Critics’ Picks

Desiree Holman, The Magic Window, 2006–2007, still from a three-channel color video with sound, 15 minutes.

Desiree Holman, The Magic Window, 2006–2007, still from a three-channel color video with sound, 15 minutes.

San Francisco

“TV Honey”

Jessica Silverman Gallery
488 Ellis Street
October 11–November 10, 2007

Desiree Holman’s fifteen-minute video, The Magic Window, 2006–2007, revisits—and restages—two of the 1980s’ most influential sitcoms: The Cosby Show and Roseanne. On two screens, the Huxtables and Connors are played (or, rather, pastiched) by actors whose loose-fitting masks call attention to the staged nature of their pantomime. This awkwardness, in turn, highlights the contrivances of the original shows themselves. Holman captures the particular “situation” of each comedy: the Huxtables’ spirited and wholesome relationships, the Connors’ loafing and lumbering. But in distilling each series to its most salient gags, the video cleverly illuminates the tired formula common to both. Still, Holman does not patronize her subjects—she takes seriously these shows’ attempts at reshaping public notions of race, class, and gender, even if those attempts are now subject to a half-earnest, half-ironic reshuffling.

Initially separated by a blank central screen, the families eventually converge to dance together in a hip-hop nonspace, projected simultaneously on all three screens. Dancers are intermittently set against idealized landscapes, their bodies outlined with a glowing green nimbus. This interracial utopia is fleeting, however. The families retreat to separate screens, and each gathers in front of its television set. The proverbial “magic” of the screen withers here, at the moment when the television is desublimated: It ceases to be a transparent, potentially redemptive window and becomes, instead, an inert object, a sponge of energy and attention. In an adjoining gallery, Joan Jonas’s Vertical Roll, 1972, and Lynda Benglis’s The Amazing Bow Wow, 1976, offer notable points of comparison with Holman’s piece, particularly with regard to the theme of spectacle and its discontents. Like Holman, Jonas and Benglis appear as the (partially disguised) subjects of their own videos, Jonas in an elliptical, staccato sequence that continually interrupts its own pleasures, Benglis in a decidedly more narrative exploration of a freak show gone wrong.

But it is Holman’s work that takes pride of place here. She has also created a set of colored-pencil works on paper related to The Magic Window, conceived not as preparatory sketches, but rather as images after the fact. Three framed drawings placed side by side echo the video’s tripartite projection and depict scenes from its dance sequence. As the artist’s first foray into drawing—a departure from her usual practices in photography and video—the works reveal a keen eye for detail and gesture.