New York

Jonah Freeman

The Franklin Abraham, 2004—the creepy, darkly satirical video that was the centerpiece of Jonah Freeman’s recent show—is set in an indeterminate “parallel present” and concerns a building that is two miles long and houses two million people. A sort of Time Warner Center run amok, the eponymous Franklin Abraham takes the concept of mixed-use development to decadent extremes, comprising apartments, offices, casinos, theme restaurants, upscale lounges, dingy demimonde salons, retail operations both licit and illicit, and a “Sky Park.” Its inhabitants, who converse in a quasi-absurdist mixture of reality-TV banalities and over-the-top cyberpunk argot, are equally heterogeneous, encompassing every imaginable social type, from ladies who lunch to a bizarre gang of pseudo-Hasidic squatters.

Freeman introduces us to a sample of the population via a daisy chain of interwoven vignettes: A married woman talks on the phone to her mousey single friend; the friend goes out to dinner with the building’s repulsive and possibly homicidal waste manager; the manager engages in a shady transaction with one of the aforementioned squatters; and so on. Meanwhile, class war seems to be brewing, if the threats of a protestor with a bullhorn (“We’re giving C-4 to everyone we know!”) are to be believed. In the tradition of dystopian urban science fiction, the Franklin Abraham’s proles are crowded together near street level, while the digs of the sinister industrialists are more convenient to the Sky Park. One character refers to another as a “supplysider,” and indeed, it’s tempting to look at Freeman’s megaskyscraper, with its grotty, miasmic lower floors, as a deadpan literalization of the notion of trickle-down economics.

The Reaganomic terminology seems appropriate, since the video’s mise-en-scène has a New Wave noir quality that feels distinctly ’80s. But if Blade Runner (1982) is the The Franklin Abraham’s most obvious stylistic influence, another Hollywood movie, The Shining (1980), is even more insistently evoked. Like Kubrick’s Steadicam extravaganza, The Franklin Abraham is largely constructed of mesmeric tracking shots that seem more intent on narrating space than story—that imply, in fact, that space is story—and that suggest the alienating vastness of the built environment they traverse. More animated than any of his characters, Freeman’s camera moves down corridor after corridor—some lined with anonymous cubicles, some carpeted and crown-molded, some paved with marble—seamlessly linking his varied set pieces. His vision of an impacted, hypertrophied urbanism as capitalism’s nightmarish terminal point is, of course, a venerable one. But as he surveils his giant fictional edifice from the inside—presenting burrowing, kinetic views of its interstices and benumbed social spaces rather than vertiginous panoramas of its facades—Freeman pushes beyond pastiche, creating what ultimately comes off as an unlikely combination of high production values and Lefebvrian critique.

At Andrew Kreps, Freeman also showed sculptures and C-prints depicting brand-name products from the world of the Franklin Abraham. They looked modest and a bit perfunctory compared to Freeman’s earlier installations, particularly the disorienting mirrored cubicles and labyrinths he has exhibited in the last few years. The Franklin Abraham, on the other hand, which is more intricately conceived and elaborately executed than his video Bring the Outside In, 2000, also has more conceptual heft. For Freeman, it seems, the road of excess leads to his own palace of wisdom—even if it isn’t a place most of us would want to live.

Elizabeth Schambelan