Noah Marcel Sudarsky on “Blue Book, Moon Rock”

Artscape Magazine – Issue 01, June ’09
by Noah Marcel Sudarsky

“Finally, I’d like to suggest that while the symbolic and dialectical mounting stratgies identified by Rancière are still the two dominant con ceptual vectors in fine art, there is a third possible editing strategy, the elliptical. Sreshta Rit Premnath’s Blue Book, Moon Rock (2009) in stallation at Thomas Erben Gallery is a testament to that third path, which is perhaps the most distinctly contemporary, or even avant- garde, of the three. Referencing Wittgenstein, Premnath juxtaposes various materials and mediums representing an aspect of the lunar landings, which don’t collate in a symbolic vein to create meaning or clash in any heterogeneous dialectical sense. He thus combines a photograph of a moon rock, a chalk board, a screen print, and the light from a reeling projector on to silver sprayed acetate which evokes a kind of shimmering, unknow able cosmological constant. The rock is re- imagined by the versatile parade of overlapping media, suggest ing both the original, heroic impulse which brought us to defy our stratospheric limitations and reach into space, and the prosaic reality of the inevitably disappointing mineral manifestation which was returned to us. But really, Premnath isn’t making any point at all, merely hinting at the inherent, cosmic paradox that is life.”

Full Article:

A friend of mine re­marked re­cent­ly on the lat­est pre­ten­tious prac­tice which con­sists in not serv­ing wine at open­ings. Al­co­hol is a sta­ple at art open­ings, he not­ed, be­cause a drink makes bad art palat­able, and good art en­chant­ing. Great art, of course, re­quires no chem­i­cal en­hance­ment; it leaves the soul ex­alt­ed. The view­er, faced with a tru­ly com­pelling work, will leave a mu­se­um or a gallery up­lift­ed (whether sober or not). Crit­ics, artists, afi­ciona­dos, and ev­ery­one else as­so­ci­at­ed with what is be­ing called “the art world” these days (in a rather End of Days strain) are look­ing for an ad­e­quate prism through which to con­tem­plate their sup­posed fall from grace. Hol­land Cot­ter, in a righ­teous all- you- par­a­sites- de­serve- what’s- hap­pen­ing- to- you vein, has de­bunked the en­tire art world es­tab­lish­ment (of which he is one of the more es­tab­lished mem­bers), and the re­view­ers who have sup­pos­ed­ly made the lav­ish din­ners and af­ter par­ties that are/were ap­par­ent­ly so ubiq­ui­tous the nexus of their “so­cial life” (damn those pesky NY Times guide­lines!). I haven’t ac­tu­al­ly ex­pe­ri­enced first- hand what Mr. Cot­ter was talk­ing about when he said that (not much any­way), but cer­tain­ly the “art world,” isn’t about to rein­vent it­self (along what lines? Mr. Cot­ter of­fers no sug­ges­tions), and I don’t feel like I need to re­cite any mea cul­pas. The Ar­mory Show, that en­dur­ing barom­e­ter of art mar­ket health, de­fied the doom­say­ers in no un­cer­tain terms, and record­ed 70,000 more vis­i­tors than the pre­vi­ous year. 25% of gal­leries re­couped their ex­pens­es on the first day, which was on­ly the pre­view. So Mr. Cot­ter and all the oth­er Cas­san­dras can pret­ty much eat their hearts out. And as much as I wish I could say I’ve been feast­ing at the ex­pense of Lar­ry Gagosian, Jef­fery Deitch—or any­one else for that mat­ter—I re­al­ly can’t. I have emp­tied a few glass­es of cheap wine, though, and I cer­tain­ly in­tend on drain­ing a few more plas­tic chal­ices be­fore the Apoc­a­lypse, or the Sin­gu­lar­i­ty, or what­ev­er is go­ing to hap­pen in 2012 (whether or not I re­view any more art, I might ad).

