New York

Piotr Uklanski

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

Last November, Piotr Uklanski transformed Gavin Brown’s modest establishment into a simulated disco. With no apologies for his ’70s nostalgia trip, and with an economy of formal means, Uklanski created a backdrop just a few hustle-steps away from a set in Saturday Night Fever.

Uklanski isn’t the only one looking to disco’s glory days. John Travolta has made a triumphant comeback; the Bee Gees were recently honored by the American Music Awards as “International Artists of the Year”; KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It” has been transformed into a commercial jingle for Burger King; and more than a few fashion designers have resurrected leotards and synthetic fabrics in an effort to take us back to those halcyon days. Wisely, Uklanski diffused the nostalgia bomb; rather than blasting the audience with a hit list of period music, he redefined the disco dance-floor in relation to a variety of musical genres. The floor was hooked-up to a system that established a virtual synchronicity between the lights and rhythms of the music; when I visited it was techno, a natural choice given that the whole suggested an inspired synthesis of disco and the ’70s technoprecursor band Kraftwerk.

Visually, the gallery floor—a grid of multicolored lights flashing in time to the beat—could have been the Ur-dance floor of the ’70s, except that its color scheme and careful gridding suggested a hybrid of Dan Flavin, Vietor Vasarely, and Piet Mondrian. Uklanski’s pulsating ground of patterned lights installed over the gallery’s original floor fit squarely in a genealogical line that begins with the readymade, and also recalled the work of the California Light and Space artists. This luminous structure was, in fact, manufactured by the artist for the gallery, a clever spin on the normally sober products of site-specific strategies. In addition to occupying the “public” front display space, the substitute disco floor also crept into the back office—a transformative strategy that not only engendered spatial symmetry, but also negated the hierarchy implicit in the division of the gallery’s space.

Uklanski’s work has most in common with what might be called “social sculpture”—carefully crafted environments in which the audience becomes central to the artwork. After eating or playing guitar in a Rirkrit Tiravanija, why not go dancing in a Uklanski? Was Uklanski merely suggesting that one lose oneself in the hypnotic oscillation of pretty colors? Feel-good aesthetics are certainly part of the desired effect. After visiting the gallery, it occurred to me that the party atmosphere would have been enhanced by floating a cluster of Warhol’s silver, helium-filled balloons, on the gallery’s ceiling.

Inadvertently reinforcing Uklanski’s ironic affiliation to Modernism, a specially commissioned Flavin light sculpture went up in the windows of Calvin Klein’s new store on Manhattan’s upper east side, shortly after Uklanski’s show came down. What perversely united these two pieces was that the Flavin’s “site-specific” gesture reaffirmed Minimalism’s corporate identity, while Uklanski’s piece flaunted this sad reality by reanimating the minimalist idiom through the filter of Studio 54. Yet Flavin’s work succeeded precisely because, at least for me, it only sought to be received as inspired ornamentation for shopping, while Uklanski apparently took pleasure in offering a framing device for parties. Perhaps this is all to be expected when it seems that, at the end of the millennium, art’s greatest aspiration is to inhabit the glorious superficiality of entertainment/fashion culture. CK1 and neodisco? Precisely.

Joshua Decter