Cory Arcangel works at an appealing nexus of nostalgia, DIY tinkering and new media tricksterism. The Brooklyn-based artist, who turned 33 the day before his new exhibition, Pro Tools, opened at the Whitney Museum (through September 11), hacks video games, manipulates arcane and absurd media and probes our often-schizophrenic relationships with obsolete technologies. Curator Christiane Paul writes in an accompanying essay (PDF) that the mostly recent work on view here "explores the concept of product demonstrations, a method of sales promotion common at trade shows and some retail stores that 'demo' how to use a new product," a reading that fails to describe some of the show's most interesting pieces.
It certainly applies to Pro Tools's centerpiece, "Various Self-Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ)" (2011), an installation that doesn't greet visitors exiting the elevator so much as bowl them over. In its original presentation at London's Barbican Art Gallery in February it featured fourteen bowling games hacked to perpetually roll gutter balls; here, only six systems are tweaked to lose, but the gesture and sensory overload remain powerful. In the corner, ten sets of swaying metal shelves, familiar from Midtown souvenir shop windows, have been modified to wiggle in perfect unison. Part minimalist sculpture, part ridiculous readymade, it's a fitting accompaniment to the cacophony of bowling game soundtracks.
The rest of the exhibition is very uneven. Machine-made drawings lining the next room's walls effectively mechanize Surrealism's automatic drawing. Left to make marks randomly, what would a computer program draw? Mostly squiggly lines; although in a moment of genius Arcangel's program chooses not to draw anything and the resulting blank sheet of paper is among the exhibition's most weirdly compelling images. An adjacent wall painted a curious shade of blue, "Jay-Z Blue" (2011), is named after the color that the rapper and General Motors created in 2007 for a customized line of SUVs.
This and other changes to the building—"777" (2011) reverses the Whitney's irritating policy of banning photography for the exhibition's duration—make for subtle, sometimes even invisible yet very compelling pieces. Two large sculptures—the Richard Serra-sized wall made of TVs still in their boxes, "Volume Management" (2011) and a shelf displaying bronze casts of once-cool Oakley sunglasses, "Sports Products" (2011)—similarly subvert the preciousness of museum space. Two nearby supercut videos and a series of pop music CD art prints may be more visually appealing, but lack the sculptures' conceptual rigor. A series of Arcangel's signature, superb seven-feet-tall Photoshop gradient prints (whose titles are the color coordinates with which to reproduce them) concludes the show on a high note. As a survey of Arcangel's latest projects, Pro Tools includes some promising pieces and others that already seem as obsolete as the technologies they deploy.
(Images courtesy the artist, Team Gallery)