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Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney

Cory Arcangel (b. 1978), Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ), 2011. Hacked video game controllers, game consoles, cartridges, disks, and video, dimensions variable. [image via Artforum]
You either introduce a ridiculously enormous and therefore pointless amount of work into it, or you reduce the work by using automation, or defaults, or outsourcing. So you either extend the amount of work to an enormous extent that makes it absurd, or you reduce it to nothing which undercuts its legitimacy.
Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ)
Pro Tools
Cory Arcangel (b. 1978), Photoshop CS: 84 by 66 inches, 300 DPI,RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=22100 x=14050, mouseup y=19700 x=1800, 2010, from the series Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations, 2008– . Chromogenic print, 84 × 66 in. (213.4 × 167.6 cm).
Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations
Pro Tools

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Peter Burch June 21 2011 15:26Reply

i went to the exhibition in the photo at the top. it was at the Curve Gallery in the Barbican, London. the large projector screens really helped make a statement. it felt very grand yet also sentimental as it felt like a chronological trip through my childhood!

wrbrand July 19 2011 02:59Reply

"This show marks a huge moment for the world of art and technology. Regardless of your opinion of Arcangel's work, this kind of institutional recognition is a promising shift for many contemporary artists."

Not when Arcangel fails this hard, it's not. We got a chance to take dad's car out, let our friend drive it, and now it's stuck halfway through a tree. It'll be a while before the Whitney takes this kind of chance on a new media artist again.

In order to make the case that this was a good exhibition (I think that's what this review is saying?), you elide over all but three works. Where's the mention of the abysmal Seinfeld supercut, which hovered somewhere around the level of things you think to say, then think again and don't? The display of Oakleys and televisions, that merely showed that the wilful ignorance Koons showed of Paolozzi is still alive in Arcangel's view of Koons? The Jay-Z wall, that might as well have been a Tweet with the comment 'yo this is dumb'? Certainly there are critical levels of irony operating here, but irony is useful only insofar as it illuminates - indirectness is not, by itself, a virtue.

In the works you do describe, you're careful to avoid any direct criticality. You mention the scale of Beat the Champ, but not whether that scale makes any sense - it doesn't. The work has one step too many: Arcangel takes the games off the throne of technological grandeur by programming them to fail, but first he has to declare them grand himself through the presentation. The work might have operated much more easily by using, as a subject, something from which we intuitively expect progress; instead, Arcangel chose to play to the video game nostalgia he's seen to be popular in the past. The work really only says two things, and it says them immediately: "It's Cory Arcangel!" and "This is a big show!"

Masters doesn't work because I don't care. I come up to the piece, I see a golf game, I attempt to play it, but I have no expectations of success or fulfillment of "needs or desires" because I've never played the game before. When I fail, I'm not surprised- I feel I've been made a fool, since it's clear I would fail whatever I did, but I'm neither hurt by my failure nor caused to reflect upon it. Implicating the user in the failure of technology might have some impact were it done more broadly - this isn't some natural culture of obsolescence, this is one I/all of us made, okay - but here, I feel like an unwitting pawn, and for no good reason. At least it has a good name.

The Photoshop pieces are beautiful and the democracy inherent in their names is very Internet, in a good way. I don't have a problem with those, and your description is apt.

Altogether, though, it seems like you decided this show was good before laying eyes on it. As a consequence, you ended up with few choices other than to describe facts of process and construction in an approving tone, to make up for lost room that might otherwise be spent in useful critique. I understand the new media community had a lot riding on this show, and that an organization like Rhizome, in particular, would not be well-served by admitting its failure. Still, softballing such a prominent exhibition does Rhizome and the community alike a disservice.

Brian Droitcour Aug. 17 2011 15:17Reply

"You mention the scale of Beat the Champ, but not whether that scale makes any sense - it doesn't. The work has one step too many: Arcangel takes the games off the throne of technological grandeur by programming them to fail, but first he has to declare them grand himself through the presentation."

The funny thing about bowling games is that they model a very specific form of physical activity with another kind of movement that is totally different – it's a switch from a walking start and a swing of the arm to stationary manipulation of a keypad. That's how gaming systems move it from the bowling alley to the home. The scale of the Beat the Champ installation enlarges videos games to the size of bowling lanes. In the big dark gallery, multiple simultaneous games create an echo chamber, like the cacophony of a windowless bowling alley, while also evoking memories of sitting in a dim basement with a game console. But the viewer is in the passive position of standing and observing. Beat the Champ collapses three spaces of leisure–the museum, the bowling alley, the game room–and makes it feel like what happens inside the museum's walls isn't that different from what's going on outside them.

"Where's the mention of the abysmal Seinfeld supercut, which hovered somewhere around the level of things you think to say, then think again and don't?"

