New York

“Science Fiction”

John Weber Gallery

In assembling this exhibition Peter Halley wished to make two entirely distinct but equally general statements under the umbrella of our cultural spleen. He wished, first of all, to simultaneously express and affront “a vision of technology and capitalism developing out of control, of social planning discredited and discarded, a vision that has become a mesmerizing nightmare, not a comforting dream.” He further urged viewers, as they perused the objects, to ponder the range of ideological bummers in recent art history, a period during which “the impetus to remove art from the space of the gallery has itself slowed down, stopped, and been reversed,” because of “both the weight of entropy on this idea and the economic realities of the last five years. . . . ” There is no stopping Halley’s prose. He had the gallery walls painted black not for one, but for every reason in the book: to “reflect the pessimism of this post-conceptual return to the gallery,” which represents “the failure of the millennium to materialize and of the bourgeois art-object to disappear”; to stand for “the dark walls of the movie theatre, of the photographic dark room, of the rock club . . . the inside of the camera obscura itself”; to evoke “the general darkness and chaos that artists today perceive as the present condition of society”; to “circumscribe the space of this dream”; to “realize these premonitions and to make conscious the dark imaginings of the unconscious.”

The actual installation might as well have been Pierre Cardin’s projection for Maxim’s new outpost on Saturn. Annexed for these cross-purposes were ten tidy representative pieces by James Biederman, Ross Bleckner, David Deutsch, R.M. Fischer, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Robert Smithson, and Taro Suzuki, all looking jewellike and vaguely neo-Jugendstil. It was surprising and really quite entertaining to be able to view Koons, with his big New Sheldon Wet/Dry Tripledecker, 1982, in its Plexiglas vitrine, as the Charles Rennie Mackintosh of our day, or Judd as our Josef Hoffmann, or Deutsch as Maurice Denis, or Bleckner as the ongoing soul of the Weiner Werkstätte—but a well-appointed millennium is hardly what Halley intended.

Stuck with his grab bag of expressionistic and existential diagnoses, Halley has little choice but to subordinate a group of emphatically stylized works, dismissing any individuated ethos among them, and effectively homogenizing style. For all the high-minded talk of symptoms and signifiers, the designer of this atomic café closed the doors to comedy, funk, women, and quirks of all kinds. This turned out to be Halley’s coma. A special issue of the periodical “New Observations,” featuring Halley’s keynote, a resourceful essay by Alan Jones, and project pages by artists, including some of those in “Science Fiction,” was published in conjunction with the show.

Lisa Liebmann