New York

Josephine Meckseper

Elizabeth Dee Gallery

Writing about Robert Morris’s Mirrored Cubes, 1965, Rosalind Krauss observes that the viewer is “trapped in the cross fire of the mutual reflections set up by the surfaces of the four facing blocks . . . It is, perhaps, in this work more than any other that seriality is defined as the opposite of progress.” Morris’s boxes were originally placed in an otherwise empty gallery, with nothing to distract us from our own physical presence at the center of their infinite reflections. In Josephine Meckseper’s second solo exhibition in New York, two mirrored cubes placed in the center of the gallery reflected not only the viewer but also copious amounts of ephemera relating to the worlds of high-end commerce and political activism. The viewer was thus enmeshed in a “seriality” of images whose leveling power implied an altogether more depressing definition of “the opposite of progress”: If the reflections of Morris’s cubes add nothing to the real world, Meckseper seems to say, current activist strategies yield little more.

The gallery’s two interior spaces could easily have been mistaken for examples of the “curated” boutique: Blond wood and mirrored shelves supported sparsely installed hand-painted Christmas ornaments; mannequin fragments bore underwear and stockings; there were paintings incorporating modernist design motifs and reproductions of the covers of anarchist-themed books and a small monitor displayed Meckseper’s video footage of the September 2005 antiwar march on Washington, DC. The smaller room housed a clothing rack on which hung photographs of protesters, diminutive abstract canvases, pieces of jewelry, and a cardboard “50% Off” sign with a Chanel advertisement taped to its reverse side. In this endlessly refracted environment, the body became just another picture, a disheartening iteration of Marx’s dictum that “all that is solid melts into air.”

But Meckseper, who has also worked as a journalist and photographer for German newspapers and magazines, here continued to adhere to the journalistic principle of neutrality, eschewing any inflection that might tell us whether she meant her installation as lament or celebration. Instead, the show traversed its territory—the ever-widening overlap between fashion, politics, and capitalism—with a coolness suggestive of a desire to analyze rather than editorialize.

This interrogative stance was apparent even before one entered Meckseper’s exhibition-cum-emporium, via the alteration of two street-facing windows. Each of these had been transformed into a storefront display containing the artist’s vision of one half of America’s bifurcated political realm, pairing photographs that leaned rhetorically to the left or right with consumer goods and commercial signage. In the left-hand window, a tripartite logo that wryly fused the names of local pharmacy chain Duane Reade, Gagosian Gallery, and financial services firm (and frequent museum exhibition sponsor) UBS hovered above a vitrine featuring pictures of a 2003 antiwar march and a homeless girl. In the right-hand display; a note asserted that the featured items—a toilet brush and plunger among them—were made by female inmates at the neighboring Bayview Correctional Facility. The implication was that the work inside the gallery would target the art world as complicit in necessarily exploitative moneymaking activity.

The equivalences implied by these juxtapositions are nothing new; what resounds is the unease of coming face-to-face with artworks that blend these disparate referents so seamlessly. The installation’s complexities were located precisely in their elusiveness. Unlike the politically oriented artist collective Bernadette Corporation, in whose work an editorial voice is easy to locate, Meckseper’s image-vacuum made for a far more disconcerting experience. The question now is the same for artist and audience: Where can we go from here?

Brian Sholis