Humor has been a prominent but under-analyzed aspect of art in the past century; the comedy impulse is strongest in the history of media appropriation and conceptual art, beginning with Duchamp's poker-faced readymades and continuing through the work of Bruce Conner, Andy Warhol, Dara Birnbaum, Ant Farm, Jeff Koons and many others. Even the very way we talk about art overlaps with laff-lingo: we call certain pieces "one-liners," value work for being "wry" or "witty," and discuss whether or not a viewer "gets it." And of course, one of the first things someone will ask who doesn't "get it" is: "Is this supposed to be a joke?"
Cory Arcangel's work has almost always played on the logic of the joke in its construction: witness his most recent exhibit, "Adult Contemporary" at Team Gallery, which includes work like Self Playing Sony Playstation 1 Bowling (2008), an old bowling game hacked to only throw gutter-balls, and Permanent Vacation (2008 version), two silver iMacs set to email each other and exchange "out of office" messages until they fill up and crash. But the line between comedy and art more or less dissolved in Arcangel's related event at the New Museum's New Silent Series, Continuous Partial Awareness. In this stand-up-style routine, Arcangel performed an hour-long monologue by reading off a huge list of his unused ideas for new artworks, ranging from "give a boring artist's talk entirely through a vocoder" to "have intern watch Lawnmower Man 10,000 times and then make a website about all the plot inconsistencies."
At the very real risk of ruining humor by critiquing it, Cory and I meet recently to discuss the relationship between comedy and art in both his work and that of others. - Ed Halter
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