Which isn’t to say changes aren’t afoot. A few weeks be­fore Mr. Cot­ter pub­lished his scathing in­dict­ment, I wrote an ar­ti­cle de­cry­ing the state of the art (which, as it hap­pens, was the ti­tle the ed­i­tor orig­i­nal­ly chose for the piece), as em­bod­ied by Damien Hirst and his car­niv­o­rous cat­a­plasms. I sug­gest­ed that the pre­sent up­heaval would gen­er­ate “avant- garde, erup­tive, self- pro­pelling and deeply heart­felt move­ments that will come to de­fine our new era…” I pro­posed a term for one new trend in fine art, dis­tinct­ly re­lat­ed to the out­sider art that flour­ished dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion (of which more lat­er). But back to the vi­no… The rea­son not serv­ing any booze is ar­ro­gant, in my friend’s opin­ion, is that most art will not pass the so­bri­ety test. It re­quires a mod­est boost­er from Diony­sus to be viewed, if not al­ways fa­vor­ably, at least not com­plete­ly neg­a­tive­ly. And thus, the gallery own­er who re­fus­es to serve wine (you know who you are…) is set­ting the bar too high. Us­ing my new- found crit­i­cal prism, I will pe­ruse some of the art I’ve seen around town, not just at open­ings and art fairs, but al­so in the course of my oth­er cul­tur­al pere­gri­na­tions (many of which al­so fea­tured some drink­ing, I must ad­mit). In the in­ter­est of keep­ing as many friends as pos­si­ble so that I won’t have to drink alone at these hap­pen­ings, though, I will talk most­ly (though not ex­clu­sive­ly) about the art which did not re­quire more than a very mod­est al­co­holic in­take to leave a fa­vor­able im­pres­sion. The “in­tox­i­ca­tion in­dex” I pro­vide in the fol­low­ing overview thus refers di­rect­ly to the work at hand, and not to how many drinks I may have had at any giv­en open­ing. To make sure of this fact, em­pir­i­cal­ly, I made sure I ac­tu­al­ly looked at the works a few times, and was sober dur­ing at least one view­ing. Thus, it is the art it­self which is in­tox­i­cat­ing here—or not.

When I first dis­cussed the idea for this piece with Juan­li, I thought my lens would be turned dis­tinct­ly to­ward the work of un­known or lit­tle- known artists, be­cause there is a re­al pha­lanx of tal­ent­ed in­di­vid­u­als out there mak­ing thrilling art, who ei­ther don’t care or don’t know how to mar­ket them­selves ef­fec­tive­ly. I thought it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to give this an­ti- mer­can­tilist pha­lanx a sound­ing board in the pages of an am­bi­tious new pub­li­ca­tion. But while I still want to men­tion some of the more in­spir­ing work by in­di­vid­u­als who haven’t been co- opt­ed yet by the sys­tem, I sim­ply want to talk about some re­mark­able art. By that I mean art which stands on its own, re­gard­less of the con­text in which it is be­ing viewed, or of what Vik Mu­niz called “the pro­cess of en­rich­ment” on which most art, these days, seems to de­pend. We were talk­ing about Jeff Koon’s New Shel­ton Wet/Dry Dou­bledeck­er (1981) when he used that term, a piece Mu­niz had se­lect­ed for his Mo­MA Artist’s Choice Se­ries, and the re­la­tion­ship to his por­trait of Mar­lene Di­et­rich in Di­a­monds (Di­a­mond Di­vas, 2004). When Vik first spot­ted the in­stal­la­tion, at In­ter­na­tion­al With Mon­u­ment Gallery in the East Vil­lage in the ear­ly eight­ies, he told me he hadn’t made the tran­si­tion from ad­ver­tis­ing to art. The vac­u­um clean­ers, su­perbly lit as they were in their glass case, made him re­al­ize that fine art and com­mer­cial art de­pend on sim­i­lar dis­play mech­a­nisms, and on a kind of semi­otic en­hance­ment. Barthes called this idea the “mythol­o­giza­tion” pro­cess, where the “myth” equals a semi­otic sys­tem that is con­densed in­to a dis­tinct sig­ni­fi­er. Barthes was at­tempt­ing to de­vise a hermeneu­tic to cod­i­fy what Fer­di­nand de Saus­sure had al­ready in­tu­it­ed—a sci­ence of form, based not on con­tent, but on sig­ni­fi­ca­tion—that is on the ar­bi­trary na­ture of the con­nec­tion be­tween sig­ni­fi­er and sig­ni­fied. “Di­a­monds are for­ev­er,” said Mu­niz, is a good ex­am­ple of how a strug­gling in­dus­try saved it­self through a se­man­tic adul­ter­ation (be­cause di­a­monds, just like any oth­er min­er­al, can be oblit­er­at­ed). And so, we are brought to Hirst’s avatars, di­a­mond- stud­ded skulls and toothy leviathans. The myth, be it vi­su­al or lit­er­al, is al­ways a cod­i­fi­ca­tion of form. But where­as Guy De­bord, for in­stance, un­der­stood what Barthes was talk­ing about on an or­gan­ic lev­el, and pro­ceed­ed to break down and ex­pose the per­verse mytholo­gies of con­sumer so­ci­ety, con­tribut­ing to some of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry’s more dra­mat­ic so­cio- po­lit­i­cal up­heavals (May ’68), less gift­ed thinkers strayed to­ward the specious and the doc­tri­naire. These en­cephalitic trapezists, (i.e. the La­ca­ni­ans), with their in­ex­tri­ca­ble cir­cum­vo­lu­tions and so­phis­tic lex­i­cogra­phies, nev­er of­fered a con­struc­tive prism, or re­al­ly, for that mat­ter, ev­er de­con­struct­ed any­thing that hadn’t al­ready been decor­ti­cat­ed by Bachelard, Barthes or Fou­cault. And, with the no­table ex­cep­tion of Félix Guat­tari, no one has ev­er been able to re­al­ly fig­ure out what Deleuze was talk­ing about any­way. The pro­cess of cod­i­fi­ca­tion ac­tu­al­ly be­came one of quasi- per­ma­nent adul­ter­ation.