When I went to "Pro Tools" there was a crowd of people around the Seinfeld supercut, watching it and laughing. I vaguely remember a line from Warhol about how he made pictures of Campbell's soup cans because people like Campbell's soup. It follows that he produced images of Marilyin Monroe, Joe D'Allessandro, and so on because people like looking at them. The supercut of Seinfeld's "coffee table book about coffee table books" subplot is an indirect reminder of the show's biggest subplot – the one about Jerry's pilot for NBC, when Seinfeld became a show about a show about nothing. And millions of people liked (and still like) this show about recursiveness and emptiness! It turns out that Duchamp did for the contemporary comedic sensibility what Eisenstein did for MTV. Like Beat the Champ, the Seinfeld superset collapses distinctions between forms of leisure pursuits, but this work looks at how ideas invented in art's avant-garde have permeated pop culture.

I could continue arguing that the show makes a pretty coherent statement about contemporary culture by discussing more works, but I don't want to write another review. I'm just trying to demonstrate the laziness behind Will Brand's opinion that Arcangel's gestures in "Pro Tools" are meaningless or failed. A hallmark of Art Fag City criticism is the frequency of phrases like "It's not clear why the artist does x." Here's a weird old tip: Artists do everything for a reason. It might not be accessible on the surface, but if you spend enough time thinking about it, you can find an explanation. Now, I'm not saying that the critic has to serve the artist by identifying and explicating his intention; more often than not, an artist is working with a variety of complex ideas and cannot necessarily articulate all the associations they conjure. But it's important for the critic to recognize the care the artist has put into a work, and–whether his ultimate evaluation is positive or negative–to demonstrate an adequate effort in his response. If a critic is unable to do that, it's not clear why anyone would care about what he has to say.

Will Brand Aug. 17 2011 16:33Reply

Beat the Champ: I'm actually not sure if this paragraph was supposed to be a rebuttal. It looks more like a description. Yes, Beat the Champ "collapses three spaces of leisure". No, that does not make it a good work, nor does it have anything to do with my argument. For that description to rebut my comment that this work is bad, we would have to first assume that collapsing three leisure spaces is good, which requires other assumptions involving leisure space quantity (I assume two spaces collapsed would be worse, but four would be better? This could also be a curve) and perhaps some element of judgment pertaining to how well the spaces were collapsed (there is, one notes, neither viewer agency nor a shoe check). Even if we did want to engage in that sort of discussion, I'd argue that my laptop collapses infinitely more work and leisure spaces than Beat the Champ, and is thus (by your apparent reasoning) a better work of art. All of which is to say, "Yeah so?"

Seinfeld: I had the same experience! The Seinfeld supercut had about as many people around it as the rest of the exhibition combined. Anyway, again this is mostly description, because you don't tell me how the supercut reveals "how ideas invented in art's avant-garde have permeated pop culture", or whether it does that well; I'd argue it doesn't do that at all, other than by being located in a museum (yawn). For one thing, I don't think it's clear that recursiveness and what we might call "metaness" originated in Duchamp - I think there's a much stronger case that these ideas came out of theatre and literature. What about Flaubert's "Bouvard et Pecuchet"? I just read Barthes describe it as meta (in "Myth Today"), and looking over the Wikipedia entry it sounds pretty similar to Seinfeld, really. I'm sure there's a more apt example out there, but I'm not that well-rounded; maybe somebody can lend a hand here. In any case, I think it's ridiculous to assume that recursiveness is only a century old, or that its popularizer was an object-maker. I certainly don't think Cory Arcangel showed me anything about Duchamp's relationship to Jerry Seinfeld (that was you, sorta, and even then it was a statement rather than an explanation), or that Cory did so well. What he did do was make a moderately good YouTube, and put it in a gallery so that people who like moderately good YouTubes could stand in front of it and stop trying to make sense of the bullshit on every other wall of the room.

Your last paragraph misses the point of criticism entirely, and largely refutes itself. The very fact that "artists do everything for a reason" justifies judging expressions on their clarity ("It's not clear why the artist does x"). If I want a revised corporate tax code, I and express that desire by throwing my shit at people on the street, that's an imperfect expression. Whatever my intention - and I certainly have "a variety of complex ideas" about taxes and governance - I've chosen to express myself in a way that obfuscates that intention and fails to communicate. Artists are communicators, and are not immune to the criticisms we would levy against any other class of communicators; particularly so when they're failing to communicate to a class of people (like Paddy and myself) that have put a lot of effort into - have made a career out of! - understanding their communication. In fact, we might be particularly harsh on artists, given that so often they are re-expressing (in a new medium) the ideas of philosophers and writers (obviously this works both ways). If Deleuze states something and an artist makes an installation restating that and I as a critic write a piece about the installation, how does the burden of clarity and insight fall on me? What about the other two guys? Can't they be bad at their jobs? It's fantastic how well-defined your criteria for good criticism are, when your criteria for good art are nowhere to be found.

