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Behind the Black Curtain

By Rhizome

For "Paint it Black," his first solo museum show at Artpace, San Antonio, American artist Oliver Lutz presents a two-room installation exploring "contemporary mass spectacle as a breeding ground for culturally conditioned rituals, myths, and social interaction." In the main gallery, Lutz has covered six paintings with infrared-sensitive black, a pigment mainly used in military applications. Monitors in the second gallery connect to ultraviolet surveillance cameras in the first, framing each of the paintings to disclose renderings, hidden beneath the pigment, of photographs Lutz took at a Texas Motor Speedway NASCAR event. If sporting events are usually collective affairs, Lutz's paintings examine the divisive and introverted qualities particular to car races: spectators are shown wearing headphones, for example, either to dampen excessive noise or listen in on radio broadcasts of the race and conversations between pit crews and drivers; some even watch live video feeds via handheld devices. Lutz's installation emulates this fragmentary type of spectacle, drawing spectators into various levels of participation and even positioning the surveillance cameras so as, when viewed from the perspective of the monitors, to seemingly enmesh them in the crowds hidden under the paint. These strategies recall those of Lutz's Lynching 1 (2007) and Lynching 2 (2007) installations, which presented partially blackened paintings that, when run through ultraviolet surveillance technology, revealed imagery of crowds and lynching victims derived from archival photography. However, while each installation employs the conditions of art spectatorship in examining the topography of the American public, "Paint it Black" ultimately follows too closely behind the exhibition design of the Lynching series, at the risk of reducing two very different historical moments to falsely comparable terms. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Oliver Lutz, Paint It Black, 2008

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