New York

Jason Dodge

Having been the focus of sustained critical analysis and artistic practice for decades, “the real” has at last become nothing more than an engine to generate special effects and narrative follies. Maybe it’s natural that after an avalanche of art predicated on personal expression, with “authentic” voices intoning the contents of their souls and soliciting us to care about this or that woeful injustice, we would gravitate to pure fantasy and made-up misadventures.

In Jason Dodge’s second one-person exhibition in New York, the artist’s concern with what’s real and what’s not reveals itself as an obsession. “Le Touquet” is the name Dodge gives to his exclusive “Palace Hôtel au Vuilaux,” a fictional retreat nestled, we are told, in some lovely little corner of France. The installation, whose lengthy title is the text of a telegram alluding to an interrupted or abandoned love affair, consists of five groups of carefully fabricated objects and bits of trash supposedly belonging to the hotel (all works 1999–2000). It’s the morning after, and in this make-believe world it’s clear that we’ve missed the party. Obviously, the beautiful people are off to some other Cythera. Excluded from the privileged inner circle, the viewer performs the role of tourist and is left to ogle the exquisite aftermath.

It’s all quite deluxe, the (real) silk-covered cushions on the deck chairs, the (real) zebra-wood Ping-Pong table. Virtually every item is branded with Le Touquet’s logo: the dry-cleaner bag that spills open with a fresh eiderdown comforter (on top of a real lion-skin rug); the sunbathing mats accessorized with (real) Burberry plaid blankets; the cocktail glasses and matchbooks strewn here and there. Even the plastic plant wrappers are customized with Le Touquet’s majestic emblem. Dodge has a great eye for detail and an impeccable sense of design. He’s very, very good at making things, too. But that’s where it all starts to break down. Did he really make all those little bits of “pocket trash”? Did he really make the cigarettes and the cigarette packs, too? As I examined the butts and ticket stubs for evidence of machine or hand manufacture, I quickly discovered I didn’t care one way or the other.

There is some interest in Dodge’s approach to trompe l’oeil. As Robert Gober, Fischli & Weiss, and many others have done on occasion, Dodge interrupts the usual assumption that something handmade is somehow more real than a mass-produced object. In the fiction the installation establishes, everything carefully made by Dodge to look real is decidedly not. This sort of semiotic entanglement is pronounced but not necessarily developed in the work. Consequently, it feels disappointingly as though the viewer is drawn into the work at the level of craft and sleight-of-hand tricks. And that’s not even the whole story: There’s a lot of hyperventilation about the affair that did or didn’t “really” happen, around which the work seems to revolve.

Again, not that we care much one way or the other, but there is the matter of how to make sense of these dangling signifiers. What with the fuss about branding and the nuances of aristocratic style, I walked away from the installation with a picture of the artist’s dedication to the portrayal of five-star luxury, and that leaves me momentarily wondering about Dodge’s own relationship to the designer demimonde of Le Touquet that he so adoringly brings into view. Is this the love affair that animates his art? Is this the object of Dodge’s desire? Once again, I find that I don’t really care.

Jan Avgikos