Brian Droitcour Aug. 18 2011 02:35Reply

I don't even know where to start with this "artists are communicators" business. Are you aware that, by your criteria, the greatest artists are propagandists and advertisers? Maybe you'd like to refine your argument?

Re: the discussion of Cory Arcangel's work. With Beat the Champ, you said you didn't see a reason for the increase of scale besides the increase of scale. So I talked about what the increase of scale might be doing. The supercut you just called "abysmal" and left it at that so I talked about its possible implications (and in doing so I tried to demonstrate the thought processes that are required to reach that conclusion, which may not be spelled out in the work itself, but I didn't exactly pull it out of nowhere). In both cases you just dismissed what I said, which isn't helping you refute my accusation that your effort to engage the work is minimal. 

My criteria for good art are: complexity, ambiguity, emotional/intellectual impact. The last one is certainly subjective, but even for you "Pro Tools" provoked a strong enough reaction that you were moved to post here. "Pro Tools" is communicating something strongly. Just because that something is frustrating and slippery and hard to articulate doesn't mean it's a failure.

Will Brand Aug. 18 2011 15:08Reply


-Firstly, you're assuming "my criteria" for good communication involves some sort of simplicity of message: "buy a car!" or "drugs are bad!", the messages of advertising and propaganda, are mostly differentiated from art and political discussion by simplicity, no? I don't see anywhere in my argument where this might be legitimately read. Clarity of expression in no way requires simplicity of expression, and that separation underlies most of our judgments of quality in writing, theater, etc. It's not impressive for me to say, for instance, "There is a dog." If there is a dog, I've spoken truly and clearly, but there's no art in it (if you'll pardon the term) because any number of speakers might have spoken similiarly. Rather, it's impressive when I take a complex thought and express it simply - there's a tranformation there that we intuitively value in our system of judgments for every form of expression, including art. I really don't see where you got that other idea from.

-Secondly, the whole idea behind this line of arguing is classist, because it assumes I'm going to run from the bourgeoisie as I would from a roach. Advertisers are okay people, and advertising is an okay field. 

-Lastly, I don't think you get to use "propagandists and advertisers" in a pejorative tone, when a comment ago you were trying to prove me wrong with Warhol. Only one of those can work.

Beat the Champ: 
I'll treat this a little more in depth, because you made me feel bad. Your argument, as I understand it, was that the scale was important as a tool used to collapse museum, game room, and bowling alley. As I understand it, that's nonsense, for the following reasons:

-The precise scale is off: you say "The scale of the Beat the Champ installation enlarges videos games to the size of bowling lanes", but it simply doesn't. Tenpin bowling lanes are 60-60.25" wide, and Cory's screens are perhaps double that. If Cory really wanted to invoke the bowling alley, he would have made the screens 60" wide, and if he had done so those measurements alone would indeed immediately bring to mind a bowling alley (I think this could be accomplished Fred Sandbeck style, actually, since they're very precise and familiar measurements). Further, my game room as a kid was not a hundred feet square. The scale of the room at the Whitney makes it impossible for me to conceive of it as a game room.

-The lighting is off: the dim lighting only implies the game room after more strongly implying the nightclub, theater, etc.; game room is way down the list. I didn't even have a dimly-lit game room, actually, I played in the living room; I don't think I'm alone in this. If Cory was aiming for that feel, this is an exceptionally indirect way of getting there. He could have put some stacks of video games in the corner and maybe replaced the bench with a couch, and gotten a lot closer. Also, dim lighting is the exact opposite of the bowling alley, and makes it difficult for me to imagine the space as a bowling alley.
-Shoes: I don't wear street shoes in a bowling alley (where they're replaced) or in a game room (where I'm barefoot). That's pretty much universal: every bowling alley in the country makes you wear bowling shoes, and every game room I've been in has had some sort of informal shoes-off policy. If I had been told to take off my shoes, I would have felt more like I was in a bowling alley or game room, and I would become aware of the museum atmosphere which, without needing an explicit rule, encourages me to keep my shoes on. If what you're saying about Cory's intentions were true, I think there would have been something about shoes in the piece; it's simply too obvious an aspect of bowling alleys and basements for him to leave out, and would have been very effective. 

-Participation: In both bowling and video game bowling, I am in control of the ball. I am not, one notices, watching others endlessly while standing still. It is impossible for me to conceive of being in a game room or being in a bowling alley when I am not in physical or virtual control of a bowling ball. This was fixed a room away, with the golf game; if Cory had wanted to, he could easily have fixed it in Beat the Champ.

