New York


New Museum of Contemporary Art

Some ideas defy representation in exhibited form. “Large” questions –the kind that comprise what we might term a cultural condition–are too diffuse, too densely reticulated, too “fundamental” to resolve themselves easily into images; the museum or gallery effort generally seems puny (at best) or illustrative (at worst). These problems beset “FAKE,” curated by William Olander, an exhibition designed to evoke the waning of the real in contemporary art practice.

Olander’s topic, bluntly stated, is the erosion of originality. His intention was to conjure up, through the work of 17 individual artists and 8 collaborative teams, the implications of the past decades’ overturning of the applecart of authenticity. To this end, his catalogue essay touches on a broad variety of themes, including the scope of simulation; the advance of artificial technology; the demise of the integral or unified subject; the predominance of the commodity; and the end of the traditional “fine arts” paradigm as a model for current artistic production. What he really means to evoke, in limited space, is post-Modernism, and Olander makes much of the change from a Modernist mind-set, premised on the ethos of individuality, to a mediated, mass-culture mentality. This state is aptly described by the French word for counterfeiter, faux-monnayeur, which implies a shift in currency, a fraud constituted within the common coin of art. The exhibition included artists who produce “signs” for painting (David Cabrera, Tim Ebner), thereby manifesting our lack of faith in painting itself, one of Modernism’s major modes; artists who produce fake objects and images (David Robbins, John Glascock) or who simulate, through technology, the real (Nancy Burson); artists who play with the mass media’s manipulation of “genuine” art (Day Gleeson/Dennis Thomas; Mark Dion and Jason Simon); and artists who attend to our artificial environment’s hyperreal look or corporatized imagery (almost everyone). “FAKE” is filled with the kind of esthetic transvestism that has characterized recent practice, in which every kind of image masquerades as another kind–video approximates broadcast television, advertising appropriates and parades as art (and vice versa), and corporate logos parody abstractions.

Video fares best in “FAKE,” since most of Olander’s selections in this medium treat issues that can be discussed within their given discursive format (i.e., the construction of personality in John Scarlett-Davis’ A Trip Through the Wardrobes of the Mind, 1983, or MICA-TV’s advertising commercials for artists); the works “speak” to the issues, bringing up peripheral reflections in the process. But the problem with Olander’s post-Modern polemic is that it involves attitudes and approaches that resist embodiment in actual works. Post-Modernist works do not so much represent these notions as make sly, strategic interventions into specific terrain; it is these interventions that set in relief their discursive surround, an intellectual field inimical to mere visualization. Perhaps Olander should have made an exhibition about the look and devices of simulated culture. Instead, what he tackles is inappropriate for a simple exhibition and too complex for a slim catalogue essay, chockablock though it is with references to every contemporary philosopher and critic of note.

Looking at “FAKE” elicited a feeling of déjà vu, the kind that emerges from these concepts’ thorough saturation of our culture. Perhaps they had a certain freshness, or strategic importance, in 1984, when Olander first conceived of the idea for the show; today, they argue for more adequate forms of exposition.

Kate Linker