New York

Peter Campus

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

Peter Campus is trying desperately hard to give imaginative consequence to the iridescence of electronic media and cyberspace. But he ends up confirming the stalemate of so much current art: bogged down in a sense of irony and absurdity that have become a kind of smug, vacant hype, he strips the nature he renders of all significance, emptying it not only of its organic veracity and the emotional import we traditionally give it but also of its simple density of presence. The magnified detail and vehement color of bee being, 1994, and scout, 1994, make the predictably disconcerting point succinctly: not simply mind-teasing simulations qua simulations, every element in these two pieces—in all of Campus’ work, for that matter—contributes to the artist’s pseudosublime, quasi-existential parodies of sensuous experience and honest curiosity. In particular, the fraudulent perversity of his luridly buoyant clouds gives the stylish game away. Unwittingly, Campus makes it clear that the computer image is not what it seems to be: not so much a trustworthy picture of something, as the idea of a picture, existing in some plastic Platonic heaven.

If Campus’ images make a compelling case for the prima facie conceptual nature of the computer picture, they also demonstrate the emptiness of the Conceptual project. In the struggle to free art from life so that art can ground itself in its own techniques and self-reflexive theorizing (a tendency particularly pronounced in some versions of art-as-idea Conceptualism), late-avant-garde work such as Campus’ has finally eradicated creative potential from esthetic practice. Campus’ art so overprivileges theory that it is no longer possible to make any sense of the vitality and significance of the experience of nature or art: all that remains is simply a kind of manipulative play with signs—a “construction” that is so self-conscious it has lost any self to be conscious of. The work, however pseudosignificant and portentous, presents consciousness dangling in a void of meaning. As a result Campus’ work cannot help but seem more arty than artful. The cryptic uncanny in his images comes ready-made, courtesy of the built-in decadence of the computer image. In a kind of sentimentalized surrealism, Campus does exploit the irreality of the screen to the full in this memento mori of nature, which suggests his true achievement: the disclosure that the supposedly brave new world of computer imagery is in fact the swaggering swan song of this millennium.

Donald Kuspit