New York

Kim MacConnel

Holly Solomon Gallery

“If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” is a likely initial take on Kim MacConnel’s new fabric hangings., At first glance, he seems to be coasting. At second glance, darker thoughts about rank opportunism furrow the brow: what new elements there are here—bombs, missiles, planes—seem to have him jumping rather belatedly on the protest bandwagon. Suspicions, unfortunately, are like warts—uninvited and ugly, but hard to get rid of.

A third, more thorough look should put moralists at ease, at least on the score of exploitation. If there’s anyone MacConnel is pirating, it’s himself, and there’s a method in his monotony. Yes, splicing symbols of entertainment (top-hatted Fred Astaire clones, televisions, musical notations) and sports onto images of war machinéry laments that war has become just another show, another spectator sport—argues that our seemingly most innocent pastimes are part of our least innocent. And, to be sure, arms now are stockpiled or Collectable, sold or Marketable, certainly Formidable, and at the moment insanely considered Worth While. But these titles of MacConnel’s are so obviously self-parody that it’s hard to accept all this at face value. Besides, MacConnel’s premeditated facility is too sly to be powerful as direct statement. In his financial and critical éclat, he is deliberately whoring it up. And by debasing his own “art”—which he also does by cranking out these rote “MacConnels”—and then putting bombs into that debased product, he is implicitly criticizing the degree to which current “engaged” art has gotten itself embrangled with the fashionable, often with the best intentions in the world. What more fitting than that a leader of the Decorative should warn how decorative the political can become? When the shapes of missiles are echoed in MacConnel’s abstract patterns and, thanks in part to the debunking effect of his slick, ad-world drawing, are demoted to patterning rather than giving the patterning new allusive force, what are we seeing except co-optation—the suborning of even life-and-death messages by the context from which they are broadcast? This is not to say that MacConnel does not feel as strongly about the possibilities of nuclear destruction as anyone else; what he may be expressing is a black-humored despair over the inefficacy of the medium for communicating those feelings.

Let’s assume that meaning is produced by the differences between terms. Yet MacConnel collapses differences even between things that seem opposed, or, put another way, he compares items pointlessly. In Marketable he visually rhymes a pointing finger and an inverted Eiffel Tower with the missiles appearing elsewhere, in the same way that Laurie Anderson elides a waving hand (good-bye or hello?) with a metronome (an ambiguous marker of time with a precise marker) and that David Salle sometimes equates similar masses—a turned head on an elongated neck, for example, with a hat raised at the end of a hand (empty-headed or not, it’s all one?). In Salle we have the exhaustion of signs, in Anderson the unintelligibility of signs, in MacConnel the corruptibility of signs. Entropy is the reality of this mimesis. If, like computer dating services gotten ahead of themselves, these artists seize on the most remote similarities as an excuse for matching incompatibles, this poor hedge against disorder only underscores the degree to which they distrust order altogether. And if such siphoning out of meaning has been an aim of the avant-garde program for some time, is it possible simply to put it back when we need it again? William Blake said, “Without contraries is no progression,” but does that mean regression is a viable alternative? These are the deadlocked questions that MacConnel’s paintings, advertently or not, ask.

Jeanne Silverthorne