New York

Ger Van Elk

Claire Copley Gallery

The insurmountable problem for Conceptual art is presentation. Put in a notebook, it’s actuarial material, in a manifesto it’s art criticism, and on gallery walls and floors, it’s cutely homely bric-a-brac. Ger Van Elk’s pieces are witty enough—if you can take one more distanced sneer at L. A. freeways, one more self-parodying, paradoxical definition of art-as-art, one more self-contradicting ontological pun, or one more tacky-glamour celebration of solipsism. But they look funny, spaced out real nice (one to a white wall), each with its own authentic small-white-card label, each with its own ball-and-chain aura of thingness. In Hollywood and Santa Monica Freeway Flyer, van Elk mounts six walking canes, wound with strips of color proof-sheet photos (from an overpass) of cars on the freeway. It could be a comment on simultaneous crippling (pedestrian, humanism) and mobility (auto, mechanical) in brutal Los Angeles, but the rest of the show’s ambience is too smart (as in “smart set”) for that. A Beam Too Long to be Photographed could be unadorned, ironic information, except that the two-piece, long (5” by 6’ or 7’), rolled-out color print is too grainily, biliously, self-consciously anti-taste to be purely Conceptual. And, The Specific Gravity of Artistic Imagination, in which a long horizontal, heavily framed drawing of two pencil lines is ostensibly covered with an actual-size photograph of itself (which is fastened at the ends and allowed to droop, thus the title) could be a serious joke, save for its physical preciousness. Lastly, the two components of Portraits by Peter (Increasing Beauty)—two oval, scented portrait photos of the artist, one without cigaret and with eyeglasses and the other with ciggie and the eyewear clumsily (but deliberately so—this is Hollywood!) retouched out—could be honest self-deprecation, but van Elk liked the latter so much, it became the announcement. Somebody once suggested that Sartre and Malraux concocted Jean Genet as a traditional literary hoax (that is, wrote his “work” and hired somebody to play the person); I get the same thing about Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, and (maybe) William Wegman creating Ger van Elk.

Peter Plagens