And so I must re­spect­ful­ly dis­agree with Vik Mu­niz. I think that art which usurps an ad­ver­tis­ing es­thet­ic, or blurs the line be­tween art com­men­tary and artis­tic prac­tice by in­flict­ing a lay­ered, post- in­dex­i­cal hermeneu­tic, cre­at­ing a sim­u­lacrum, a stag­ing of re­al­i­ty via the dis­place­ment of some pre- ex­ist­ing myth, does not rank high­ly on the in­tox­i­ca­tion in­dex (which isn’t to say that ap­proach does not pro­vide unique grat­i­fi­ca­tions).

Thus, in the ar­ti­cle orig­i­nal­ly known as “State of the Art,” I named a nov­el trend in fine art, one which is not driv­en by a ref­er­en­tial el­e­ment, or reify­ing con­structs. I dubbed this move­ment “Su­per­craft,” and I was ap­par­ent­ly on to some­thing. In an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “The Art World Em­braces Arts & Crafts at Ar­mory Week,” New York mag­a­zine re­port­ed that the works with a crafty, home- spun feel were what sold best, by far, at the Ar­mory Show—in part, no doubt, be­cause just like the folk art of the thir­ties which sup­plant­ed the ex­pen­sive mod­ernist mas­ters in many im­por­tant col­lec­tions, Su­per­craft tends to be eco­nom­i­cal.

Aris­to­tle, in his Po­et­ics, sug­gest­ed that the au­di­ence knows in­stinc­tive­ly when it is con­front­ed with “truth,” as op­posed to a fac­ti­tious ar­tic­u­la­tion, and sci­ence has com­fort­ed this no­tion. In Blink, Mal­colm Glad­well demon­strates con­vinc­ing­ly that the ob­serv­able man­i­fes­ta­tions of hu­man in­tu­ition, or in­stinc­tu­al knowl­edge, are per­fect­ly mind- bog­gling. Kant, when he as­sert­ed that “a pri­ori” no­tions ac­tu­al­ly con­sti­tute the fun­da­men­tal build­ing blocks of sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry and ex­pe­ri­ence in gen­er­al (in­clud­ing, of course, es­thet­ic val­ues), was in fact al­ready mak­ing the same ar­gu­ment (be­cause the num­ber of ob­serv­able facts at our dis­pos­al is in­fi­nite, a work­ing hy­poth­e­sis must be con­struct­ed on a kind of com­mon sense pre- se­lec­tion).


