Inside the Internet Art Bubble

08/17/2011 4:00 AM |

Interestingly, unlike with Arcangel, who leans toward a much more populist kind of art making, many find Trecartin’s videos nearly impossible to watch for any great length of time. The actors all talk in squeaky, child-like voices, suffer from rotting teeth, and only occasionally make sense. The plot—when it exists—is very hard to follow.

In a way, it’s a miracle this work took off at all given these attributes, but “A Family Finds Entertainment” and “I-Be Area” were more narrative than his later films, and that likely helped ease an audience into some of the more difficult work. Also, Trecartin’s herd of collaborators helped spread the word. If Warhol’s Factory could be reborn, one has the impression that Trecartin’s collaborative groups (located in cities across the country from New Orleans to Miami) would be the form it took today.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Trecartin has produced a remarkably consistent body of work over the last seven years. His aesthetic—or “branding,” as the art world is so reluctant to describe it—is so distinct that no viewer can forget the work. Arguably, the earlier work can be more off-the-cuff than the new videos—often the actors were untrained, and everyone was encouraged to ad-lib—but the artist’s dexterity with words remains unchanged. “Why aren’t you documenting me?,” “I party alone!” and personal favorites like, “I hate this piece of wood!” are just a few choice quotes to come out of the early films.

The storylines themselves are bleak: in “A Family Finds Entertainment,” a boy named Skippy gets kicked out of his parent’s house after revealing his sexual preference, attempts suicide, is run over by a car, and is then saved by a group of flamboyant kids. “I-Be Area” offers a little more optimism with its malfunctioning characters stuck inside a blog space/internet-community/bedroom—eventually they find ways to be creative, so it seems worth the wait.

By the time Trecartin gets to Any Ever, though, it’s hard to endure more than thirty minutes at a time (despite an array of comfy seating options for each film ranging from office chairs to beds). “This place is full of rich identity tourists,” complains one worker in “K-CoreaINC.K (section a),” a video featuring characters whose jobs seem to be defined by spewing out mutant corporate speak infused with internet jargon. In another video, “Sibling Topics (section a),” Trecartin plays four siblings, one of whom complains, “I’m sick of my outfits coming from default closet.” Here, as in many other places, the individual scenes feel more like discrete channels in a larger network.

Perhaps a more Web 2.0 way of looking at the seven-film exhibition is to say that its structure resembles the results of a Google search. There’s some linear coherence to the narratives, in the same way one might find structure in a query. It’s dominated, however, by style: over-repetition and buzz words (spoken and written) permeate the movies. Add to this broken bed frames, flammable liquids, scissors, cell phones, shattered glass, mirrors and fucked-up makeup and you’ve got merely the backbone of Trecartin’s baroque visual vocabulary. Any Ever thus becomes an ornate version of this search query.

In that sense Trecartin’s show may at least reflect the hype that surrounds it: frantic and warped. It does not, however, live up to it. That’s not because the movies aren’t very good, or don’t engage the net, but rather that somewhere along the line, Trecartin’s message got lost. It’s as if he’s contacting his audience to tell them their phonelines are broken and can’t be fixed, and we’ve responded by celebrating the progress communication has brought.

(Images courtesy Cory Arcangel and Team Gallery; Ryan Trecartin and Elizabeth Dee Gallery)

10 Comment

  • Your final point about the work doesn’t make for bad art. It’s not about the content of the responses. I admire both of these artist’s work, and don’t think it’s as internet-centric in the end as how you make it out to be. This is why it’s good.

  • I’m not saying it’s bad – though of course Trecartin is overhyped. It’s really just sad that a message as bleak as Trecartin’s is celebrated as though he’s just told us some great news.

  • The headline could also be “Good Art Recognized as Good.” How are these story of discovery, recognition, and good timing any different from that of a hot painter like Dana Schutz or Laura Owens? Is their technique “gimmicky” because it brings something new to the discourse about painting?

    Also I want to voice dissent with your conclusion that Trecartin’s work is bleak. Yes, there are plenty of dark and frightening moments, but there are joyous moments too, and the artist wouldn’t use YouTube and Twitter if he despised them (in fact, he’s expressed a positive attitude toward them in interviews and public appearances many times). People are still arguing over whether Warhol critiqued or celebrated consumer culture; Trecartin’s work, like any important art, is ambiguous, and that’s what makes it a rich experience that people enjoy.

