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Miscellany. 06.28.11.


One of the best visual tricks in Ryan Trecartin’s solo show at PS1: A mirror on the floor reflected the video on the screen on the wall — allowing the viewer to take in the already-hallucinatory spectacle upside down. (Photo by C-M.)

Ryan Trecartin at PS1
I’ve been pondering the Ryan Trecartin show over at PS1 and felt like I needed to come back to it in a more meaningful way, since I think that my initial assessment was quite glib. I’m gonna be honest: the work still grates on my nerves. The relentless Alvin and the Chipmunks talk inspires a prejudice I don’t know that I can overcome. (I also find Elmo exasperating, so it may just be me.)

An image of one of Trecartin's works at the New Museum, in 2009. (Photo by C-M.)

But, the show at PS1 did make me appreciate Trecartin’s work more than I had in the past. I’d seen his videos at the Hammer Museum in L.A. a few years back and they’d pretty much driven me nuts. I appreciated what he was doing visually: the gender-bending, the banal, suburban-style backdrops peopled by surreal scenarios and the self-centered internet-ish habit of having characters speak over each other rather than engage in dialogue. But the cumulative effect of spending a couple of hours watching his videos left me feeling as if I’d been subjected to an eternity of Nyah Nyah Cat. It was an orgy of excess — with characters who were excessive, scenarios that were excessive, dialogue that was excessive, overstimulation delivered in industrial doses, the raging American id as channeled by the YouTube generation.

Bradbury's classic sci-fi work, set in a dystopic future where you can't turn the walls off

His work is still about excess — the show at PS1 eats up a whole lot of real estate and no doubt has a fairly spectacular carbon footprint. But I have to admit that the surreal sculptural sets from which you view the work made this exhibit, more than any other I’ve seen of his, far more intriguing. The squishy chairs and giant headsets left me feeling as if I was truly part of the work. In addition, the wall-sized video projections gave the whole thing a kind of sci-fi vibe. In fact, as my partner-in-crime reminded me, it was right out of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 — a world in which the walls talk and the citizenry has no ability to turn them off. Montag, the main character bemoans this condition: “Nobody listens anymore. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me. I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls.”

Viewed in that light, I came away respecting the gesture, even if the tweaky nature of the characters still left me irritated. And even though it left me wondering at what point an artist’s commentary becomes the act that he’s critiquing. But maybe that’s the point…

On Generation Blank

Generation Blank, per Jerry Saltz. (Illustration by Jacob Thomas, nabbed from NY Mag.)

It seems like the week’s talked-about essay is Jerry Saltz’s piece about the cerebral, content-free creation of so many art school types: “These artists draw their histories and images only from a super-attenuated gene pool. It’s all-parsing, all the time.” (Which kinda reminds me of this little bit from Tom Wolfe.) But the sentiments echo what Holland Cotter had said earlier in his review of El Museo’s (S) Files Bienal:

In short, the ‘The (S) Files’ confirms what should be obvious but rarely is in the art world: there are scads of artists out there with careers and lives that don’t, whether by chance or by choice, revolve around a few square blocks of mid-Manhattan art real estate. At the same time another truth is demonstrated: In a highly competitive market that turns art schools into art mills, a lot of art, no matter where it comes from, looks like a lot of other art everywhere.

Kyle Chayka at Hyperallergic thinks some critics just aren’t looking hard enough for good work. I think I land somewhere in the middle: you’ll always find something fresh if you search for it, just like you might find orchids in a swamp, but it might mean a whole lotta slogging through navel-gazey art school mumbo jumbo to turn it up.

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