-Failure: Hey, remember this? Remember how it's obviously a central part of the work? Where does this fit into your explanation?
You say artists do things for a reason, but you ignore the implications of that: if Cory Arcangel wanted to imply the bowling alley, the room could be well-lit and the lanes could be 60" wide. If he wanted to imply the game room, he could have given everybody controllers, as in the golf game a room away. Granted, these aren't the only ways to express these situations, but I think they're some of the most effective, and it requires some convoluted reasoning to decide Cory was aiming for that expression which he made most difficult for himself. In short: my explanation of the work as bigness for bigness's sake makes it banal; your explanation of the work as collapsing the bowling alley, game room, and museum makes it terribly executed. And, further, even if he had collapsed those spaces, I still don't think that would have been interesting.

You've still not demonstrated: how Duchamp has anything to do with Seinfeld; how Duchamp has more to do with Seinfeld than predecessors in theater and literature; how Cory Arcangel expresses either of these. I understand your reading would do a good job of fitting into the general reading of the show as a whole (Art Leading the People), but I don't think it's plausible and I've said so. 

Good art:
I don't have a problem with your criteria. I think they're good ones. That said, the idea that anything that provokes a reaction is good art is one of the oldest, most meaningless, and most banal arguments in contemporary art. It has never once forwarded a dialogue, never once contributed to the production of new knowledge, and never once won an argument. I'm not even going to deal with that.

Lastly, I understand that things worth saying are not always easy to say; this is why their expression is worthwhile. I understand, too, that there are things that can only truly be said in objects, in actions, or in installations, things that can only be expressed in writing as pale simulacra; that understanding is necessary to valuing art at all. Difficult things, though, difficult slippery frustrating unwritable things, can still be expressed badly. "Pro Tools" has proven that.

Will Brand Aug. 18 2011 15:32Reply

Also, just to head this off yet again, more direct reference to the bowling alley would not necessitate a more simplistic work of art; exactly the opposite. 60" lanes are a type of specialist spatial vocabulary that, like specialist vocabulary in writing, would allow for greater depth of expression. Their use would enable - indeed, compel - Arcangel to express more, to build ideas upon a stable foundation of accepted, intuitive knowledge rather than building a structure himself of oblique references and unfamiliar components. If your reasoning is correct, Arcangel could have done much more - could have collapsed some spaces, and then some - with more direct allusions. The less time we spend crafting tools and vocabulary, the more time we can spend creating something really interesting.

Michael Manning Aug. 17 2011 18:18Reply

I wouldn't call the Photoshop gradients democratic, and certainly not 'Internet' in a good way. Their name allows you to replicate them, but they are inherently contradictory in that they are extremely large and expensive C-Prints which negates their democratic proccess (which clearly Arcangel intended, flossing his Pro Tools aka budget). Also, much like the rest of the show they come off as a really bad art history joke/reference that adds little beyond the 'oh I see what you did there' moment.

Will Brand Aug. 17 2011 19:41Reply

Yeaaaaaah. You got me. Rereading that, it's nonsense and I was trying too hard to have a "but": demonstration of two views as a signifier of balance and fairness of judgment, etc. etc.. They did look good, though.

Michael Manning Aug. 18 2011 01:17Reply

Definitely, they are beautiful.

Corinna_Kirsch Aug. 20 2011 10:22Reply

I thought they looked horrible in the gallery. Some of the rainbow colors were muddied. They look so much better online.

Brian Droitcour Aug. 18 2011 02:45Reply

I have a beef with Christiane Paul and others who write about Cory Arcangel's work like this: "Arcangel's empyreal imagery suggests art-historical references, from John Constable's 19th-century cloud studies in oil on canvas to […] Rauschenberg's Erased do Kooning Drawing (1953), in which the artist famously erased a composition by Willem de Kooning to create a new work of art." (That's from the Mark Tribe/Reena Jana New Media Art book, with a liberal elision.) That kind of writing suggests that Arcangel is simply filling old jugs with new wine, i.e. upgrading classic forms to fit contemporary culture. I think that, in most works, he's doing the exact opposite: he's reacting to the migration of ideas and forms from art into everyday life. 

The other problem with that kind of writing is that it sets viewers up to perceive the work as "really bad art history jokes/references" when it's not about that at all.

Shamus Clisset Aug. 18 2011 16:09Reply

I think that should have been title of the show: "I See What You Did There"

Corinna_Kirsch Aug. 20 2011 11:50Reply

"The Photoshop pieces are beautiful and the democracy inherent in their names is very Internet, in a good way. I don't have a problem with those, and your description is apt."

What's so beautiful about black and white diagonal stripes? Or muddied colors? I'm thinking of the large purple one with the yellow stripes. I wasn't getting any sort of sublime awe/Barnett Newman vibe, even if the wall labels wanted me to feel all sorts of feelings about AbEx. I'm not going to argue about beauty and taste. But democracy? Democracy and the supposed ability for anyone to go make his or her own Photoshop gradient print isn't a great idea for liking something. If I told you that I liked an artwork because it's democratic, it would be the same type of awkard statement as if I told you that I'm into shopping at C-Town because it's more democratic than Whole Foods. 

