New York

Dennis Adams, Alfredo Jaar, Jeff Wall

Tomoko Liguori Gallery

The works that were displayed here focus on an important force in much current art work—the use of mimicry as a strategy of (mis)representation in order to destabilize the narrative, and in so doing, to disrupt in some way the flow of dominant culture. Dennis Adams, Alfredo Jaar, and Jeff Wall were each represented by a single work, all three of which involve transparencies in illuminated display cases. Like advertisements in places such as fast-food restaurants and bus shelters (or, perhaps more importantly, TV’s), they emit light toward the viewer. Because of the familiarity of the viewer with these various sites of spectatorship, transparencies offer an opportunity for mimicking the exchange of signs that normally takes place there.

Both Jaar and Adams challenge the conventions of photojournalism; the way they construct the artwork around the transparency makes us doubt the image as an objective report of reality. Wall, on the other hand, emphasizes staging by foregrounding the construction of the pictorial space itself. Jaar and Adams use images related to militarism. In Modernism is Dead, Long Live Modernism, 1988, Jaar sets three transparencies facing three mirrors hanging on the wall, one each in the shape of a circle, a triangle, and a square. The transparencies show different views of the Chilean army “on display.” Each geometrically shaped mirror reflects back only a portion of the transparency it faces. The ordered profiles, uniforms, and weapons of the images overwhelm the three mirrors. Nevertheless, in turn, the mirrors refragment and parody their reflected subjects. Adams’ Mirage, 1988, uses two transparencies. The more prominent one, angling out from the wall, shows Vietnamese citizens, their backs loaded, walking through a deforested landscape. They are passed by brown military vehicles, without markings, traveling in the opposite direction. This transparency has as its base another transparency, which shows a view of the Farnsworth House, in Plano, Illinois, built by Mies van der Rohe in 1950. The relation of the two panels, one angling out from the wall upon the rectangular base of the other, denaturalizes the viewer’s approach. Adams draws a striking connection between architecture and militarism as different ways of ordering space. Geometry has traditionally played an essential role in establishing knowledge; here it appears both complicitous with the image-making of military dominance and with its undoing.

Wall’s Abundance, 1988, shows two women in an attic. They are gathered around a box, on the side of which a piece of paper with the word “free” is attached. They are wearing mismatched used clothing and appear to be homeless. One of the women is looking in the box, while the other stands posed and looking at the camera. There is no effort to “justify” the bright lighting of the scene. The image appears both found and artificial; it seems to elicit the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?,” and, in so doing, to question representation. Wall’s work brings to mind the despatialization of the homeless; fittingly, his staging places the two women in the attic, the unlived-in triangle above the rectangle that together make up the traditional one-dimensional image of the house.

Richard C. Ledes