Critics’ Picks

View of “I am an employee of UNITED, Vol. 2,” 2012.

Los Angeles

Ei Arakawa

Overduin & Co.
6693 Sunset Boulevard
September 16–October 27

Staging antic, chaotic, and often collaborative performances at galleries, fairs, and museums on several continents, Ei Arakawa has racked up a bounty of airline miles. In his debut solo exhibition in LA, “I am an employee of UNITED, Vol. 2” —volume one occurred at Galerie Neu in Berlin two years ago—Arakawa satirically scrutinizes this globetrotting lifestyle, offering, in an accompanying text, the travel strategies of the itinerant performance artist: “Inside our carry-ons . . . there are objects not claimed as art. Those objects are almost like tools, yet too precious and fragile to send them over by FedEx.”

Claiming—or not claiming—objects as art has been an abiding interest of Arakawa’s. Concerns with the ambiguities of the artwork recontextualized as performance “tool” here take on a new dimension in an exhibition that is something like the aftermath of its own opening performance. In one gallery, three comfortably dressed wooden-framed mannequins, identified in the checklist as “Performance Artists,” slouch in chairs. They evince the exhaustion of their recent performance, in which the figures were awkwardly manipulated through the space by a cast of Arakawa’s collaborators in madcap mimicry of the routines of travel and unwinding. Painted on the wall behind them, a monumental United logo—but spelled UNTIED—is punctuated by hollowed-out cubbies, which hold paintings by Nikolas Gambaroff and gold-tinted mirrored panels bearing the fingerprints of the departed audience.

On the opposite wall hangs a large acrylic-on-fabric rendering of Léon Bakst’s set design for the 1910 Ballets Russes production Les Orientales. With the original choreography and orchestration lost, Bakst’s watercolors remain the ballet’s sole embodiment—a painting in place of Nijinsky’s famous leap. Of course, no such fate could befall Arakawa’s performance, where photographer and videographer became performers. This vector of historical transformation cuts through the heart of the show: the banalization of travel and the proliferating circuits of global art, but also, as the exhibition’s title insists, the position of the artist who, as much as producer of commodities, is a service sector employee.