New York

Georg Herold

Brooke Alexander

The title of Georg Herold’s recent exhibition was a mouthful of cyberspeak—“compu.comp.virtual visualities.equivacs.bitmapdyes”—but anyone lured by this pidgin html into expecting a deep artistic investigation of the Web was in for a disappointment, since the show went no further than the graphic interface, the familiar sight that greets you when you turn on your computer. Stripes of concentrated watercolor on large sheets of photographic paper recalled the palettes of digital tool bars (or their low-tech cousins, paint samples from Home Depot), and strings of suspended wood blocks floating a foot in front of the wall made erratic, looping arcs, like a novice’s pixelated MacPaint scribbles gone three-dimensional.

These trappings of digital display remind us that the Internet, touted as a hypermodern realm of infinite freedom, is ultimately linked to the individual user through a set of graphic conventions as regimented as a Skinner box and as dated as a game of Space Invaders. The desktop filing system introduced by Apple and universalized by Microsoft in the ’80s (including the software that simulates the traditional artist’s studio) has undergone only cosmetic change over the years, and the basic program is as entrenched as the alleged monopoly that promotes it. Paintbox-style programs enable creativity, to be sure, but within fixed parameters. Like Herold’s three-dimensional “gestures,” everything that passes through them is inextricably yoked to a grid: On screen, curves are mere approximations, moving from one point to another in discrete stair steps. Colors can be tweaked (by adding more dots of this or that hue) but never truly mixed. The results of these conditions are movies and websites in which bells and whistles compensate for the cheesy, artificial look.

Herold uses cyberspace as the basis for slyly satiric pieces, just as he used crude oil, caviar, and other politically loaded substances to make art in the past. His wood sculptures, twisting and turning like roller coasters, are actually less gridlike than they seem: The “pixels” of one-by-two-inch pine join together in skewed, irrational sequences reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau. And the color-bar paintings abound in messy, un-digital subtleties: streaks, drips, stains leaking across edges left by masking tape. These eccentric formal statements, full of anarchic vitality, make a convincing case for the pleasures of the nonvirtual; using the “paintbox” itself as subject matter is an amusing dig at the limitations of current technology.

Tom Moody