Nicola López, Untitled, 2009 graphite, gouache, ink, molding paste on paper, photolitho on mylar collage 18 x 18 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

And so, un­like, say, re­la­tion­al es­thet­ics, Su­per­craft does not de­pend on Deleuze, Der­ri­da, or any de­gree of epis­te­mo­log­i­cal strat­i­fi­ca­tion to tell us why it mat­ters (which is why its in­tox­i­ca­tion in­dex is so high). The work of Jim Drain is grat­i­fy­ing, for in­stance, be­cause it jibes, be­cause its poly­va­lent re­source­ful­ness and its meta- medi­um com­bat­ive­ness mesh­es con­vinc­ing­ly with the zeit­geist, and pos­sess­es a dis­tinc­tive (that is, not a nor­ma­tive) weltan­schau­ung. A post­mod­ern ap­pro­pri­a­tion strat­e­gy is un­nec­es­sary. I gave ex­am­ples of Su­per­craft in my New York Press piece, and I’ll pro­vide a few more here: Nico­la López, whose ver­tig­i­nous mono­prints of falling, self- con­sum­ing cities seem to sub­sume the apoc­a­lyp­tic the­mat­ic in­to some­thing much more sub­tle and in­tri­cate. Her poly­mor­phous “Large Tan­gle,” which was vis­i­ble at Caren Gold­en’s booth at the Pulse Art Fair, ex­ploits what has be­come López’s sig­na­ture pot- pour­ri of col­lat­ed tech­niques. The work de­picts a jum­ble of I- beams, duct­work, hemp rope, and var­i­ous build­ing ma­te­ri­als, all in­ter­laced in a yel­low my­lar loop. It is a wood­cut print that al­so uti­lizes gouache, oil pas­tel, ink, litho cray­on, graphite, and col­lage el­e­ments. En­tire­ly elim­i­nat­ing the dis­tinc­tion be­tween print- work, paint­ing, and col­lage, López in ef­fect cre­ates her own unique, strik­ing medi­um. Her next show opens at Caren Gold­en Gallery in Chelsea in May.

Equal­ly ap­peal­ing to me is the work of Al­i­son Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor. Her mar­quetry pan­els, which use wood- in­lays to cre­ate ca­su­al scenes of ev­ery­day life in which the pro­tag­o­nists seem lost (she al­so con­structs en­tire three- di­men­sion­al habi­tats, like Room, 2007) are an ex­am­ple of how a kitschy tech­nique tra­di­tion­al­ly used in a folk­loric vein can be turned on its head, to tremen­dous ef­fect—fos­ter­ing a psy­chic back­lash. Her break­through show at James Co­han came down last sum­mer, but a new mar­quetry pan­el, Bom­bay Beach (2008) is now vis­i­ble in the View­ing Room at the James Co­han Gallery.

What makes this bur­geon­ing move­ment so su­per thrilling is that no sub­ject is off- lim­its. Sandow Birk, a Cal­i­for­ni­an who shows lo­cal­ly at White Box (a gallery which re­cent­ly aban­doned Chelsea, where it resid­ed in what was hands- down the most ar­chi­tec­tural­ly am­bi­tious non- in­sti­tu­tion­al ex­hi­bi­tion space in NY, just a big con­crete box), is an­oth­er no­table force in Su­per­craft. His enor­mous De­prav­i­ties of War se­ries of wood­cut prints de­pict some of the doc­u­ment­ed atroc­i­ties of the Sec­ond Iraq War. He takes the no­tion of craft to its most es­sen­tial, com­mu­ni­tar­i­an lev­el by us­ing as­sis­tants to help with the carv­ing of his gi­ant ply­wood blocks, ac­tu­al­ly en­cour­ag­ing them to in­ject their own per­son­al draw­ing styles in­to the work. That ap­proach is in no way an­ti­thet­i­cal to the Su­per­craft paradigm, which wel­comes col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort—but shuns alien­at­ed la­bor and mass pro­duc­tion.

