One of the surefire markers of art’s passage into postmodernism has been its ongoing fusion with the language, imagery and mode of address of more mainstream media. From Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portraits through Barbara Kruger’s feminist posters and Ryan Watkins-Hughes’ bodega exhibition Yes, We Canned
(closes May 3), so much contemporary art is aware of, informed by and participating in the other visual media whose noise it competes against. In three current exhibitions in Chelsea, Wolfgang Staehle, Adel Abdessemed and Massato Seto offer different levels of engagement with the landscapes, layouts and subjects of information media.
The loudest – figuratively if not always literally – is Abel Abdessemed
at David Zwirner. In the sculptures, videos, photographs and installations included here, the Algerian artist plays with the comfort levels we usually keep cushioned in mediation. He pokes fun at our obsessions with TV violence one minute – with a life-size terracotta model of a bombed car – before challenging our tolerance for another form of violence that’s simultaneously more and less brutal: a wall-sized video projection shows a virtual orgy of animal violence with snakes, scorpions, lizards, rats, tarantulas, chickens, and stray dogs moving around, over and into each other. The analogy to our species’ unsettling propensity towards violence is incredibly affecting. In places the show loses its edge – a monumental photograph and rock installation that evokes the myth of Atlas and the canyon-plunging of Wile E. Coyote seems a facile pun – but Abdessemed’s videos and sculptural installations help explain his reputation as one of the most provocative and clever contemporary art stars.
A block away, Wolfgang Staehle
’s exhibition of live feed projections at Postmasters addresses the visual and temporal rhetoric of TV news and the Internet. His work presents an interesting phenomenological problem by combining digital art, photography, video, installation, performance and, arguably, land art. In four recordings of previous feeds and one current installation streaming footage and sounds from a village in the Amazon, Staehle taps into the imagery of webcams, TV news cityscapes, vernacular architecture and the perpetual updates of online information. Each projection offers a beautifully framed vista that recalls classical photography and 19th century landscape painting. Not surprisingly, though, Staehle’s relatively understated work is radically altered by the inclusion of footage of a live feed installation for which he trained a camera on Lower Manhattan for September and October of 2001. In the looped 24-hour excerpt of September 10, 2001 shown here, his work takes on an entirely different, weightier meaning. Any simple distinctions between live TV, video art, photography and politics become incredibly murky in Staehle’s terrific work.
At Yancey Richardson, Tokyo-based photographer Masato Seto
’s exhibition Binran
chronicles a particularly unusual Taiwanese architectural quirk. Unlike in the rest of Asia, “betel nut beauties” – the women who sell the popular stimulant of the same name – in Taiwan sell their goods from brightly lit glass cubicles on the street, structures somewhere between street food carts and department store window displays. These display cases capitalize on the old “sex sells” truism, turning the betel nut beauties into the stars of their own show, purveyors of a visual experience on a glass stage in which they are the objects offered for consumption. Seto’s photographs maximize the pop aesthetic of these spaces – all colorful neons and abstract reflections – without objectifying the women inside, nearly all of whom seem sad and lonely. Impressively, most of Seto’s subjects don’t betray any self-conscious angst, as if knowingly performing a routine of display for potential customers. In this series, Seto points out to what extent the visual and rhetorical strategies of advertising can be integrated into the rituals of daily life.
until May 16
Adel Abdessemed: RIO
at David Zwirner
until May 9
Masato Seto: Binran
at Yancey Richardson
until May 9