New York

Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is a man obsessed. But unlike most obsessives who turn to art, it is not so much the procedure of art-making that haunts him (though there is some evidence that it does) but rather a subject matter—and that subject is nuclear holocaust. He just cannot stop worrying about what will happen if the leaders of this country continue on their path of military growth and confrontation.

It is a big worry, and Nechvatal has big ambitions for the art he makes from it. So far he has not been able to realize those ambitions, though he has apparently tried his hand at a large-scale mural in Hartford, Connecticut. Most of his work to date, however, has been small in scale, small drawings which can be carried in a suitcase. As one looks at the gray scrawl of these drawings the overall network of lines slowly breaks down to reveal the outlines of figures and objects. It is uncertain whether the lines are creating the images or obliterating them, whether we are witnessing a beginning or an end..

Despite Nechtaval’s attempts to publicize his vision—and he has worked hard to ensure that his drawings are visible throughout Lower Manhattan, on the streets and in the alternate spaces—the drawings remain intensely private. And so this recent installation must be seen as an important step toward broadening the impact of the work. Using a more theatrical presentation than before, with darkened gallery, colored lights, and sound effects, Nechvatal tries to give the drawings a more visceral impact. The drawings themselves are the same, only now they are displayed as static images on television screens. Dematerialized like this, the disintegrating images hovering in the indeterminate space of the video blue are all the more suggestive. But they still refuse any proselytizing function. They are representations of private fears and as yet fail to reach across to a wider, more public realm.

Thomas Lawson