New York

Ken Weaver

6th @ Prince

In “Knotts’ Landing,” Ken Weaver’s first one-person show, the artist’s suite of ten paintings staged a confrontation between two icons of popular culture: Don Knotts, the buffoonish, ectoplasmic sidekick of the television series The Andy Griffith Show, and UFOs. Part of what prevented this pairing from being merely smirky nod to The X-Files was an allegorical element (one that was revealed in the press release): to Weaver, the abducting UFO represents art-world spaces like the gallery and the museum, while Knotts is a stand-in for the artist-as-abductee. This iconology lends the images a comic reflexivity: the UFOs reveal the menacing-yet-desirable, otherworldly aspects of art institutionality, while the abjectly cowering Don Knotts is a place-holding self-portrait of the artist who both craves and fears the scary transcendence of art-world captivity. Though Knotts’s presence was limited to a single portrait, Don Knotts: TV Abductee, 1998, he functioned as the show’s tutelary spirit, and Knotts—mouth agape in shock and fear—looks characteristically miserable about it.

Rendered in monochromatic white and blue after slides Weaver took of various video images (Weaver’s sources comprise The Andy Griffith Show, a bootleg UFO cassette, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), the paintings register the scan-waves picked up by the still camera. Craftily, even fashionably correct in its respect for the degraded and the abject, Weaver’s fidelity to the decayed look of these third- or fourth-generation images simultaneously gives the works a Modernist painterly dash, the feel of a shakily captured video image, and the austerity and conceptual constraint of Gerhard Richter’s newspaper paintings from the ’60s. It was this multi-dimensional character, the subtle evocation and coexistence of several representational modes, that was the show’s compelling feature—the reason these landscapes-with-UFOs have the power, in a variety of ways, to spook.

Weaver does seem to want the UFOs themselves to appear at once eerie and plausible. In Abduction Series: Eternal Return, Var. 2, 1996, a vast zeppelin-like flying saucer hovers ominously above a field at night. In the foreground sits an oblivious army vehicle. If the image of a spaceship in a rural night sky is at this point so thoroughly familiar in popular culture as to approach invisibility, Weaver’s painting retains the capacity to chill by nearly blotting out the sky altogether with the bulk of the craft—that is, by turning its invisibility into a question of unperceived omnipresence.

On the other hand, Weaver seems to be too fascinated by the kitschiness of UFOs to tear them free of their popular-cultural context. The overall impression left by the show was that film and television, especially in their capacity to deliver up subject matter to painting, are as much Weaver’s concern as UFOs, abduction, and the art world’s analogously scary powers. In the end, the show suggested that painting itself, and the regal ease with which it can abduct and integrate any and all subject matter, is the real UFO.

Thad Ziolkowski