New York

Chivas Clem

Maccarone | 630 Greenwich Street

By referencing the Mallarméan metaphysics of Yves Klein’s high-modernist “void” of 1960 in the title of his first solo show, Chivas Clem might be posing the possibility that a poetic revolution still lurks in the pornographic banality of today’s globalized, high-speed Spectacle. Or he might also be asking, skeptically: Is art even possible after Microsoft, after CNN? For “Leap into the Void,” Clem’s “material” of choice is the digital image—outputted onto glossy sheets of unframed photo paper and ink-jetted onto bare canvas. The content of these images is 95 percent the flimsy, flashy stuff of the Web, TV, and tabloids: paparazzi shots of scandal-branded celebrities, news photos ranging from a chained and blindfolded Lynette “Squeaky” Fromm in 1970-something to a captured Taliban soldier on a 2001 New York Times cover. There is a dandyish ease and perverse wit both in Clem’s nonchalant reduction of artmaking to the common, everyday activity of clicking-dragging-dropping and in his knack for interior decorating. Ease is part of the concept, slyly exposing the fact that every consumer of information and symbol manager today is, like it or not, basically operating as a conceptual artist. With the clean, lightheaded, lots-of-less (three floors’ worth) feel of this show, Clem doesn’t seem to be doing much more than clicking on “gallery.”

If Klein’s art was driven by a mystical fascination with nothingness—his sublime void was terrifying, but it also held the promise of purity and infinite rebirth, of beginning or creating again from zero—Clem leaps into the emptiness of TV Guide and takes the art world with him. In Untitled (Portrait of OJ Simpson), 1999, an enlarged page from a Sotheby’s catalogue shows a Warhol painting of Simpson offered for sale (to help fund his legal defense) by the accused murderer himself. Framing Hollywood, 2003, reproduces a magazine blurb (“Younger people enjoy art’s impact”) on recent art-buying trends among movie stars such as Cameron Diaz, while A Sentimental Education, 2003, exposes Andrew Cunanan’s taste for art history in a downloaded crime-scene photograph of Versace’s killer’s bookshelf. By revealing the mechanisms by which art, celebrity, and crime intersect and repeat one another, Clem makes a rudimentary diagram of the American psyche while flattening Klein’s cosmic nothingness onto the same surface that transmits and equalizes everything from the riots in Seattle to Calista Flockhart’s famously anorexic figure. If the information economy is our version of the void, the whole world has also become a readymade, and all its users appropriation artists. Clem’s leap into the fast, slick, immaterial material of the mass-media image (both the subject and the “support” of his practice) is potentially—and it’s an open question, left hanging here—the arrival of a new, post-Kleinian trickster art capable of reappropriating its own expropriation by media culture.

The gallery’s ground floor is filled with a large video projection, also titled Leap into the Void, 2003, in which Clem literally reenacts Klein’s famous leap. Using a cheap blue-screen effect, the artist fakes his own suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming subway train, bringing the original Klein image back into contact with a distinctly local, New York–tabloid flavor. A final freeze-frame catches him in midair: a self-portrait of the artist as leaper—as leaping image. Also left in suspense is the question of a coming (thinner, faster, emptier, more abstract) subjectivity that might start again from the zero of today and make the void creative again.

John Kelsey