Critics’ Picks

Alex Bag, Remix: Harriet Craig, 1998, still from a black-and-white video with sound, 12 minutes.

Alex Bag, Remix: Harriet Craig, 1998, still from a black-and-white video with sound, 12 minutes.

New York

“Television Delivers People”

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
December 12, 2007–February 17, 2008

Richard Serra’s legendary video Television Delivers People, 1973, which consists of a text scrolling down the screen accompanied by a cheesy Muzak sound track, was one of the first artworks to investigate the relationship between the mass media and their audience. The statements depicted, like THE PRODUCT OF TELEVISION, COMMERCIAL TELEVISION, IS THE AUDIENCE and YOU ARE THE PRODUCT OF TV, resound as premonitory warnings that the media are equipped with the power to control society. Borrowing Serra’s title, this well-conceived exhibition, organized by curatorial assistant Gary Carrion-Murayari, brings together nine videos that explore the role of television in our society. Three monitors exhibit works from the 1970s and ’80s, including Serra’s, Dara Birnbaum’s celebrated Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978–79, and Michael Smith’s It Starts at Home, 1982, a hilarious DIY sitcom in which the domestic activities of Smith’s alter ego, Mike, are accidentally broadcast on television, inverting the usual relationship between audience and spectacle. Projected onto a large screen, several more recent videos look at how television enters, and inserts fictional characters into, our everyday lives. Appropriating the language of soap operas, reality TV, and the Internet, artists Ryan Trecartin, Joan Braderman, Kalup Linzy, Alex Bag, and Keren Cytter turn the camera on themselves, using it as both a confessional and a secret passage to a parallel world inhabited by multiple personalities and schizophrenic personae. Thirty years after Serra, these artists seem to be more enthusiastic about the endless proliferation of creatures and doubles produced by TV. And yet their characters take on a ghostly substance: Television delivers people, they seem to say, but it also turns them into mutants.