New York

Tony Tasset

Feigen Contemporary

Back in the ’80s, at least for a little while, Tony Tasset was one of a number of artists playing games with the heritage of Minimalism, building cubes and boxes that made you think of Donald Judd and then upholstering them plushly in leather. Turning a supposedly primary structure into something like a rich uncle’s ottoman, Tasset might have been seen as just a prankish kid sassing his elders, and the work was, in fact, pretty funny—but it was also elegantly executed and art historically informed (I particularly remember some canny puns on seriality), pointing toward not only a ’60s Minimalist like Judd but also a ’70s post-Minimalist like Scott Burton and an ’80s commodity artist like Jeff Koons or Haim Steinbach. In retrospect, though, as interesting as anything about this art is the fact that it bears so little resemblance to what has come next. Like Charles Ray, Tasset turns out to be an artist well grounded in a rigorous formalism who has moved on into a motley variety, in both media and content.

This recent show was mainly about the artist’s family, and, oh yes, the artist himself. It began with a twelve-foot-high sculpture in painted wax and steel—a rendering of a cherry tree in the Tassets’ garden. This gesture toward the exacting representation of nature was matched by two more, a pair of cast stones and a stuffed blue jay, together an abbreviated catalogue of the means of traditional sculpture (modeling, molding) plus one newcomer: taxidermy. The rest of the show moved into the more current media of photography and video, and not vérite video, either, but the kind made easier by computers, featuring fast switches of backdrops and the mutation of one form into another. In Carving Again, 2000, a bare-chested Tasset is seen putting on and taking off pounds, changing rapidly from pudgy to buff and back again, as the documentation of a diet that must have lasted months is compressed into seconds, then reversed and rerun in a continuous loop. More drastic transformations appear in I Am U R Me, 1998, in which Tasset, his wife, and their young son sit around the breakfast table, every few moments changing places—and identities—through computer morphing. As for the photographs, one is a life-size portrait of Tasset’s wife, who looks perfectly charming and stands in a contrapposto position familiar from art history; another is a four-by-five-foot close-up of Tasset’s son’s eye.

Deliberately miscellaneous, the show pulled in multiple directions—toward the warmth of family, the idiosyncrasies of art historical taxonomy, and also, through the gracefulness of the photo of Tasset’s wife and the absurdity-touched vanity of his video self-portraits, ideas about women’s and men’s different senses of self. Most interesting, indeed peculiarly fascinating, was I Am U R Me, whose careful little ballet of changed places and exchanged gazes dances lightly through the psychological intricacies of family life—the undercurrents of attraction and authority that in worst-case scenarios can lead to catastrophic domestic tensions, yet that here seem basically sunny. For even as one registers how the meaning of a glance changes when the husband and wife who swap it morph seconds later into father and son, or mother and son, the stronger note is a mood of harmonious coidentity. And even to say that much may be to risk laying too heavy a load on this and the other works in the show, given the elusive playfulness of Tasset’s intelligence.

David Frankel