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Martin Wilner


by Mickey Cartin
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Martin Wilner is a practicing psychoanalyst and an artist. In 1998 he awoke with some misgivings from a dream in which he had failed to complete an assignment. He had missed a deadline for submission to a then-imaginary publication called the Journal of Evidence Weekly. In the middle of that night, as his panic subsided, Wilner began to analyze the dream by applying the traditional associative methods of his psychoanalytic training, and the acronym "JEW" jumped out at him.

In his own words, as he writes in the catalogue for his exhibition at Sperone Westwater gallery, “I immediately felt the symbolic significance [of the acronym JEW]. . . and its profound resonance for me as a guilt-ridden child of Holocaust survivors. As Delmore Schwartz realized with profound angst, ‘in dreams begin responsibilities’.”

Now at work on volume 159 of his Journal of Evidence Weekly (JEW) -- Wilner has taken the responsibility of his dream to quite an extreme -- he has produced what is a driven, provocative testament of a common but infrequently depicted part of New York. Three volumes of JEW are on display in the Sperone Westwater show.

Riding the subway each weekday to his office and back home again, Wilner records in manuscript form, via images and texts done in pencil and pen on bristol board, a miraculously miniaturized and detailed account of the lives of the universal citizen in the underground. These are not privileged lives, but rather people heading out keep their heads above water, which Wilner posits in the JEW narrative as the fundamental human enterprise.

Comprised of nonjudgmental observations and recorded with the obedience of a monastic scribe, Wilner’s Journals are a conscientious telling of the stories of life in the big, fucked-up city in the 21st century. They record the trials, hopes and confused dreams of people searching for comfort and some reassurance of their survival. JEW is funny at times, and poignant as well, suggesting quite clearly to viewers that each of us is included in his narrative. If you look and listen carefully you will see and hear yourself.

Wilner’s work is informed by his profession, of course, which involves listening and interpreting what people mean by what they are saying. He records the most spontaneous of remarks on the urgency of getting by, and he illustrates in the steadiest of detail, while the subway bounces and twists, a rare kind of insight into the faces of millions. His works strive to say something that helps clarify the messy mix of that neurotic dance held each day on the sidewalks, on the streets, in the buses and on the subway. If you look into the faces of your fellow citizens you cannot miss this.

“Getting by” is the fundamental challenge. Look into people’s faces, he insists, and listen to the pleadings. You can learn a lot. And looking and listening will produce in you the need to ask better questions, and a deeper need to understand where you fit into all of this. The upshot is, I believe, that we are all the people witnessed and documented in the JEW project. The people Wilner records, their voices, their facial expressions, their fears and hopes, and at times their schizophrenic breaks from the real, these people are our city.

Frantic yet cohesive, the Journal of Evidence Weekly is a poetic telling of millions of voices. It is their megaphone. They are us, and our children, and all the human beings we care about.

Martin Wilner, “Making History 2010-2011, Apr. 5-28, 2012, at Sperone Westwater, 257 Bowery, New York, N.Y. 10002.

MICKEY CARTIN is a New York-based art collector. He offers this appreciation as a long-time friend of the artist and a collector of his work.