New York

“Borrowed Time”

Baskerville And Watson

Seduced by the title’s intimations of impending gloom, one enters the gallery to find a group show gathering ten highly disparate individuals around a common intellectual hypothesis. A letdown, in fact, for “Borrowed Time” is meant to refer to the current situation of postindustrial society, characterized by the waning of belief in the ideology of progress and by the proliferation of electronic technology. The show is founded (according to the wall label) on a kind of Daniel Bel lian thesis of the shift from an industrial society to an informational one, from production to reproduction, and from a forward-thinking ethos founded on invention to a skeptical acceptance of replication and reuse. We know the tunes: “No More Utopia,” “Nightmare of Repetition,” “End of ‘Experience,’” and “Rise of a World Lived through Representations,” as insured by the media’s sway. And by its subliminal seductions as well, for we also know the easy blurring of the boundaries between information and propaganda, between idle consumption and the reinforcement of ideology. The umbrella title can thus be seen to shelter contemporary concerns with appropriation (literally, the use or “borrowing” of another['s] time) and fantasy surrogates (unreal but suasive projections of time). And there’s nothing wrong with this approach, which confirms certain unwritten assumptions ’governing much of our perception of contemporary life (and art). It’s just that it’s extremely difficult to illustrate or focus this kind of speculation in a group show of preexisting work. Since most work does in some manner deal with implications of time (although little directly addresses it), one runs the danger of dilution or outright incoherence.

The result is that “Borrowed Time,” curated by Carole Ann Klonarides, should be viewed as an enjoyable selection of generally interesting art, which when “good” (for its context) is very, very good, and when “bad” is no more than irrelevant. It begins with two works by Norman Rockwell, chosen as a sort of cutoff point for belief in “authentic” sentiments and boundless optimistic prospects. One is a war poster distributed by the United States Army Ordnance Department showing a commando-unit fighter with machine gun and cartridges (Caption: “Let’s Give him Enough and On Time”); the other a magazine illustration of a ticket seller’s booth surrounded by travel offerings, fantasy futures purchased-by-the-week. The show then moves on toward Richard Artschwager’s punning drawing of flaming logs (burnt bridges?) and another work by the artist, a treelike structure of rapidly multiplying branches depicting uncontrollable proliferation through time. Included along the way are one of Louise Lawler’s wonderful “arrangements of arrangements,” still somewhat inappropriate to this show (“repositionings” of time, perhaps?), a political parable by Francesc Torres, and some rather dumb scribbles by Nam June Paik treating video time (Reel Time?) as it dominates communications society. Two daily vernacular scenarios by William Wegman indicate on the one hand life split between Bank and Bar, or work and womp, and on the other a lifetime directed by dollars (i.e., Time is Money). Robert Cumming has some of the most pertinent works in the show—three photographs of film and TV stage sets that figure the time we live through by the media—while Richard Prince is represented by three appropriations of advertising images, “borrowed moments” promising fulfillment. The metal cutout, shadow-producing Man with Briefcase at 2,783,421 by Jonathan Borofsky appears, once again, a simplistic inclusion in this show, unless you want to follow Duchamp in projecting shadows as the Fourth Dimension. And finally, a sinuous canvas shape by Aura Rosenberg traces a fox, sable, or other furry beast “turning back” to survey its future in the coat paraded by a model, an equation of time with use, or of future with exploitation, that makes one of the strongest political statements in the show.

Kate Linker