Beat the Champ? Sure, it's big. It's big because the exhibition space needed to be filled - and that's not a good enough reason. Cory Arcangel is not someone I would have pegged on a list of future museum exhibitions, mostly due to the scale of his works.

I didn't like Beat the Champ because the stakes of failure weren't high enough. Throwing a gutter ball during a video game or while bowling is really not a big deal to me. I'm not panged like if I were stuck endlessly rolling some boulder up a hill like Sisyphus. Hacking and glitches are supposed to be about some sort of an intervention, a disruption of some system. I don't see anything or anyone targeted with Beat the Champ. If I had to make a stretch and guess at the target, I guess it'd be the goofy-looking bowler avatars who're made to lose in the game? Targeting the avatar - that's pretty much the same thing as someone thinking it's funny to pull off Barbie's head or melt some action figures; even kids are sick of the avatars/images we're given. Anyway, I guess BtC is kind of funny, but it's only funny because of its absurdity. 

While in the exhibition, I started chatting with an undergrad art student visiting from out of town. He liked the show, but he thought that Arcangel was "just having fun; just playing around." I expect more than "just playing around" or the appearance thereof from artists who've produced good work in the past. Playing around doesn't cut it with a museum show. That's one reason why I think Paddy's validated with her one star review over in TONY.

Michael Manning Aug. 18 2011 12:42Reply

I have not read that particular piece, so it did inform or set-up my perception of the work. 

migration of ideas and forms from art into everyday life
I might buy this in regards to the Jay-Z wall, you could argue Yves Klein set a precdent for branding a color, but I don't think this fits with the majority of the show. The Oakley M-Frames aren't much more than an elevation of a period of design/culture he fetishises to an 'art' context in a crude fashion packaged neatly with a conceptually backing about ergonomic design and technology+the human body (aka cyborgs in a non-sci fi way which I think is an actually interesting topic).

The phasing towers were much more interesting to me as a two piece that provoked this interesting dance, but at Pro Tools they are organized in a way that you couldn't overlook their resembling a Sol Lewitt scultpure.

The Photoshop gradients have a similar issue, they are beautiful, but come on, there are two that are such obvious Rothko references its like I'm being pounding over the head. The radial one is my favorite because it doesn't shout at me to see its lineage in the tradition of abstraction.

To me it seems this migration implies that contemporary design, software, culture etc. is being influecened by or drawing on 'art'. This reminds me of the arguement in The Devil Wears Prada in which the assistant is lectured on how her Cerulian blue sweater from J.Crew (or some other 'low' brand) was actually the product of a trickle down effect from the great hands of high fashion which used the same color seasons earlier. Like I said I'll buy that 'art' influences contemporary culture and that it would be interesting to react to that, but I don't see that happening here. I don't believe the original industrial designer of those phasing show platforms was channeling Sol Lewitt, or that the programmers who developed Photoshop were studying Rothko (this might have a better chance, but somehow I feel like they were probably more influenced by the massive number of gradients used outside the art world).

Simply put I think these nods/references/jokes to 'art' throughout are a way to appease people like Christine Paul, in order for them not to have to deal with something that is more radical and out of their frame of reference.

Michael Manning Aug. 18 2011 16:39Reply

*did not inform…

Corinna_Kirsch Aug. 18 2011 16:50Reply

What is going on here? There's so much crazy talk. I'm replying to all of this tomorrow.

Brian Droitcour Aug. 18 2011 21:11Reply

I didn't mean to say that "New Media Art" informed your thinking (but you should check it out, it's a good resource). I wanted to give one example of a common way of writing about Cory Arcangel that I think is partly responsible for the perception of his work as a bunch of art jokes (of course, Arcangel is also responsible for this,  what with Cats playing Schoenberg, etc., but it's the critics who make it seem like it's the end point and not a starting point). Andrea Scott's profile in the New Yorker was full of those kinds of comparisons to art-historical "precedents." I'm pretty sure the wall texts at the Whitney use them too but I didn't pay a lot of attention to them so I could be wrong.

"I don't believe the original industrial designer of those phasing show platforms was channeling Sol Lewitt, or that the programmers who developed Photoshop were studying Rothko":  I don't think these works approach the history of visual cultue in such a linear or literal or academic. Maybe I should have said that Arcangel is interested in questions like "what's funny?" "what's appealing?" "what's beautiful?" "what's impressive?" and finds coincidences the answers to those questions in different subcultures or fields.

Yes, Rothko is an obvious association for the Photoshop gradient pieces and I'm sure it occurs a lot of people. But if your opinion of the work is based entirely on a first impression, then it's not a valuable opinion. You saw what he did there, but do you see why he did it?

Brian Droitcour Aug. 18 2011 21:29Reply

[This is a response to Will Brand's comment. The embedding was getting too skinny.]

