New York

Joseph Nechvatal

Semaphore Gallery

Joseph Nechvatal, like Picabia, traces figures from Renaissance art, a strategy of quotation that is fast becoming so repetitive as to render it a meaningless gesture except insofar as it indicates the impoverished language of a reality unable to represent itself other than by a doubling back to the myths and icons of the past. Nechvatal does attempt to forestall this closure by also incorporating into his drawing images of American media icons and objects of modern technology. We are guided, therefore, into a reading of power and exploitation, impotence and alienation, that nevertheless is still too literal to overcome a stereotypical humanism.

Where the work begins to transcend its sociological subject matter is in certain features of its execution, which go some way toward recognizing that we need a new spatial model to represent our location (or dislocation) in a late-capitalist-mediated world. The images, variable in scale, are given visual coherence through being embedded in a dense matrix of graphite smudges, lines, repeated and abstract motifs (“Linoleum was a major influence on my work,” Nechvatal has said) like so many emptied carcasses caught in a science fiction web. As we scan the picture we are confronted with neither a traditional single focal point, nor a Modernist multiplicity of equivalents, but the appearance and disappearance of discontinuous forms in an indeterminate space which begins to function as a metaphor for time as so many disjunctive fragments of experience, and space as decentered and without tangible coordinates. The sense of distance created by the uniformity of traced lines is emphasized by the presentation of the drawings as photographs—homogenized surfaces. What remains disappointing and inexplicable is the artist’s addition of colored stripes and washes, which seem too arbitrary to function as more than conventional formalistic devices.

Jean Fisher