Jere­my Earhart, who re­cent­ly closed at Goff + Rosen­thal, is one of the most ex­cit­ing ex­po­nents of Su­per­craft be­cause he’s do­ing pre­cise­ly the re­verse of a Jeff Koons or a Mu­raka­mi: In­stead of shop­ping out the de­signed ob­ject to be cre­at­ed or re­pro­duced in an in­dus­tri­al set­ting, he’s tak­ing a man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nique, in this case poly- lam­i­na­tion, and con­coct­ing unique hand- craft­ed one- offs. Earhart us­es au­to­mo­tive paint, Plex­i­glas, acrylic sheet­ing, and monofil­a­ment line in his lu­mi­nes­cent hy­brid works (like the ten­tac­u­lar Rock­ets Red Glare, or The Thin Ice of Mod­ern Life, 2008, which por­trays an in­can­des­cent church bell ring­ing). It’s too easy to dis­miss Earhart’s sculp­tures as pop­py “club art.” His cre­ations may have a psychedel­ic feel, but they are com­plete­ly orig­i­nal. By mere­ly lay­er­ing count­less sheets of hand- cut plas­tic, he cre­ates cryp­tic shaman­is­tic ves­sels, part 3-D Op art, part New Age bas- re­lief. The in­tox­i­ca­tion in­dex of Earhart’s work is strato­spher­ic. Su­per­craft prac­ti­tion­ers, many of whom op­er­ate in an os­ten­si­bly out­sider strain, are in fact firm­ly im­plant­ed in the larg­er sym­bol­ist tra­di­tion. Al­le­go­ry is achieved through a con­ver­gence of scenic el­e­ments. As in a stream of con­scious­ness nar­ra­tive, sym­bol­ist art can gen­er­ate ana­log­i­cal mean­ing, or ger­mi­nate in­to pure Ab­sur­dism. The Bruce High Qual­i­ty Foun­da­tion, with its tri­umphant “Em­pire” ex­hi­bi­tion at Cue­to Pro­ject, is one of the more ex­cit­ing sym­bol­ist en­sem­bles. Un­til now, it’s fair to say, Amer­i­can Art had on­ly dab­bled in Da­da, the par­ent pau­vre of sym­bol­ism. Too in­tel­lec­tu­al, too an­ar­chi­cal, Da­da in fact con­sti­tutes the very an­tithe­sis of the prag­mat­ic, util­i­tar­i­an Amer­i­can tra­di­tion. It is Louis Bunuel try­ing to out­gun John Ford. Even Jeff Koons, whose lin­eage to Duchamp has been wide­ly trum­pet­ed, is al­most the an­tithe­sis of a Dadais­tic artist. Ready­made art nev­er con­sti­tut­ed the foun­da­tion of Da­da. The soul of Da­da is Ab­sur­dism; whether is it min­i­mal­is­tic and ob­ject- based, as per Duchamp, or dense­ly sur­re­al­is­tic and painter­ly, as per Dali, is strict­ly ir­rel­e­vant. But “Les Bruces,” as Va­lerie Cue­to af­fec­tion­ate­ly dubs this six- per­son ag­it­prop en­sem­ble from the fringes of Bush­wick, are the re­al thing, a true Dadaist dy­nasty. And while they are fa­mous for their video per­for­mance work, like their adap­ta­tion of Cats and their dystopi­an in­stal­la­tions and mod­els, like Piz­zatopia, which de­picts ev­ery NY neigh­bor­hood as a top­ping on a slice of piz­za (un­for­tu­nate­ly, you can’t buy a sin­gle slice, you have to pur­chase the whole pie), I was ac­tu­al­ly most par­tial to their 26- hand se­ries of oils (for which friends, lovers, and fam­i­ly mem­bers were cheer­ful­ly co- opt­ed), The Course of Em­pire (Con­sum­ma­tion, Des­o­la­tion, De­struc­tion, pas­toral, and sav­age). These ref­er­en­tial paint­ings, sub­li­mat­ing in­di­vid­u­al ego, man­age to in­cor­po­rate a con­vinc­ing, con­sis­tent hermeneu­tic. The se­ries is ex­plo­sive, and sug­gests a cat­a­clysmic blueprint, a pri­mal if tongue- in- cheek chore­og­ra­phy of Bib­li­cal pro­por­tions—Par­adise Lost meets Best West­ern. These anony­mous paint­ings are an ex­hil­a­rat­ing, the­atri­cal ode to ex­trav­a­gance and de­cay.


