New York


Supposedly testing where the “abstract or representational ‘space’ of painting” and the “abstract or representational ‘space’ of television” begin and end (and converge), “Screen,” curated by Joshua Decter, had the equipment for a keen viewing experience, but the show was never plugged in. The accompanying video catalogue inter-cut shots of parts of paintings in the show or groups of parts of paintings with text about the rather flimsy conceptual and theoretical basis of “Screen” as well as stills—no noise or action—from television programs (Julia Roberts and one of the Friends guys; spacemen; the 60 Minutes stopwatch; etc.). But TV is noisy, filled with rapid, banal chatter, just like life; the (commercial) breaks from the chatter, unlike life, are even more chatter-filled. Television is still only when taped and paused on a VCR. The arty, premeditated silence of the video catalogue and its odd pacing—much slower than television, both faster and slower than painting—made it clear that Decter’s project was safely closer to the realm of art than anywhere else, upholding a high/low dichotomy he surely intended to critique or at least to blur.

Of course, television and painting have influenced one another, but while it is fairly easy to see what these paintings have in common with television (color, blankness, cheesiness, entertainment value, and, yes, beauty), nowhere does Decter show what television has to do with the paintings he has chosen. For the most part, TV couldn’t care less about painting: it is too busy moving on to something else. Its aim is proliferation, the redundantly new. Broadcasting. Now this. Click something sexy click random acts of violence click home shopping click.

Of course, television remains the most undertheorized of media, but are comparisons with painting really the aptest way to go about it? Fixating on the similarity of “screens,” Decter ignores what is unique to television—as opposed to painting, video, film, the novel, and so on. He claims to be considering the “different velocities of seeing” by comparing television with painting, but neither his show nor the video “reconstruction” of it provides enough evidence or analysis to demonstrate why, if television has indeed quickened the pace of the gaze, it is necessarily a bad thing.

Hanging this show as if taking cues from the Alfred C. Barnes Foundation, Decter crammed one piece next to another. The paintings suffered as a result, especially because he never explained the rationale behind doing so—was it somehow echoing TV’s clutter or its tendency to flatten discontinuities? The au courant toniness of most of the artists chosen, who often ironize popular culture to divulge their indebtedness to but difference from it, did not help Decter investigate whether such irony and difference is possible on television. If painting is a screen similar to TV’s, if Decter were going to confront TV’s amazing esthetic schisms and its consequences for painting, wouldn’t more apposite curatorial choices have included blockbuster museum exhibition posters, paintings within ads and home-design spreads torn from magazines, chain restaurant and hotel paintings, and black-velvet wonders in addition to the excellent work exhibited here of Alex Katz, Elizabeth Peyton, Philip Taaffe, and Peter Halley? Somewhat oblivious to technological lapses in verisimilitude, Decter never makes clear why a “genuine” Glenn Ligon painting on TV or online would be different from a reproduction of a Glenn Ligon painting on the same media.

This show’s problems reminded me of a recent episode of MTV’s House of Style. After Amber and Shalom interviewed Julien D’Ys, hairdresser extraordinaire, and got him to show some of his newest styling techniques involving a kind of clay, they decided they had to bolster their claims for his artistry by getting D’Ys to show his paintings too. Julien D’Ys is an artist, and some of his hairdos are more interesting than certain works in Decter’s show—but not his paintings. Paintings, television, and hairdos—super! Paintings like television and hairdos—great! Paintings on television—why bother to paint?

Bruce Hainley