I'm not interested in a protracted debate about the merits of "Pro Tools."  I liked it. You didn't. It is a question of taste.* I remember your review of Cao Fei at Lombard-Fried, another show that impressed you less than it impressed me. I responded to your comment here because I wanted you to back up your bile with some substance. Now you've done that, and I'm satisfied. (I'm being a patronizing dick, I know, but that's what you get for leaving poorly argued, harassing comments.)

The things you say in the rest of your comment are hard to disagree with. You're not really arguing with me–you're fighting straw men that you stuffed yourself. I did not mean to attack advertising's validity as a profession or to wage class warfare against the bourgeosie; I just thought your words about communication and clarity were wildly broad and I wanted to give you a chance to elaborate. Which you did, so thanks. Re: my criteria for art, I would not say that provocativeness in itself is a good criterion. I meant that all three criteria should be weighed together. It's not enough for a work to be complex if it's soulless and dry, etc. Sorry I wasn't sufficiently clear on that.

*Before you try to do to me what you did to Jacob when you told him that he decided the show was good before he laid eyes on it–and how do you presume to know that?? (don't answer! rhetorical question!)–I will frankly say that I never used to be a big fan of Cory Arcangel and I went to "Pro Tools" without high expectations.  But I thought the exhibition was revelatory and exciting. I left feeling like I understood his work in a way that I hadn't before. Maybe someday I will find a way to express that understanding.

Will Brand Aug. 18 2011 23:35Reply

I didn't tell Jacob anything, other than what it seemed like to me. I never said anything was true other than my impression. In any case, if you're so uninterested in talking about art (the eyes deceive), he's free to respond himself. 

Actually, as for that - as for not being "interested in a protracted debate about the merits of 'Pro Tools.'" - uh, why not? Aren't you an art writer? Aren't you an art writer who writes mostly about New Media art, who works for a New Media organization? Isn't this, as Jacob said, "a huge moment for the world of art and technology"? I'm not going to tell you you have to be interested, just that, you know, if you were ever going to be interested in debating, this seems like the time. Elephant in the room and so on. All that de gustibus non disputandum est stuff is for politicians and in-laws; folks like you and me who get paid for having and expressing opinions operate on sorta different rules, and if we really believed in "matters of taste", we'd be in a different business. Anyway, if you can't defend the show, I agree that there's no point in making you try.

As for the strawman thing, there was a guide a few years ago to arguing with Tom Moody that described the strawman accusation as cheap to produce and costly to disassemble; I think that's spot-on. If you're not going to provide any evidence I created a strawman, I'm not going to provide any evidence that I did not (other than the mass of text above wherein there are no strawmen). 

Oh, and you're still so incredibly wrong about the size of bowling lanes that I doubt you've ever bowled.

Brian Droitcour Aug. 19 2011 19:22Reply

I was imprecise. What I meant was: I am not interested in debating the merits of "Pro Tools" with you. You don't regard my fundamental observations as valid; I think that the electronic simulations of bowling noises echoing in a large windowless chamber contribute to a vague approximation of the experience of being in a bowling alley. You respond with facts about lane widths. You talk about taking off your shoes. To me, that's absurdly literalist–I'm guessing you hate theater–and by turning interpretation into a matter of measuring physical space you're not saying anything about the work, you're just taking the argument to a place where I can be proven quantitatively wrong, sheerly for the sake of pwnage. I wouldn't mind engaging in a debate if there were a chance of productive dialogue, but our approaches are so radically different that it can only lead to a shouting match, and that's not valuable for the readers of this blog (beyond the entertainment value of a freak show/car wreck).   

Furthermore, Jacob has authoritatively defended his take on the exhibition's importance, and I feel like it would be superfluous for me to expound at length on my own opinions of "Pro Tools" here. As I have written in every response to you from the beginning, the reason I posted to this thread was not to discuss "Pro Tools" but to criticize what I saw as an unreasoned, unnecessarily mean-spirited dismissal of Arcangel's work. I talked about the work as much as I thought I needed to in order to make my main point.  But you don't think there is anything wrong with your initial comment, so you've latched onto talking about the work as the real issue. Again, we are so far from having any common ground that I don't see the point in my continuing this discussion. With you.

Jacob Gaboury Aug. 19 2011 00:11Reply

If it helps any, I actually came into the show with a ton of reservations and after having an extended conversation with our editor about how I would probably totally pan the show and I hoped that was OK. I would not consider myself one of the people who sees Cory as an outstanding representation of new media art, particularly in 2011.

Part of the reason I reviewed the show as I did is that I was not particularly interested in the pieces as artworks - and how they might fit into a longer art historical tradition - but more what they might be saying about art, technology, and culture. Whether or not the pieces are good is entirely beside the point for me. And, not to contradict Brian, but what the artist's intentions were when creating that piece, or whether or not he did it for the reasons I gave in my review, is also not personally of interest. And while I said in the first paragraph of my review that even though the show was "about" failure the show itself was not a failure, that does not mean that many of the pieces were not critical or intellectual failures, particularly in their failure to provoke any consideration from the viewer beyond "I see what you did there."