    Finally, before you ever again describe an artist’s work as “overhyped” (especially when you have been a major contributor to that hype) read what Nico Muhly says about hype:

  • Apropos of nothing, or perhaps of extreme relevance, I think people should check this guy out. He’s a contemporary of both these dudes ( interesting work on both counts ) but hardly “known”…to the extent that I’m not sure if “known” is his goal. The things he does with technology are challenging, fucked up, and often beautiful:

    I think some of the mess in the art world has been the result of laziness from all sides, maybe it’s time for curators and critics to go beyond trawling the web, or waiting for large envelopes from the next graduating class. Never trust anyone under 30?

  • How can you make the claim that Arcangel’s work is in any way affected by his “recurring struggles with thyroid cancer”? What grounds do you have for that? It’s a cheap statement that does nothing for your argument but make evident that you’re inclined to go for an easy, sensational statement over a more nuanced analysis of the work.

  • I agree with your tracing of their respective paths to museum-art careers.

    With the title, I guess you actually mean “inside the internet-art-that-has-been-suddenly-reclaimed-by-museums” bubble. (I’m taking into consideration that there was probably a period in 1998 and 2000 when museums tried to incorporate/commission internet art) If it is about the growing trends of featuring current internet work in galleries, I’m wondering why it’s not constant dullaart (for being a big internet formalist) or JODI instead. Maybe their work is not as easily adapted to spatial presentation and would be confined to the browser and computing device.

    I also can’t help but compare the two in terms of various kinds of Caucasian male art-master persona. Cory Archangel does high concept nerdy/nostalgic things with technology (processual with lots of verbal puns like Nauman). Meanwhile Ryan Trecartin rides the high camp, intensified low-tech video aesthetic (closer to Warhol). Both make work that is sort of irreverent, but relatable in a specific cultural context. I know I’m overgeneralizing when I say all this, but while CA and RT’s work’s entry into the canons might change the game in terms of content, the “brand” of artist that these museums are choosing don’t differ too much from the types of postmodern masters featured in my “Art since 1945” textbook.

    While Trecartin’s work became popular on the internet at the beginning of his career, I feel that “the internet” is a theme that dominates readings of Trecartin’s work when there are so many other ways to analyze it. But I’m sure his appeal isn’t limited to the fact it is distributed on a social medium…

  • Well done for writing a sniffy article that just seems to resent good art getting recognition (good alternate title, Brian). You gesture towards possibly making some kind of critique, making little digs (mainly based on amount of “hype” they’ve generated though what they have actually generated seems closer to interesting dialogue, to me) but then trip up when it seems like you haven’t really got a point at all?

  • I’ll never understand why some commenters feel so compelled to belittle others as they make their points. It’s not like the comment would be any less valid were the comments phrased just a little more conversationally.

    I don’t know that anyone here would actually title the article “good art recognized as good”, when I’ve made it quite clear that I think Cory’s show was not good and the hype is the result of a larger public interest in the internet and social media. Ryan’s work isn’t bad, but it’s receiving more attention because the internet is a public interest museums wish to capitalize on. This is stated pretty clearly in the piece (and I don’t think it’s any different than Schutz other than a medium that is particularly topical) but I realize that there are a fair number of people who find this whole line of thinking an utter waste of time.

    Nico Muhly makes some good points in this regard and so do the commenters. Of course, they too are part of an ecosystem whereby commenters similarly patronize writers for playing into the system. We’re all guilty of that from time to time I think (playing into the system, not patronizing), but since I’ve always enjoyed thinking discussing hype (for me it usually helps me figure out what I think about the work) neither Muhly nor the commenters here are likely to curtail future pieces on the subject.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think the piece is without flaws. David Edgar says the point’s not clear enough and I think he’s right. He’s not right however to conclude there wasn’t one. (This statement that reads as though it were drawn primarily towards the end of making a dig.)

    As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to identify hype these artists were receiving and examine how it was generated and whether it was warranted. I think I did a fairly good job with Arcangel, but Trecartin could have been tightened. Had I done that, I’d probably still be dodging the mud slinging — I have the feeling that virtually everything I pen is a hate-read for Droitcour — but I would likely feel a little better doing it.

  • I think you are totally right. Trecartin is 16th century kitsch and arcangel is sentimental victim of the 70’s. I don’t trust the defensive comments here. People are just afraid to think differently especially after promoting these artists in every kitschen – ha ha – and possible blog.

    I promise you, as super stupid woman I can recognize my kind from a far. The works these artists produce are simply not intelligent.

    Ta ta,

    Tina Fey