Critics’ Picks

Stephen Prina, The Way He Always Wanted It VIII (detail), 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable. Performance view.

Stephen Prina, The Way He Always Wanted It VIII (detail), 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable. Performance view.


Stephen Prina

Kölnischer Kunstverein
Hahnenstrasse 6
June 11–July 24, 2011

There is no such thing as a bad translation—at least, not in the case of Stephen Prina. The complex yet playful references in his works, such as a retooling of Glenn Gould’s recording of Arnold Schönberg’s complete music for solo piano, can leave one dizzy, even bewildered, but that discombobulation can be generative, creating the desire to figure out just what is going on. In other words, Prina presents a kind of semiotic puzzle.

The works in “He was but a bad translation,” his latest solo show, fall into two categories: serial paintings (such as a few examples from the ongoing Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet, 1988–, as well as several of his 2011 “Blind” paintings), and video and sound pieces, including The Way He Always Wanted It, 2008–, of which the recent installments contemplate the work of the self-taught American architect Bruce Goff.

The film The Way He Always Wanted It II, 2011, documents Ford House, a home designed by Goff in Aurora, Illinois, and includes a sound track, performed live, of music originally composed by the architect and arranged by Prina. Five tracking shots, each completing one semicircle, capture not only the house but also the performers and the film crew. When the camera finally pans across Prina, revealing neither his face nor his head, we can see his hands gesturing as he sings. In the concert hall, the installation The Way He Always Wanted It VIII, 2011, consists of a monochromatic drone on a Dolby surround system, which, for an hour once a day, is also accompanied by two musicians who perform one of Goff’s compositions at a decreased tempo so that the melody takes the full hour to play. Walking through the Kunstverein’s concert hall during the performance, one begins to feel like the camera from the film. If this is a “translation,” it may be loose, and things may be lost, but it is certainly not bad; its referents add both density and ambiguity in a way that only enhances the meaning.