“Reproduced Authentic”

Galerie Via Eight

Although computer networks, new broadcast media, etc. show great promise for the future of “global” art, the art object itself has lost none of its appeal. This timely exhibition, entitled “Reproduced Authentic,” could only have been realized in this age of FAX, and it proposes a solution to the problem of how to reap the advantages of dematerialized electronic transmission without losing the marketable object in the process.

David Byrne, Barbara Kruger, Sol LeWitt, Haim Steinbach, Jeff Wall, along with curator Joseph Kosuth, each sent an image by FAX from New York to Tokyo. The receiving machine printed high-resolution images on clear acetate, which were then used as photo negatives. The final products were black and white enlargements, set in identical frames. One print was made of each work, that is, only one “authentic reproduction.” The result was an exhibition of work by dissimilar artists whose “philosophically shared space” (Kosuth) was underscored and illuminated by the shared medium.

Kosuth’s piece, perhaps an essential acknowledgment of the germ of the idea, was a line from Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” translated into Japanese. In English the line would read, “One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand that could be fully satisfied only later.” Benjamin does not seem to have had a significant effect on artmaking in this country; and furthermore, the interdependence of concept, word, and image in contemporary art in general is only beginning to be explored. However, Kosuth’s stark message, implying that this text can comprise the entire content of a legitimate work of art, may still prove influential in the long run.

Kruger’s contribution featured a fuzzy halftone photo of a (nude?) woman on her back with a faint smile on her lips. A bold caption above, also in Japanese, reads “We are not your maids.” Kruger’s original intention, apparently, was for the caption to read “We are not your servants;” however, the extreme gender-specificity of the Japanese Ianguage forces this differently nuanced reading. Whether this reinforces or detracts from the message is unclear, but the implications in Japan, a country in which feminist art is virtually nonexistant, are not: the Japanese language itself is the greatest prison.

On the other hand, yet another variation on Vertical Lines Not Straight Not Touching, from LeWitt was disappointingly academic, and Wall’s drawing, Young Man Examining Some Bowls, while charming in its way, was a bit Orientalist in spirit.

The two most provocative works were by Byrne and Steinbach. Byrne’s Evil Eye II may be part of his current series of visual works based on photos of Japan, and was quite surprising both in its darkness and in its accessibility. The image seemed to be a photo of Diana the huntress accompanied by Cupids, painted on a dinner plate in a kitschy approximation of an 18th-century French style. The image is covered with flies, at which Diana seems to be swatting with her bow. Scrawled on top of the image are the Chinese characters for “violence,” “envy,” “hatred,” “anger,” “fear,” “greed,” “jealousy,” and “lies,” at which she also seems to swatt. This is a striking, unsettling image about culture, vice, and passion, assembled with seeming naïveté but overflowing with irony.

Steinbach’s contribution, part of his series involving the appropriation of ad copy and product labels, consists entirely of the words “yo, beep, honk, toot.” The words, of course, were taken directly from ads, maintaining the original typefaces and spacing, but removing them from their original contexts and recombining them with words taken from other sources. “Yo, beep, honk, toot” conjure up the images of products—automobiles, delivery services, etc.—that could be advertised in this way, and poses the all-important and potentially subversive question, “Why does seeing things make you feel that you are being asked to buy something?”, or “Why is it you involuntarily link these innocuous words with real products?” This very fuzzy mental zone of connections between words, the image of objects, and the desire to be gratified by them is one of the last still uncharted frontiers of art.

Much of the work, particularly Kosuth’s, Kruger’s, and Steinbach’s, operates in a way still unfamiliar to most viewers here, artists and critics included. The most telling commentary implied that this work was “too straight,” or “not vague enough to allow the average Japanese the enjoyment of filling in the gaps with his own emotions.” Much of the humor and irony seems to have gone unnoticed. Which is all by way of saying that, regardless of the relative perfection of the communications media, communications themselves will continue to pose the greatest challenge.

Azby Brown