Will Brand
will.brand@gmail.com
Works in Fayetteville, North Carolina United States of America

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DISCUSSION

Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney


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.

DISCUSSION

Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney


"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.