New York

Timothy Hutchings

I-20 Gallery

It’s neither plaudit nor put-down but straightforward observation to say that this exhibition had the ability to leave even the most tolerant visitor with a pounding headache. Timothy Hutchings’s predilection for swirling pattern and distorted sound made “Arm in Arm in Arm in Arm,” his second solo outing here, a lot less amiable than its title might suggest. Just the memory of 4-Way Polka Riot (all works 2003) begins to summon, as Richard E. Grant’s Withnail would have it, a “bastard behind the eyes.”

Hutchings’s assault on the senses began quietly with a suite of diminutive gouaches depicting, in the simplified but careful style of a Tintin cartoon, a flotilla of drifting icebergs. A neat conflation of the eternal sublime with period pop culture, the “After Hergé” series is also a punningly literal assertion of youthful cool. Its allusion to high adventure is appropriate too; the artist has gusto to spare even if his thinking and finish trail a bit behind.

Throughout the rest of the exhibition, Hutchings employed kaleidoscopic symmetry and blurring in order to abstract from familiar cultural sources, transforming fabric swatches and television cartoons into pulsating mandalas of electric color both moving and still. From Tiny Toons Extract and Simpson Blur we may infer a critique of the manipulative power of the broadcast media. In others, such as Commercial Break and TVcu, queasy stop-start music displaced dialogue, and that headache began to make its presence felt; A’ Quilting, projected on its own, hammered it home.

Wearing his Gen-X credentials on his sleeve, Hutchings also included a set of silent videos derived from Atari 2600 video games. Without key elements essential to actual play—figures, weaponry, vehicles—we were left with a sequence of flat, luminous backdrops that looked like clumsily animated Peter Halley paintings. Those who grew up with the classic console might have felt a twinge of nostalgia in front of Happy Silent Grand Prix, Peaceful Empty Bermuda Triangle, and the rest, while the project’s easy comedy of misrecognition was evident even to those without a working knowledge of Frogger. Cloud Walking, a fanciful four-and-a-half minute video projection in which the artist strolls, then drives, through the sky, shares the video games’ simplified narrative and characteristic “scrolling” motion but, without the associations of specific titles, falls as flat as Hutchings himself at the work’s slapstick denouement.

Accompanying the video works was a series of carpets whose designs reproduce the basic compositions and color combinations of late Rothko canvases. Here, visual signifiers of lofty ideas were pulled from their original context and inserted into the banal continuum of everyday life. In this case, the results might be considered either brattishly confrontational (if one was so sensitive as to take seriously the implied invitation to walk on these designs) or rather less extreme than the MoMA gift shop (which, if it has no Rothko memorabilia, is probably just awaiting fresh stock).

In the videos Center of the Universe and the aforementioned 4-Way Polka Riot, Hutchings patches four separate spinning vinyl records together into a single discordant panel, using a basic split-screen effect. Owing an obvious debt to John Cage and a more obscure one to London-based experimentalists Project Dark, it’s a simple but satisfying idea whose slightly rough-edged execution adds to its effectiveness. It’s a shame that “Arm in Arm in Arm in Arm” as a whole was not as judiciously edited.

Michael Wilson