“Post Human”

FAE Musée d'Art Contemporain

The premise of this traveling exhibition is an apocalyptic vision of a not-so-distant “post human” future when the planet will be populated by artificially perfected beings, genetically altered and surgically reconstructed. In this asocial world, one’s identity is not formed through a process of socialization but by computer-generated “mind exercises.” The catalogue essay, written by Jeffrey Deitch, who also organized the exhibition, portentously states: “Our children’s generation could very will [sic] be the last generation of ’pure’ humans.” While the effects of bio-technology and genetic engineering are certainly very real concerns—at least for the few highly industrialized countries that have access to such technology—the problems that these advances present are considerably more complex than one would gather from this exhibition. Walking through the installation, one feels not a sense of impending doom but rather a mix of playful cynicism and adolescent-boy’s-locker-room jokiness.

Deitch chose to illustrate his thesis with works by a selection of artists from America, Europe, and one from Japan, artists he believes are making art in response to these new technologies. However, outside the context of this exhibition, many of the works included have little in common except for an irreverence toward the history of art and a focus on the human body. For example, in the main-floor gallery, a go-go dancer’s platform by Felix Gonzalez-Torres surrounded by Taro Chiezo’s moving mechanical toy cars covered by doll dresses, stands in front of two spread wax legs by Robert Gober. The result is a confused, circuslike atmosphere that makes it difficult to focus on the individual works. Gober’s Two Spread Legs, 1991, is at its most powerful when given ample space and limited distractions, as was the case when it was recently shown in the group exhibition “Doubletake,” 1992, at London’s Hayward Gallery, where it evocatively straddled a passageway into the next room.

Other juxtapositions caused works to be neutralized, misread, or invited unclear associations. Kiki Smith’s crawling, flayed female figure leaving a trail of excrement was placed alone in a room with Paul McCarthy’s mechanized tableau of two men “fucking nature,” giving her piece an obsequiously sexual slant. Smith’s work is, rather, fueled by a humanistic curiosity about the body’s functioning and malfunctioning; McCarthy’s is of another order, representing the body’s sexual impulses acted out as alienated mechanical motions, preferably onanistic. Another case of misplacement occurred with four of Cindy Sherman’s recent photographs of dismembered dolls engaged in various sex acts. Hung on the wall behind Sylvie Fleury’s carpet covered with shoes and shoe boxes, they acted as an esthetic backdrop to the similarly-colored oriental rug in front of them. Both works suffered for the placement—it dulled the emotional impact of the photographs with the playfulness of Fleury’s piece and gave the scattering of shoes a misleading undertone of sexual fetishism.

If one put on blinders, however, and concentrated on individual pieces, the exhibition offered an opportunity to see works by artists that have had little exposure in this part of Switzerland. For example, one of the high points was two pieces by Karen Kilimnik: a scattering of artificial snow, fondue pot, stuffed animals and other adolescent detritus entitled Switzerland, the Pink Panther & Peter Sellers & Boris & Natasha in Siberia, 1991; and her series of drawings caricaturing and commenting on advertising images and feature stories from fashion and decorating magazines. Another surprise was a well-installed example of one of Charles Ray’s oversized mannequins, which was placed alone in a small room to emphasize its frightening banality.

As an approach to exhibiting contemporary art, “Post Human” resembles, in method, much recent art: it is an acritical pastiche of artworks, brought together regardless of context or intent. This idea alone would have made the selection more interesting; the organizer’s attempt to justify his choices with a spooky, sci-fi theme merely makes one question the purpose of such group exhibitions.

Elizabeth Janus