of three signs spelling out the neon phrase “Well Cleaned, Well Pressed, Well Dressed”.

Spielbank Casino, Baden-Baden, Germany

Broadway Cleaners 1681 Main St. Redwood City · California 94063

Rob and Nick Carter

Well Pressed

RN 787 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 39 ›‹ 28 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,000 ›‹ 704 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

front

back

“BADEN-BADEN Spielbank Gruner Saal Echte Fotografie Nr. 138 Verlag peter peters, Malsch/Karlsruhe Telefon 467”


Neon ›‹

5 3/8 inches

· 87 ›‹ 137 mm

Key Largo Casino E. Flamingo 377 Las Vegas · Nevada

message · address · stamped · franked

Closed in 2005

“Printed in Great Britain”

Rob and Nick Carter

Pussies

Postcard 3 7/16

RN 786 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 35 ›‹ 22 ›‹ 3 inches · 900 ›‹ 570 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

back


Postcard Neon

St. Paul’s House E. 51st St. New York Pinned to the side of a Christian mission on Manhattan’s West Side, this neon cross still shines its message into the night.

5 13/16

›‹ 4 inches · 147 ›‹ 102 mm front

The Circle Interchange on the Eisenhower expressway near downtown Chicago, Illinois, was built in stages between 1955 and 1962. Notorious for traffic jams, it is known locally as the ‘Spaghetti Bowl’. back

message · address · stamped · franked

Rob and Nick Carter

Sin Will Find You Out

RN 779 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 47 ›‹ 71 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,202 ›‹ 1,813 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs


Neon

Postcard

Holiday Motel 2205 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Las Vegas · Nevada 89104

41/8 ›‹ 5 13/16 inches · 104 ›‹ 147 mm

message · address · stamped · franked

Opened in 1958—one of the few old mid-century motels still operating on the strip.

“40508 Telecabine du Mont Gele, Verbier avec les champs de ski de la Combe Medran”

Rob and Nick Carter

Holiday Motel

RN 782 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 67 ›‹ 47 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,700 ›‹ 1,200 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

back


Neon Postcard

Save On Meats 43 W. Hastings St. Vancouver · British Columbia Canada Opened in 1958, Save On Meats butcher’s shop with its spinning, blinking neon signs was a Vancouver icon for over 50 years. Closed in March 2009, the signs remain on the building.

Rob and Nick Carter RN 784 ·

Octopus Pig · 2011

Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 70 ›‹ 49 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,790 ›‹ 1,250 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

4 1/8

›‹

5 7/8 inches

· 105 ›‹ 147 mm

back

message · address · stamped · franked

“#663 OCTOPUS PHOTOGRAPHER— ED ROBINSON IMPACT CONCORD CALIFORNIA”


Postcard 41/8 ›‹ 57/8 inches · 104 ›‹ 149 mm front

Neon Unknown neon Saguaro cactus sign. Housed in ‘The Boneyard’—three acres of historic non-restored signs at the Neon Museum of Las Vegas.

“LONDON · London Policeman” back

message · address · stamped · franked

“Charles Skilton’s Postcard Series Agent de Police Londonien Ein Londoner Polizist ‘Policeman’ Londinese” Rob and Nick Carter

London Policeman

RN 791 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 29 ›‹ 43 ›‹ 3 inches · 744 ›‹ 1,080 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs


Neon

Blue Swallow Motel 815 E. Route 66 Blvd. Tucumcari · New Mexico An icon of Route 66 folklore, The Blue Swallow opened in 1942 and continues to operate seven months a year. The motel received a grant in 2007 for restoration of its famous neon sign and swallows.

Rob and Nick Carter

Blue Swallow

RN 783 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 59 ›‹ 36 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,503 ›‹ 910 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

Postcard 33/16 ›‹ 5 11/16 inches · 85 ›‹ 145 mm front

“Monte Carlo Landau Coupe” back

“When it comes to value... America comes to Chevrolet”


Postcard Neon

Tip Top Motel 6060 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago · Illinois 60659 One of many hotels on Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue that gained a reputation as havens for illicit activities. The motel still operates (though rebranded) but its landmark sign has gone.

3 3/4 ›‹ 5 1/2 inches · 95 ›‹ 140 mm front

“BUTLIN’S FILEY—The Indoor Heated Pool Photo: E. Nägele, John Hinde Studio” Billy Butlin’s Filey holiday camp, North Yorkshire back

message · address · stamped · franked

“Whitby Filey Scarborough Holidays you can afford” Rob and Nick Carter

Tip Top

RN 788 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 47 ›‹ 32 ›‹ 3 inches · 1,200 ›‹ 810 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs


Postcard 5 7/16

›‹

3 7/16

inches · 138 ›‹ 88 mm front

Neon

“VOLCANO ASO”

Crabbs Tropical Treat 2279 Carlisle Pike Hanover · Pennsylvania 17331

Mount Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan, and is among the largest in the world. Located in Aso Kuju- National Park in Kumamoto Prefecture, on the island of Kyu-shu-.

A drive-in diner serving hamburgers and ice cream since 1953. Its neon sign operates seven months a year, whenever ‘The Treat’ is open.

message dated 28 February 1920 address · stamped · franked

Rob and Nick Carter

Volcano

RN 780 · · 2011 Cibachrome print mounted on aluminium with neon 29 ›‹ 46 ›‹ 3 inches · 742 ›‹ 1,174 ›‹ 76 mm edition of 5 · 2 artists’ proofs

back

“UNION POSTALE UNIVERSELLE CARTE POSTALE 436 FURU SHINYASHIKI KUMAMOTO S. JAPAN”


Postcards from Vegas  

Postcards from Vegas

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