But when I went to the show having to actually consider the pieces beyond their immediate punchline and forced myself away from the kind of knee-jerk eat-our-own criticism that is so easy with so much of this kind of work - and so prevalent in this community - I found something that I thought was worth writing about, and that (hopefully) wasn't the same kind of critique that everyone has given Cory for years. For me the review wasn't about if the show was good or bad, it was about what it meant both for the new media art community and within the broader context of art, technology, and culture.

Will Brand Aug. 19 2011 00:56Reply

"For me the review wasn't about if the show was good or bad, it was about what it meant both for the new media art community and within the broader context of art, technology, and culture."

And this is where we disagree. I just… I mean, sites like Rhizome are where a lot of people get their first (or only) real interaction with new media art. For a lot of people who don't have an Eyebeam fellowship or aren't doctoral candidates in internetting or, you know, are just regular people basically, this is the extent of their exposure to this community. When Rhizome publishes a descriptive or lyrical or otherwise uncritical piece as its review, the impression is sent out that the new media art world largely likes this show. And that's simply not true. The overwhelming majority of people I've talked to think this show was terrible, and while that obviously doesn't mean you need to agree, I really do think it's a sentiment that needs respecting, one way or another.  
It's probably clear by now that I think criticism needs to exert more force. That's a little bit self-interested: I'm better at expressing myself in arguments than I am when I'm just telling a story, so provoking a situation where I get to argue allows me to work things out. That said, I really think it's untenable to continue this doctrine of de gustibus aut bene, aut nihil where good shows get reviews that are free PR and mediocre shows get reviews that are free history lessons. We, as a class of writers, deserve more. Age aside, I've spent as much time in school as any artist. I've spent as much time honing my craft, spent as much time reading, spent as much time discussing and looking and making and put just as much of myself on the line as any artist. The idea that in so doing I've somehow accepted my own marginalization and voicelessness in the field I've worked so hard to be a part of - fuck that. I respect your ability to write, your ability to perceive, and your knowledge of art and art theory. None of those are in doubt. I just think that sending this sort of piece out under the banner of a review or giving it the name "criticism" sets us all back in a way I can't conscience.

I don't really have a problem with you; I have a problem with this as a piece of criticism, when it's clearly (you agree) uncritical. I just don't think that's right. In any case, what I'm looking for here is not blood, but allies.

Jacob Gaboury Aug. 19 2011 01:38Reply

I totally agree with what you say about the role of critique, and I honestly don't see any personal criticism in your comments, so no worries there. In fact it is probably true that this piece was never really a "review" of the show. I will say that it was most definitely a critique, and for me personally I find critique much more useful than review, which tends toward a short series of deeply personal opinions about the work of others. The critique could definitely have been more negative, or touched on pieces in the show that I did not like or that did not seem fit for inclusion, of which there were several. But what seemed more interesting for me was the way the show reflected on the very question of success and failure in technologically mediated art, particularly in a context as institutionalized and monied as the Whitney, and even more particularly through an artist that is so devisive and so often described in terms of his failure to achieve the status of "real" art.

Honestly I just found it more interesting to talk about what the show might mean instead of whether or not it was good. People are going to see the show regardless, and I'd rather they read a piece that puts the show in a context they hadn't thought of then go in with the idea that the show is good or bad because they read it on a website. Is it the responsibility of a site like Rhizome to publish reviews that take a clear stance on the quality or validity of shows such as this? Maybe. But honestly I find that kind of work dull, particularly when it devolves into snark and shade that does more to boost the ego of the reviewer than it does to inform its readers. In fact I would argue that it is precisely those kinds of reviews that are uncritical, or at least, critically shallow.

Michael Manning Aug. 18 2011 21:57Reply

You saw what he did there, but do you see why he did it?
I posited my reason why…
Simply put I think these nods/references/jokes to 'art' throughout are a way to appease people like Christine Paul, in order for them not to have to deal with something that is more radical and out of their frame of reference.
I'm not sure I'm clear on your idea of why he did it.

Brian Droitcour Aug. 19 2011 19:08Reply

I don't have a clear answer to why, but if I were to develop one it would build on what I wrote in the response above. Though I wish it were otherwise, I'm a slow thinker and a slow writer, and I haven't put time toward shaping my reactions to the show into a coherent statement. If I think of something I'll let you know.

Call me Pollyanna, but I'm reluctant to conclude that career advancement is the main thing an artist is thinking about when he chooses to make the work he makes. For one thing, itcan be said about virtually any artist, which makes it meaningless. Secondly, it's insulting to the artist. And while I suppose it might be true in a few cases, based on my experience talking to artists I'd estimate that in the overwhelming majority of cases it is not.

