criticismExhibitions
Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Function Follows Formula: Cory Arcangel at the Whitney


Cory Arcangel’s Pro Tools at the Whitney Museum

May 26th to September 11th, 2011
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street
New York City, 212 570 3600

Cory Arcangel, Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ), 2011 (installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Hacked video game controllers, game consoles, cartridges, discs, and video, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; Team Gallery, New York; Lisson Gallery, London; and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Cory Arcangel, Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ), 2011 (installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Hacked video game controllers, game consoles, cartridges, discs, and video, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; Team Gallery, New York; Lisson Gallery, London; and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Nearly all the 37 works featured in Cory Arcangel’s Pro Tools were realized over the past six months.  The artist’s speed of production mirrors his interest in the rate at which new technologies reach obsolescence, a theme central to his practice.  Equal parts hacker and historiographer, Arcangel’s meditations on authenticity, access, and authorship speak to his politics of open source culture: the exhibition “catalogue” is a downloadable PDF and the artist encourages the viewer to reproduce his works at home.  He approaches his subjects—outdated game consoles, robotic pen-plotters—with an honest, fragile fascination in their inner workings.  Arcangel’s production, meanwhile, recalls the creative process instilled over the course of an MFA: his relatively narrow thematic seems to have been realized in iteration after iteration to the point of exhaustion.  Though accomplished, the resulting show walks a line between comprehensive and redundant.

For his work Volume Management, Arcangel converts an entire gallery into an electronic warehouse, complete with tacky wall-to-wall carpeting and a tower of packaged flat screen TVs.  At one time the pinnacle of electronic advancement, each muted television box is reduced to an infinitely reproducible commodity.  In a reference to Duchamp’s readymades, Arcangel questions the function of the galley space, interpreting the museum as its own brand of showroom.  While the unopened televisions will depreciate over time as their technology approaches obsolescence, Archangel’s art installation will see a continuous increase in value, assuming the artist becomes more marketable by means of his Whitney Museum solo-show.  The tension between these two value systems is revisited in Arcangel’s highly produced Photoshop CS prints, each created with one mouse-click in the software’s gradient tool.  Referencing midcentury color field painting, which sought to minimize the visibility of the artist’s hand, Arcangel supplies the exact coordinates of his mouse, encouraging reproducibility and abdicating authorship.  The images are elegantly printed and quite striking in person, but the appearance of twelve of these works throughout the show quickly became monotonous and speaks to the show’s overall repetitiveness.

Cory Arcangel, There’s Always One At Every Party, 2010 (installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Video, color, sound; 9:13 minutes. Collection of the artist; Team Gallery, New York; Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

Cory Arcangel, There’s Always One At Every Party, 2010 (installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Video, color, sound; 9:13 minutes. Collection of the artist; Team Gallery, New York; Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

His 2010 installation, There’s Always One at Every Party, consists of a clunky 1990s television set on a black metal frame with casters, the setup reminiscent a high school AV system.. A series of clips from Seinfeld, one of the more ubiquitous relics of  ‘90s pop culture, plays on the screen.  The compilation isolates and weaves together each instance during the show that Kramer’s coffee table book about coffee tables is mentioned.  This supercut reflects the same formal elements as Kramer’s idea: isolating, splicing and remixing to produce a compilation that serves solely to entertain.  Arcangel ingeniously desegregates two disparate media that ostensibly serve the same purpose.  This practice of isolating, splicing and mashing-up is central to the artist’s practice, but this style of art making has become ubiquitous in recent years and appears in so many different iterations throughout the show that it unfortunately loses its punch.  Arcangel once again showcases his signature remixing technique in the exhibition’s most ambitious installation, Various Self-Playing Bowling Games (aka beat the champ).  Here, the artist creates a virtual bowling alley at the exhibition’s entrance consisting of seven lanes each looping a different bowling simulation.  The furthest left lane features the most antiquated graphics: Atari Bowling from 1977.  Read from left to right, the installation chronicles the technical progression of electronic gaming, ending with a 2001 bowling simulation for XBox. The effect is sensory overload: each game flashes and buzzes at different intervals, the balls never once making contact with the pins.  The result is an endless series of gutterballs.  To create the work, the artist rigged each console with a computer chip that` recorded his actions and repeated them on a loop, a Sisyphean spectacle of failure.  Beat the Champ highlightsthe absurdity of a simulation of the lived experience: the “progress” shown through the increased graphic quality over time is undermined by the virtual players’ inability to move past the first level.

This examination of manufactured renditions of reality emerges again in Arcangel’s masterful work, Paganini’s Caprice no.5. Nicolò Paganini’s virtuouso violin compositionhas been appropriated by countless heavy metal guitarists on YouTube.  In a sort of meta-supercut, Arcangel isolates and splices together individual notes from the different guitar solos to reconstruct the piece in its entirety.  The prospect of personal and artistic expression through technology is of particular interest to Arcangel, who mines the smallest niches of Internet culture for his source material.  Paganini was produced using self-made software, Gould Pro (named for Glenn Gould).  The program was created out of necessity in order to capture and edit content at lightening speeds.  In the exhibition catalogue, curator Christiane Paul affirms that the meticulous work displays mastery on three levels: that of the original composition, the proficiency of the guitarists online and Arcangel’s invention of state-of-the-art software. While Arcangel’s commentary on reproducibility and authorship is inarguably relevant in this cultural moment, these ideas are somehow inextricably linked to 1980s postmodernism.  The show itself is compelling, if not redundant, but the thematic employed by Arcangel comes across as overworked.

Cory Arcangel, Still from Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ), 2011. Hacked video game controllers, game consoles, cartridges, disks, and video, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; Team Gallery, New York; Lisson Gallery, London; and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris. Image courtesy Barbican Art Gallery, London; photograph © Eliot Wyman

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