Critics’ Picks

Jamie Isenstein, Installation Shots (axe, harp, log), 2010, 
HD videos on infinite loops, projectors, pedestals,
 dimensions variable. Installation view.

Matthew Day Jackson, Jamie Isenstein, “The Original Copy”

Tired of confronting his own effigy in The Tomb, 1967, Paul Thek complained, “Imagine having to bury yourself over and over.” This was precisely the underlying strategy of two compelling solo exhibitions this year. Matthew Day Jackson’s “In Search of” at Peter Blum Chelsea was riddled with allusions to his own demise, including a fabricated account of his disappearance after a cross-country road trip. Jackson introduced the conceit in a faux-documentary video that shared its title with the exhibition—a nod to both a 1970s television program of the same name and Bas Jan Ader’s In Search of the Miraculous, 1975, the artwork-cum–transatlantic-journey that led to the Dutch artist’s untimely (yet suitably romantic) death at sea. The video’s narration recontextualized the exhibition’s accompanying sculptures either as clues to Jackson’s purported vanishing or as materialized artifacts from a fictional civilization—what Jorge Luis Borges would call intrusions of a fantastic world into the world of reality.

The bearskin rugs, trick coffins, and legless armchairs that Jamie Isenstein inhabits for hours at a time (and over which she hangs a WILL RETURN sign upon leaving) are all haunted by the artist’s eventual death. The innovation of Isenstein’s most recent occupancy of Andrew Kreps Gallery was to apply that same play of presence and absence to other conventions of exhibiting. As much as Isenstein drained from her feats of endurance any personal charisma by concealing her body but for a stray arm and leg, she suctioned the aura from a suite of new sculptures by barring them from the premises, revealing them only in looped videos projected against the gallery walls.

It is significant that Jackson and Isenstein established these distinct engagements with sculpture by means of media, namely digitally projected video. In that sense, they provide an addendum to the complex history charted in MoMA’s daring “The Original Copy”—daring because its proposition that sculpture and photography are intimately bound disturbs the museum’s famously stalwart divisions among mediums. As recent bodies of work by Erin Shirreff and Sara VanDerBeek also suggest, sculpture is moving in new directions as it passes through the camera lens.

Colby Chamberlain is a Jacob K. Javits Fellow in the art history department at Columbia University and a senior editor for the online magazine Triple Canopy.