Los Angeles

Buzz Spector

Roy Boyd Gallery

One thing you can say for Buzz Spector is that he does his homework. The bummer is he hangs it in galleries and calls it art. The problem is not that Spector’s work is overly smart, or that he approaches knowledge as power (knowledge as value, privilege, security, boredom); what’s irritating is the way he treats that power—like a teacher’s pet, he deftly blends reverence and opportunism. Evoking the solemn certitude of a bible-study meeting, his latest show dutifully recites chart-topping art-world catechisms—we’re invited to sing along to our favorite hymns about the loss of the original, the debunked myth of authenticity, and the text’s inescapability. Such themes don’t serve as backdrops for Spector, as vast bodies of writing generally related to the specific ideas that animate his art; rather, they’re given the entire stage, replacing actual thinking with the widely celebrated image of Thought. Spector gladly performs the role of art-talk valet, his works offering large parking spaces for those luxury-line notions today’s art audiences love to flatter themselves with. Forget that this work, with its disparate materials, use of words, and reproductive methods has the trappings of Conceptual art. It’s really just court painting by other means.

Spector’s show parades monumentally obvious references to the post-Structuralist credo: there are literal instances of excavation, displacement, proliferating copies, decenterings, and language slippages. Drafted by Spector to be the latest Modernist icon sacrificed to post-Modern know-how, Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Suprematism (with Eight Red Rectangles) is reprised in half of the six works displayed. The show’s centerpiece, also called Suprematism (with Eight Red Rectangles), 1991, duplicates Malevich’s composition in the form of rectangular pockets carved into a freestanding wall. Sized to match these pockets are eight red hardcover books lying on the floor at the wall’s base; printed on the spine of each book is checklist information about the original painting (one book is titled Stedelijk Museum, after the painting’s current owner, and so on). The use of books and the hint at cataloguing call to mind a diverse crew of artists, ranging from Marcel Broodthaers to Allen Ruppersberg to Christopher Williams, although Spector’s art has no particular quality that compares to theirs—to, say, Ruppersberg’s wry melancholy or Williams’ diabolical, baroque archiving. Spector is attracted not to a text but to the text; his books serve only as stereotypes, flatly illustrating his crude pedagogy.

The faint whiff of post-Soviet reckoning given off by Spector’s “Suprematist” works is thickened by two other pieces in the show. In Red Sea, 1992, two copies of a postcard depicting an ocean liner are hung side-by-side in a small frame; in one the water is blue, and in the other it’s painted red. In Red “C,” 1992, mass-produced copies of both the red and blue versions of the same postcard, with quotes about nostalgia printed on their backs, are stacked on the floor and offered free to viewers. The piece owes too great a debt to the recent work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and for Spector the comparison couldn’t be less flattering. Characterized for the most part by their generosity, Gonzalez-Torres’ pieces give away literally sweet nothings, tokens with a weighted emptiness that denotes a deeply felt desire not only to share experience but to do so in open terms, thereby foregrounding the sense of possibility that the acts of encounter and sharing entail. What one gets from Spector is a chance to exchange an idea the value of which is completely determined prior to the encounter; one gets to uphold tacitly the limits of an accepted discourse, to be included in the distribution of knowledge as consensus and boredom. Well, thanks but no thanks.

––Lane Relyea