The Bruces High Quality Foundation, 
The Course of The Empire (Pastoral) 2009.
Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 63 1/2inches/100 x 163 cm.
Courtesy of Cueto Project, New york.

Sym­bol­ism, which has been mak­ing a come- back, is well- rep­re­sent­ed these days. The Or­wellian and on­ly faint­ly Ab­sur­dist can­vass­es of Ian Davis vis­i­ble at Leslie Tonkonow (al­so fea­tured at Vol­ta NY) make for a ter­ri­fy­ing to­tal­i­tar­i­an panoply. The “Strange Ge­om­e­try” ex­hi­bi­tion boast­ed what was per­haps the most tight­ly ex­e­cut­ed and tech­ni­cal­ly flaw­less paint­ing to be seen dur­ing Ar­mory week. Michelle Den­nis, a young painter who had work up at DFN Gallery at the same time, is a sym­bol­ist in a more sit­u­a­tion­ist strain. Her mon­u­men­tal, thick­ly- lay­ered oil can­vass­es, de­pict­ing don­keys alone or grouped to­geth­er, or even piled to­geth­er in crush­ing mon­tic­ules, are a psy­chic cry. The pieces all evoke crush­ing so­cial forces be­yond one’s con­trol, and func­tion as a sear­ing in­dict­ment. Ian Davis’s pro- for­ma oils, like Es­ti­mate (2007) in­di­cate a de­bil­i­tat­ing sta­sis, a par­a­lyz­ing, quasi- per­ma­nent state of alien­ation, but the plight of the op­pressed equines in Michelle Den­nis mono­ma­ni­a­cal works, like the trip­tych Evo­lu­tion (2009) isn’t mere­ly metaphor­i­cal. It makes the case for hu­man rev­o­lu­tion. The don­key was al­so the leit­mo­tif in Karen Yasin­sky’s “I Choose Dark­ness” ex­hi­bi­tion at Mireille Mosler, which is based on Robert Bres­son’s 1966 film Au Hasard Balt­haz­ar. Us­ing stop- mo­tion an­i­ma­tion, Yasin­sky has cre­at­ed a re- ren­der­ing of Bres­son’s clas­sic tale of op­pres­sion, with pup­pets (screened at Mo­MA in 2008). The Yasin­sky show al­so fea­tures Mr. Ma­goo in a new draw­ing an­i­ma­tion based on the woes of Balt­haz­ar the don­key, Enough to Drive You Mad (2009). Ma­goo is a metaphor of wit­less non­cha­lance (“I need­ed a char­ac­ter that was to­tal­ly obliv­i­ous,” Yask­in­sky told me). Yask­in­sky’s work func­tions ef­fec­tive­ly as Po- Mo ap­pro­pri­a­tion, and the poly­va­lent na­ture of the show (pup­pet an­i­ma­tion, draw­ing an­i­ma­tion, and paint­ing) is clear­ly a tes­ta­ment to the trans­for­ma­tive po­ten­tial of the don­key myth and the artist’s own com­mit­ment to what the press re­lease calls “the evo­lu­tion of her sub­ject,” but it lacks both the orig­i­nal­i­ty and the sheer com­pul­sive force of Den­nis’s work. The time of the don­key as a pas­sive force has come and gone. These times call for new