For the Love of Friends: Jonathan Berger at Adams and Ollman

The words "We deided to go inside the walls. This was a secret thing we had going on. We'd come down here. We'd come home. Nobody knew nothing." is arranged against a black background on parallel tracks in silver lettering.
Jonathan Berger, WE DECIDED TO GO INSIDE THE WALLS. THIS WAS A SECRET THING WE HAD GOING ON. WE’D COME
DOWN HERE. WE’D COME HOME. NOBODY KNEW NOTHING
, 2021.
From Untitled (Maria A. Prado and Margaret Morton, with Esther Kaplan), 2021. Tin, nickel. 11 x 46.50 inches. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

The work in Jonathan Berger’s solo show at Adams and Ollman aims to articulate the unnameable, non-romantic love stories that, despite being less frequently depicted, are often the very relationships that drive a sense of worth into our lives. The exhibition is a continuation of An Introduction to Nameless Love, a project first presented in shows co-organized by Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and Participant Inc in New York in 2019 and 2020. (The phrase “nameless love” was first used to describe such relationships by Allen Ginsberg in a 1974 interview.) In the show’s first iterations, the sculptures were composed from tens of thousands of roughly one-inch tin letters, configured together to form texts based on conversations that Berger either had or facilitated to chronicle shining examples of these potent connections. 

Silver lettering is arranged on black gallery walls, the corner of which is only distinguishable by its subtle shadow.
Jonathan Berger, An Introduction to Nameless Love, 2021. Installation view. Adams and Ollman, Portland, OR. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.
Beneath the words "Living together alone," more text is arranged in silver against a black wall.
Jonathan Berger, An Introduction to Nameless Love, 2021. Installation view. Adams and Ollman, Portland, OR. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

The labor-intensive, multifaceted process of creating the objects themselves suggests a sense of faith in the transmissible properties of love, and the ways in which beauty may act as one of its operative vehicles. Roughly a dozen excerpts from four of these initial conversations were on view at Adams and Ollman. Made from tin and nickel and mounted to the matte-black gallery walls, they float beside one another and the varying phrases are left juxtaposed together in an alchemical mode of display that allows the works to achieve new and different meanings (a poet might call it parataxis). With the individual lines relatively devoid of their original context, the sparsity allows them to glow and operate at a different frequency. Among the texts, there is the voice Richard Ogust, who once saved a turtle from a Chinatown restaurant, an encounter that led him to eventually house over 1,500 endangered turtles in his Manhattan loft; there is Brother Arnold Hadd, one of the world’s last living Shakers, who speaks of how orienting his life towards God has allowed him to see every moment as the divine unfolding; there is the autisitc writer and philosopher Mark Utter in conversation with his communication supporter and collaborator Emily Anderson; and there is Maria A. Prado, a woman who lived for years among New York City’s underground homeless community, who spoke alongside Margaret Morton, a photographer and oral historian who documented her community and formed a relationship with Prado. 

The words "Living together alone" are arranged in silver text against a black background.
Jonathan Berger, LIVING TOGETHER ALONE, 2021.
From Untitled (Brother Arnold Hadd, with Sarah Workneh), 2021. Tin, nickel. 1.25 x 24.75 inches. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

On one wall, the text “EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE BETTER. I’M TELLING YOU, EVERYTHING’S GOING TO BE FINE,” a quote from Mark Utter, floats above “AND SHE SAID, THEY’RE GOING TO COME LIKE DOVES. AND THEY DID,” a quote from Brother Arnold Hadd. At the bottom of the wall is one more from Utter, that reads, “AND NOW FOR THE MIRACLE OF MIRACLES.” With these three floating together, a conversation on faith emerges; an implication perhaps that when one acts as a vessel for love, one finds it everywhere they look. Operating from here, every moment becomes eternal, and heaven becomes inevitable because we’re already in it. In this world, love and beauty are not just divine as a result of their intoxicating abilities, but due to their omnipresence as well. When all relationships gain the potential to be a vehicle for love, love’s power doesn’t diminish in the face of this ubiquity, but it grows infinitely more potent.

Jonathan Berger, Margaret Morton, Maria A. Prado
An Introduction to Nameless Love

Adams and Ollman, Portland, OR
June 5–July 17, 2021


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Author: Wallace Ludel

Wallace Ludel is a poet, art writer, and social worker. His work has appeared in Artforum, BOMB, Narrative, No Tokens, Triangle House Review, was selected by Richard Siken for inclusion in Sporklet, and has been featured elsewhere. He received an MFA from New York University and is currently pursuing an MSW from Columbia University .