Critics’ Picks

Deb Sokolow, Possible Meeting Room Set-up for New World Order, 2011, graphite and acrylic on paper, 11 x 8 1/2”.

New York

Deb Sokolow

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street
July 21–September 3

Deb Sokolow’s Notes on Denver International Airport and the New World Order, 2011, has the makings of a paperback thriller you’d buy at an airport: a shadowy cabal of powerful men, a blue-collar crackpot who claimed to know their secret and died strangely, and an anonymous journalist who comes out of nowhere to supply the protagonist with a file of classified memos. The protagonist is Sokolow. But in her telling––written alongside diagrams, blueprints, photographs, and news clippings that are printed or taped on sheets of cheap copy paper––she becomes “you.” The use of the second-person pronoun evades the diaristic while sharing doubt with more immediacy.

In Sokolow’s work, the affect of uncertainty doesn’t stop at conspiracy theories about the “New World Order” and their meeting place under the Denver International Airport. A question about the tons of dirt removed from the airport at night expands to wonder about the secrecy of anything done under cover of darkness. Halfway through the parabola of panels, “you” travel to Denver to see what “you” can observe for yourself. But there’s no evidence besides suspicious activity. As “you” poke around, “you” are trailed by a truck, and by a Dairy Queen employee who roams an airport without a Dairy Queen. The last panel shows four chambers connected by a square of corridors, white against a black field. One chamber is black but smeared with correction fluid. Is this supposed to be part of the airport? The imagined bunker? You’re only certain that it’s an enlargement of an image from the first panel. But the close-up shows nothing new.

About half of the text was penciled in after the pictures were hung, and there are signs of second-guessing: words obscured by graphite squares, awkward enjambments. Any seasoned viewer knows that rough-edged spontaneity in works on paper implies intimacy, honesty, confession, or sometimes testament. And here it’s certainly a contrast to the televised flashiness that often spreads conspiracy theory. But Sokolow refreshes these clichés by circulating them among truth and secrecy on a global scale. Do you trust an artwork by Deb Sokolow more than a television show hosted by Jesse Ventura? Are her methods any less manipulative? Does she want to convince you of anything other than doubt?