ar­tic­u­la­tions, not com­pla­cent, hy­per- in­tel­lec­tu­al­ized cod­i­fi­ca­tions. Dis­tan­ci­a­tion is good for the in­do­lent and the rich. In that sense, the group show “Talk Dirty to Me” at Laris­sa Gold­ston, fea­tur­ing the usu­al sus­pects like John Cur­rin, Lisa Yuskav­age, Alex Mc­Quilkin, and Rachel Fe­in­stein, was just so nineties. The ex­hi­bi­tion, a hodge­podge of tits and ass­es and wit­ty for­mu­la­tions, à la David Shrigley, made the very idea of sex con­ster­nat­ing­ly trite and al­most as in­ef­fec­tu­al as the ma­jor­i­ty of the works which pop­u­lat­ed the gallery. For­get Holy Fire, for­get the fact that the an­i­mus is still the an­ti­dote to most of our on­to­log­i­cal woes, for­get pas­sion or de­bauch­ery even, what is the point of a se­ries of tepid, sar­don­ic works, be they ref­er­enc­ing sex­u­al­i­ty or any­thing else? Not all the art that con­sti­tut­ed “Talk Dirty To Me” was bad, not by a long shot, but even the pieces by Cur­rin and Si­en­na were prob­lem­at­ic for their un­char­ac­ter­is­tic lack of po­ten­cy. For the record, Rachel Fe­in­stein’s nude 2-D sculp­ture, a flat, mul­ti­faceted fig­ure of a wom­an on her hands and knees (Or­phan, 2009), was prob­a­bly the most re­veal­ing, smartest work. Still, com­par­ing this group show fea­tur­ing some of the biggest and hippest names in con­tem­po­rary art to (to give just one ex­am­ple) the ret­ro­spec­tive of ear­ly su­per 8 works by Derek Jar­man at X Ini­tia­tive (a pro­ject spear­head­ed by Eliz­a­beth Dee, at the old Dia Foun­da­tion space, vis­i­ble through May), re­veals a kind of ac­cel­er­at­ed de­crepi­tude of the Id, or sim­ply an ox­i­da­tion of the mod­ern- day imag­i­na­tion as it per­tains to the found­ing prin­ci­ple, the Earth Moth­er (which, I sup­pose, con­sid­er­ing that near­ly all the artists vis­i­ble at Laris­sa Gold­ston were weaned on the nor­mal­iz­ing tsuna­mi of ca­ble TV, isn’t sur­pris­ing). Jarmin’s filmic cor­pus be­came a cat­a­lyst for an en­tire gen­er­a­tion be­cause he had no re­al ref­er­en­tial pre­cur­sors out­side of maybe Chris Mark­er and Go­dard, and had to in­vent his own codes. Barthes called this pro­cess “pos­tu­lat­ing sig­nif­i­cance.” And so Jarmin made Se­bas­tiane (1977), per­haps the first film to open­ly rep­re­sent gay sex­u­al­i­ty. Con­verse­ly, the snarky ni­hilism of South Park and Fam­i­ly Guy con­tributes far more to the weltan­schau­ung of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of artists than the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and vi­sion­ar­ies of pri­or decades.

