Critics’ Picks

View of “Tony Cokes: On Non-Visibility,” 2018.

New York

Tony Cokes

Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th Street Ground floor and 8th Floor
April 27–June 9

“On Non-Visibility,” Tony Cokes’s first show here, opened just as Kanye West’s Trump tweets turned the internet upside down. Could the gallery have known what was coming? Cokes, who teaches in Brown University’s Modern Culture and Media department, has spent the last thirty years crafting films that examine contemporary Western culture’s multifarious (and often contradictory) manifestations by presenting text appropriated from theory, advertising, the news, and myriad other sources on solid-colored backgrounds. Pop songs from a wide array of genres accompany these PowerPoint-y slides, doubling the linguistic charge. Face Value (Kanye West), 2018, takes stills of one of Cokes’s videos and lays them out on the face of a light box in a blue-and-red checkerboard grid. Each rectangle contains a short quotation from West—such as “I am not a fan of books” and “the media crucify me”—creating a fragmented picture of the celebrity rapper that scarily resembles his Twitter presence.

Meanwhile, Gang of Four’s Marxist post-punk blares from the video Evil 35: Carlin/Owners, 2012. The band recently released a very mediocre and ineffectual single, “Ivanka (Things You Can’t Have),” featuring the first daughter’s smug visage as the cover. Morrissey, who recently engaged in yet another virulently Islamophobic rant, features prominently, juxtaposed with a text from the collective Our Literal Speed in the video Evil.27: Selma, 2011, and with footage of the 1965 riots in Watts, Boston, Detroit, and Newark in Black Celebration, 1988. We all know mass media are morally bankrupt and that images deceive. So what are we to do when our musical heroes fail us? In Cokes’s works, these questions layer like sediment and remain unresolved.