Critics’ Picks

Alex Bag, Reality Tunnel Vision (Medieval Grillin’ A’Field, version 1), 2009, still from a color video, 15 minutes 40 seconds.

New York

Alex Bag

Elizabeth Dee Gallery
2033/2037 Fifth Avenue
June 20 - October 24

What an Alex Bag show lacks in sense, it makes up for in dedication. Earlier this year, the New York–based artist converted the Whitney Museum’s lobby gallery into a psychedelic rumpus room. In her latest exhibition, the maven of make-believe continues her satiric, lo-fi assault by tackling the goliath of brain decay—reality television. She has created a rambling installation that features the requisite performance video but also wispy drawings and a shoddily installed, woodsy photomural. With a hefty dose of dead foliage, the effect is equal parts enchanted forest and chintzy pandemonium; a bewildering mix of real, unreal, and surreal, which is Bag at her best.

The five drawings on view reference screen grabs from reality-competition programs including Charm School and Rock of Love 2. At the corner of one work, Bag has scrawled the description CUNT DESCENDING A STAIRCASE, recalling Duchamp’s famous Nude and its trajectory from scandal to cultural standard. For the video, the artist poses as the goofy necromancer-cum-host of an imagined medieval cooking program. With predictable zeal and astonishing facial dexterity, she giddily dispenses ludicrous recipes, occult histories, and psychobabble. The parody takes a turn for the meta when she eats a magic concoction, which alters her appearance and sends her into a drug-addled haze (and a Blockbuster Video store). For an instant, Bag, who ultimately dictates the terms of her self-transformations, seems to unwittingly morph before the viewer’s eyes. The moment undermines the conditions of production—offering a flash of clarity on the constructions of reality.