An artist who does do jus­tice to the Earth Moth­er, and then some, is Aus­tralian prodi­gy There­sa Byrnes, whose “Rev­o­lu­tion/Re­volve” ex­hi­bi­tion went up at Rogue Space just af­ter Ar­mory week. Her col­lage, as­sem­blage, and tie- dye on pa­per tech­niques were a shift from much of the work of this pro­lif­ic per­for­mance artist and painter, who tri­umphant­ly filled the Saatchi & Saatchi Gallery in New York three years ago with her gi­gan­tic ab­strac­tion­ist tableaus and pan­els. (Tracey Mof­fat paid her a vi­brant homage that night). Boob Spi­ral, a mam­mar­i­an vor­tex, and Boob Mo­bile, a cas­cad­ing neb­u­lae, as well as Time Ate My Moth­er and Boob & Pen­ny Plat­ter, all re­con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing the Fem­i­nine Prin­ci­ple, with a galac­tic twist, while sim­i­lar­ly us­ing pen­nies, pences, pe­sos, and as­sort­ed cur­ren­cies in an ab­stract­ed, cos­mo­log­i­cal vein. The work evokes quasars, resur­gence, and the cy­cles of na­ture.

“To think with­in the bound­aries of own­er­ship and sale is nar­row,” Byrnes re­marked. “The great cir­cle is mov­ing to­ward an­oth­er way of ex­ist­ing, for what is a coin but a fick­le disk.”

With Byrnes, the shift to a di­alec­ti­cal mount­ing is al­ready sug­gest­ed—what Jacques Ran­cière con­sid­ered the neg­a­tive of the sym­bol­ist tra­di­tion, where el­e­ments dove­tail, com­bin­ing with­out par­tic­u­lar vi­o­lence (Derek Jar­man’s works have a di­alec­ti­cal in­flec­tion as well, par­tic­u­lar­ly his sem­i­nal Ju­bilee, 1977, and Blue, 1993). The di­alec­ti­cal frame­work, which uti­lizes a strat­e­gy of col­li­sion, fric­tion and an­tithe­sis, is much less preva­lent these days than the sym­bol­ist edit­ing en vogue, but it was fla­grant in the con­tro­ver­sial work of Eu­ge­nio Meri­no, fea­tured by ADN Gallery at Vol­ta NY. Ac­co­ral­a­do (2008), which rep­re­sents a de­ment­ed Dalai Lama wield­ing an AK- 47, and Still Stay­ing Alive (2007), a bronze of Osama Bin Laden as John Tra­vol­ta, are cer­tain­ly jar­ring, but the in­her­ent in­con­gruity func­tions as more than a co­gent para­dox; Moreno’s trans­gres­sive, parox­ys­mic sculp­tures con­sti­tut­ed some of the most lit­er­ate po­lit­i­cal art vis­i­ble at any of the NY art fairs this year. And it proves that the whole in­tox­i­ca­tion in­dex isn’t very sig­nif­i­cant af­ter all, be­cause en­coun­ter­ing that rarest of artis­tic phe­nomenons—hy­per- lu­cid­i­ty—is a strict­ly sober­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Fi­nal­ly, I’d like to sug­gest that while the sym­bol­ic and di­alec­ti­cal mount­ing strate­gies iden­ti­fied by Ran­cière are still the two dom­i­nant con­cep­tu­al vec­tors in fine art, there is a third pos­si­ble edit­ing strat­e­gy, the el­lip­ti­cal. Shresh­ta Rit Prem­nath’s Blue Book, Moon Rock (2009) in­stal­la­tion at Thomas Er­ben Gallery is a tes­ta­ment to that third path, which is per­haps the most dis­tinct­ly con­tem­po­rary, or even avant- garde, of the three. Ref­er­enc­ing Wittgen­stein, Prem­nath jux­ta­pos­es var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als and medi­ums rep­re­sent­ing an as­pect of the lu­nar land­ings, which don’t col­late in a sym­bol­ic vein to cre­ate mean­ing or clash in any het­ero­ge­neous di­alec­ti­cal sense. He thus com­bines a pho­to­graph of a moon rock, a chalk­board, a screen­print, and the light from a reel­ing pro­jec­tor on­to sil­ver sprayed ac­etate which evokes a kind of shim­mer­ing, un­know­able cos­mo­log­i­cal con­stant. The rock is re- imag­ined by the ver­sa­tile pa­rade of over­lap­ping me­dia, sug­gest­ing both the orig­i­nal, hero­ic im­pulse which brought us to de­fy our strato­spher­ic lim­i­ta­tions and reach in­to space, and the pro­sa­ic re­al­i­ty of the in­evitably dis­ap­point­ing min­er­al man­i­fes­ta­tion which was re­turned to us. But re­al­ly, Prem­nath isn’t mak­ing any point at all, mere­ly hint­ing at the in­her­ent, cos­mic para­dox that is life.

1 Note: Parent pauvre refers to a poor relative or descendent, not a progenitor or begetter.