It’s hard to argue with the visual appeal of fireworks, countless taxidermied wolves mindlessly flying into a suspended circular piece of Plexiglas or tigers and boats impaled with thousands of arrows, but I’m going to try. Not much time remains to see Cai Guo-Qiang’s retrospective at the Guggenheim, an awe-inspiring symphony-of-fire-meets-Times-Square-style exhibition made from the oldest contemporary art-making formulas in the book. The general aesthetic philosophy behind much of his work falls under the “multiples look good, particularly in larger scale” means of problem solving. In addition to the pieces mentioned above, a series of cars dangling from the ceiling with multicolored rope-lights exploding through the windows also meets such criteria. Making obvious and spectacular reference to terrorism, the installation encourages the viewer to reflect on the activity in the same way we might contemplate a billboard news crawler: fleetingly at best. The gunpowder drawings seem to have more behind them, even if the earth vibrations to body rhythms are a little too contrived. Even larger works like Fetus Movement II, an earth-like shape drawing with notations detailing the artist’s heart rate, brainwaves and the earth’s vibrations at the time of the explosion, can be too-easily reduced to an aesthetic reliant on the inevitable beauty found within destructive forces. With the exception of a breathtaking shipwreck sunk in broken dishes on the top floor, the exhibition never escapes the predictability of its own formulaic processes.
Daniel Guzmán and Steven Shearer at The New Museum
Nothing brings to mind the term “boy art” quicker than the words “extended adolescence,” “rock culture,” “death” and “self-portraiture,” all of which appear in the New Museum’s press release for Double Album, a two-person exhibition featuring the work of Daniel Guzmán and Steven Shearer. Indeed, viewers can expect to see a lot of this, some of it more grating than the rest. Shearer describes himself as a curator of collections, and much of his art looks like any archive you’ve ever found on the internet in physical form, and that’s not a good thing. His “ghost” paintings, based on low-resolution jpegs, at times resemble bad Edvard Munch: a giant collage of people sleeping seems a randomly chosen subject with predictable results, and a wall-sized list of metal bands, songs, recordings and live performances drawn from the internet in 2004 seems more specifically chosen even if the work feels overly zeitgeist and easy. All of this begs the question: is there no fine art use for the internet other than data collection, and aren’t there more interesting ways to engage that material? Longhairs, a series of drawings in crayon, and a frightening giant black tubular sculpture titled Geometric Mechonotherapy Cell for Harmonic Alignment of Movement and Relations are significantly more successful in that they emote something vaguely akin to empathy and fear, respectively.
Daniel Guzmán’s drawings, sculpture and videos cast a similarly wide cultural net, though the results are more idiosyncratic and specific to his art practice. Among the best works on display are a series of four black-and-white cartoon-like drawings evoking the work of Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco, and a small pile of CDs representing the artist’s entire music collection during that year. “Only the Fake Survive,” reads the Sid Vicious quote on a sign above the music pile. In the opposite corner, Guzmán’s red plastic skull on top of a metal canister, titled It Continues Being Rock and Roll for Me, ironically promises the longevity of such music.