PRINT January 2002

Bob Nickas on Kelley Walker

MOST OF A SWIMMING POOL AND PART OF A HOUSE dangle off a cliff, while the owner, Buster Keaton-like, stares stonily into the wreckage wondering where all the water went. Another perfect day in paradise (somewhere in ’70s California) interrupted by a 6.5 jolt on the scale, aftershocks courtesy of Kelley Walker. At the bottom of the picture/cliff, computer-generated forms, all sunny yellow-gold, appear to have tumbled into a pile as so much psychedelic rubble. Up in the trees, a slogan has been laid in: FIGHT CAPITALISM, set over a slightly larger REAPPROPRIATE. Walker amplifies the absurdity by way of the title, probably spoken by the homeowner himself: Then we joked about how we had always wanted a sunken living room, 2001. As if that weren’t enough, it turns out that the picture we’re looking at isn’t exactly the artwork.

Walker refers to this object simply as a poster and directs our attention to the CD on which the image is stored. In a text accompanying the disc, we’re told: “The disc and the image it contains can be reproduced and disseminated as often as the holder desires. Whoever receives a copy of the disc or image can likewise reproduce/disseminate either as desired and so on. Furthermore, anyone with a disc or reproduction can manipulate the image and reproduce/disseminate it in its altered state. All forms of reproduction/deviation derived from the image on the disc signed Kelley Walker perpetuate a continuum correlating to the artwork. . .”

Talk about revising copyright laws—not to mention the auteur theory. Those must be down at the bottom of the cliff with all that pretty rubble. Despite the fact that Walker’s interventions occur in what is for some rather old-fashioned media- collage, handmade sculpture, cameraless photography (he makes no attempt to conceal this image’s once seamless life in a book)—his work couldn’t be more here and now. The sense of fair use, portability, and mutation he embraces is wholly within the current of artists who, thanks to home-computer editing systems, look on a car commercial or the latest Star Wars extravaganza as raw material. Walker’s art partakes of both conceptual and populist strategies, sober and comic reflection, and is often propelled by his belief in the complexity of something as everyday as a walk in the street—well aware of what Jeff Wall refers to as “the anonymous poetry of the world.” Within a given installation, Walker may take you from a design object to a political poster to a travel advertisement (“Visit the Bermuda Triangle”), so that “the viewer is forced to shift gears in thought.” This is, after all, an artist who has made everything from a mirrored Rorschach test (I see a butterfly shaped thing, 2001) to a movable wall on a serpentine ceiling track. Now he’s threatening to build—full-scale, mind you—that semidestroyed pool. I can see the water rushing down as we speak.

BOB NICKAS, a longtime champion of the work of emerging artists, has curated nearly forty shows of contemporary art In the United States and Europe over the past decade and a half. A frequent contributor to Artforum and Dutch, he also writes a regular column for Purple, the Paris-based journal of art and culture. This past fall, Nickas taught “Critical Issues,” a seminar in the MFA program at Columbia University in New York, and he is currently organizing “From the Observatory,” a group show that will open at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, in March.