Los Angeles

Eric Magnuson

Roy Boyd

Eric Magnuson uses essentially meaningless phrases to lecture us regarding the problems we face as a trapped art public. In A Typical Whorl (all works, 1989), the words “AMORTALMUST/THINKMORTAL/ANDNOTMMOR/TALTHOUGHTS” are crunched together in four lines on a black background, each block letter illuminated by an overall spiral pattern. Closed Circle (Ransom Note), reads, “Thought submits to the real compulsion of societal debt relations and deluded, claim this compulsion as its own.” The text is done Dada-poster style, in a variety of colors and typefaces. The painted sentence is in the shape of a nine-foot-long curl. In Myth (Red) and Myth (Green), the digital text reads, “Man’s impulse to make art comes from the knowledge of his impending death.” Magnuson’s abbreviated, out of context, psychoanalytic/philosophy-speak texts read like the drunken utterances of a morose party guest. In three separate pieces that vary only in color, Great Works (Masterpiece), (Our Gang), and (Alchemy), he uses the same two texts and images. A Freudian statement about children and feces can be read above a picture of a stout conical machine, and the words “Quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” are written 15 times underneath the image of a streaking comet. Untitled/Signage (print in four-color separation) is a five-foot-square thumbprint. The work simply states that the artist’s signature is what modern image-making has come down to. Therefore, the end, again. In some way the work is effective in making an audience feel terrible. The only crime these thumbprints allude to is hard-core mundanity. The work is accusatory with a fundamentalist’s moral edge, self-satisfied rather than self-assured, devoid of risks.

The flaunting of knowledge, when it’s done effectively, can be amusing, seductive, and sinister, but when it merely exploits the prestige of knowledge, it’s dumb. Magnuson’s assembled words and images are flippant, frightened, and patronizing. We are praised for understanding the riddles, connecting a sentence with a picture of itself, and then reprimanded for being part of the larger tiny problem, the art system. Each work moans, “It’s all pointless.” This reduces the scope of ideas to zero alternative, a refusal to transcend. Magnuson’s art reads like television; it’s a rip-off of everyday life, and it knows everything there is to know. The points it tries to make are simplistic and politically correct. We might believe that this is, in some way, good for us. Yet, like the wrong medicine, it creates a new ailment. What could be intoxicating and fun is merely a trivial, condescending sermon. Like a perverse forgone conclusion, this is the kind of work that demands viewers wink back.

Benjamin Weissman