Critics’ Picks

Hans Haacke, Blue Sail, 1964–65, blue chiffon, oscillating fan, fishing weights, thread, 11' 2“ x 10' 6”.

New York

“Ghosts in the Machine”

New Museum
235 Bowery
July 18 - September 30

With poetic exuberance, “Ghosts in the Machine” considers relationships between human and machine throughout a century’s worth of visual culture: Dada, cartoons, mystic contraptions, the Independent Group, Op, kineticism, cybernetics, and contemporary art. Curators Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari eschew historical continuity in favor of frisson, such that a single section juxtaposes a 1959–60 “study” for an unbroken replica of Duchamp’s “Large Glass” (his “bachelor machines,” both erotic and dysfunctional, are emblems for the show), a life-size rendering (from 1975–77) of an ominous device from Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony,” and Jeff Koons’s vacuum cleaners of 1981–87.

The human body adds imperfection, outright failure, and trauma to the operations and inexorable progress of technology, appearing here as gesture (Rube Goldberg sketches from 1930–31), sound (the Voder, predecessor of the Vocoder, originally 1938), prosthesis or double (the sublimely creepy automaton in Philippe Parreno’s The Writer, 2007), and information (early computer drawings from 1967–72, recalling cybernetic models of the brain’s “black box”). Delights frequently involve non-artists: Wilhelm Reich’s “orgone accumulator,” originally 1940, designed to induce healthy orgasms, provoked extreme Cold War–era repression—Reich was jailed and his books burned when he refused to stop selling the wooden compartments—while J. G. Ballard’s erotico-futurist magazine advertisements from 1958–70 cast him as pervert cousin of Dan Graham and arte de los medios masivos.

The Marshall McLuhan who looms over these proceedings is not the optimistic “prophet” of the “global village” but a wary, apocalyptic researcher of media’s ongoing usurpation of the body. The optical “vibration” produced by kinetic sculptures such as Julio Le Parc’s Instability Through Movement of the Spectator, 1962, was once seen as liberating perception. By Paul Sharits’s flicker-installation Epileptic Seizure Comparison, 1976, however, this mechanism is an outright assault on the eye, treatment become torture.