Robert Wogan’s art isn’t predictable or formal. There's the time he turned a hallway into a cavern of hot tar as an art student at Columbia—”It was the Wild West back then,” he said of the program—or when he created a 1,500 square foot maze at the Liverpool Biennial that attendees had to walk through in order to watch a haunting video he shot in an abandoned ship (which was reproduced after he did it on a smaller scale in a Chelsea gallery). He’s always taken risks for his art in the name of engaging viewers.
The payoff is obvious to anyone visiting his current exhibit, "Industrial Spirits," at Hurley Motorsports in Kingston, NY.
Industrial Spirits is a look back at the light installation work Wogan produced 20 or so years ago, when he was sneaking into abandoned buildings and ships at night, setting up elaborate lights and photographing the results.
“The biggest theme that runs through my work is light,” Wogan says. “Light is how you can change someone’s perception, because things at night are different. The photographs were just the documentation of the ephemeral moment.”
The subjects—a power plant in Bridgeport, CT, the United Radiance ship off the shores of Philadelphia—were chosen because, for one reason or another, they were left behind to, in a word, die.
“I was fascinated with why something becomes obsolete when it was such an engineering feat when it was built,” he says. “It’s deeper than just a photograph. There was a lot of passion, thought, and, I believe, spirits in these places. It’s what attracted me to them.”
The exhibit at Hurley Motorsports, open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through December, is a result of a few good friends persuading Wogan to show his art once again.
“People pushed me to reinvestigate my past and that’s what made this happen,” he says. “None of this would exist without friends and family saying you should really do it again.”
Wogan’s passion for creating art was pushed to the back-burner as he delved into family life and, in recent years, as he lives with stage four cancer. “Here’s this guy who’s being defined by this disease too much I thought, and I wanted to celebrate his work as an artist and his talent,” says Johnny Poux, who has been friends with Wogan for a decade. “It’s important for his work to be seen… Even without the story, the images are powerful. This idea of these things that were cutting edge that are just scrap.”
“The images really speak for themselves and take on a life of their own. It was a privilege to be a part of that,” says Paul Beichert, the president of Timely Signs, who printed all the images for the show, including one which is as large as 5 by 8 feet, housed in a 300 pound metal frame. (The images can be printed smaller if you’d like to purchase them.)
It may have taken some convincing from friends to reignite his flame, but in a phone interview, the excitement in Wogan’s voice was palpable when he spoke about his art.
“This brings me happiness,” he says. “It’s like unfinished business.”
"Industrial Spirits" will be displayed at Hurley Motorsports Tuesdays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through December.