Michael Manning Aug. 19 2011 19:28Reply

Your right, it definitely is not the main thing, but I certainly think it is a factor.
I'm sticking to bad art jokes.

artfagcity Aug. 18 2011 22:42Reply

I think it's unlikely those labels exist to appease curators. At least two new media museum curators I know based in New York thought the show was really bad and they weren't into the labels. To me, they read like gallery sales text and seeing as how those explinations didn't start appearing until after Arcangel joined Team Gallery in 2005, my bet is that that's what they are.

Michael Manning Aug. 18 2011 23:19Reply

Good to know ( I think someone had mentioned that to me previously as well). I didn't mean to be specific to curators.

Corinna_Kirsch Aug. 20 2011 10:36Reply

“Instead it's the way in which Arcangel's work frustrates the expectation that art, particularly art that engages with technology, somehow demonstrate a kindof expertise that justifies its elevation to the status of art.”

From what I can make out, the main reason why the author likes the Arcangel show is because it shows the failures of art and technology, rather than a happy marriage that’s to be expected.  What continually aggravates me is how people have a short-term memory with art and new media; failure and technology isn’t a new concept whatsoever. There’s no uncharted territory in this exhibition and more than failure, the show’s about randomness to produce an artwork. 

Failure and Art Is a Marriage! Video and Failure!
This isn’t true from an art historical perspective. If people continue to have short-term memories when it comes to new media, then we’re doomed. Look. Video art from the 1970s utilized the new technology of videos and synthesizers and
usually to frustrate the expectations of the medium. It wasn’t always pretty and it was quite often about failure. The expertise level of many of the artists was nil and consisted of a bit of in-studio training about video while some did go to the extreme other hand and make synthesizers – Nam June Paik alongside Shuya Abe.

In video art, Joan Jonas’ well-known video Vertical Roll demonstrates a failure of technology and the body. Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation Wonder Woman also demonstrates these contrasts. The discussion of the failures of art and technology – and not just its utopian capabilities – isn’t just relegated to art. Bruno LaTour talks about the flawed expectations of design with human usability in almost everything he writes. (Also, please read LaTour; he's funny, mean, and personable. This essay begins: Early this morning I was in a bad mood and I decided to break a law.)

Failure is a lame joke. It’s one of the things that makes this exhibition seem dated. The glossy c-prints aren’t gorgeous up-close. The colors are grossly muddied. There’s no sublime awe that I would have experienced with a similarly scaled Barnett Newmann – regardless of what the wall labels constantly told me to think about the works in terms of AbEx.

Randomness isn’t a solution! 
The works in this exhibition embrace randomness as if randomness were a valid system for producing work. Randomness isn’t a system that would fly in a studio crit, so it shouldn’t in the gallery. I can imagine being in a studio crit while one of the reviewers cocks her head back slightly while muttering, “ It’s like playing Exquisite Corpse…” 

Another 5-minute Romp through the IP makes me sad. Dan Sandin used his IP (Image Processor) to create a 5-minute “romp” which was just 5 minutes of playing around with the processor to demonstrate all its technological
wizardry. Guess what? Almost 40 years later and we can’t think of anything better to do than let Arcangel “randomly” hit buttons and knobs on the IP to create another 5 minute video. Are we really so dumb?

RriannaDesttiny Dec. 9 2011 22:01Reply

it is so beautiful, I think. Could you give more? Thanks.

itwasthehaythatsavedus Dec. 11 2011 09:31Reply

I think of my work mostly as being the actual ongoing practice, by which certain subjects and questions are explored through different research/projects and sometimes outputted as individual artworks, texts, performances, etc. I like to use video production as an analogy; the research is the filming and gathering of source material, which gets imported into the "project bin" in the editing program. This is the information bank, where all the content media is added and saved. The "timeline" is where the work is taking place and where the content can be experimented with, juxtaposed in layers, manipulated, edited. Sections of the "sequence" are eventually rendered out in different sizes, resolutions, and file formats, depending on the aim, situation, or context. The point is that the work is continuous, and one project can potentially generate many different little "pieces" of a larger pie. This way, even if the projects are super slow and long term, the manifestations can develop continuously (more as a conversation, versus as a single exhaustive proclamation). In recent years, I've also been experimenting with letting aspects of the research and my work methods be made visible within these manifestations. 


Tom Moody Oct. 6 2012 10:07Reply

Belated smear response: Will Brand claims "there was a guide a few years ago to arguing with Tom Moody that described the strawman accusation as cheap to produce and costly to disassemble." If Brand can produce this "guide" and provide some context I'll be happy to respond to the accusation. Secondhand reference to a disappointed person's attempt at satire seems about par for Brand, as a writing technique.