I don’t always understand what I’m looking at when I enter a gallery. Contemporary art often doesn’t look pretty, and the art world certainly enjoys a little mystery. It’s You. Not Me., currently on view at Andrew Kreps Gallery, presents carefully arranged objects of six well known artists — only a few of which rely on craftsmanship. A giant canvas in the center of the exhibition, with the silk-screened words “Die Collector Scum,” doesn’t scream nuance on first read. And as the title aptly suggests, It’s You. Not Me places the burden on the viewer to decode the work.
The payback for doing so yields mixed results in this case, but there’s more than a few good ideas worth contemplating. As a whole, the show presents finger-pointing social critique and art questioning the authority of the image and image-maker. Typically working through the lens of photographic and digital reproduction, these artists suggest meaning may not be as it seems.
In the case of SCUM: Screen print after Merlin Carpenter, The Opening: The Black Paintings #7, 2007, 2008, (aka “Die Collector Scum”), Reena Spaulings, a fictional artist and dealer conceived by the artist collective The Bernadette Corporation, reproduces a performance artifact from her gallery’s conceptual painter Merlin Carpenter. Spaulings at this point seems more real than fake (the gallery makes sales and attends art fairs), but is an angry unsellable art object bettered by its dealer’s remake? Yes — her reproduction of a unique image increases the value of both through the extremity of the act — though I’m unsure if it’s enough to make the piece. Die Collector Scum, as text alone, may ultimately prove too powerful a cliché to maintain the insider history.
Directly opposite Spaulings’ loud silkscreen, Hans-Peter Feldmann’s discreet camouflage camera faces an adjacent wall filled with Lutz Bacher’s photographs, all made from found prints and negatives. In contrast to Die Collector Scum, Feldmann’s camera, covered in hand-painted flowers, comments less on the value of reproduction than the invisibility of its mechanical production. There’s an enjoyable eccentricity to the idea that by mimicking a snapshot so commonly made, the camera might actually get lost in its “natural” environment.
Goshka Macuga’s photo on wooden stump sculpture Log Collage of a Girl Drawing takes an alternative approach, in the sense that reproduction itself depicts rendering. Some satisfaction can be derived from the juxtaposition of a flat, free-standing photograph and the three-dimensional log, but its inclusion has a “gallery artist conveniently matching show themes” feel to it. It’s not her strongest work.
Of course, neither is that by famed feminist artist VALIE EXPORT, but when one of your best known pieces includes walking into a porn cinema wearing crotchless pants and brandishing machine guns, the standards are set pretty high. In Erwartung (Expectation), the artist brings together a black-and-white image in which she cradles a vacuum cleaner with a full-color tondo of a Renaissance painting depicting Virgin Mary and other studious biblical figures. Described as a “Re-enactment,” EXPORT interprets the contemporary role of Mary as a nurturing housewife.
Surprisingly, above any other artist in a show about reproduction and disguise, EXPORT employs metaphor. It’s unlikely this says too much more about the contemporary art makers in the group — as far as I can tell simile isn’t something in danger of disappearing any time soon — but perhaps the ideas in this show are just as easily executed without them. After all, why allude to Die Collector Scum when its verbatim reproduction has just as much value if not more?