New York

Kelley Walker

Paula Cooper Gallery | 534 West 21st Street

In 1967, advertising guru George Lois launched a famous print and television campaign for Braniff Airlines in which celebrity odd couples (Bennett Cerf and Ethel Merman; Sonny Liston and Andy Warhol; Rex Reed and Mickey Rooney) chatted while perched on the airline’s fashionably upholstered seats. In his recent show at Paula Cooper, Kelley Walker appropriated imagery from the campaign for a series of digital prints and a take-away poster. The prints feature the slightly off-register layering of imagery that inevitably recalls Warhol silk screens, but with a difference: Each Braniff photo appeared to have been parsed into its original color separations (cyan, magenta, yellow, black), which were then reproduced one atop the other, thus evoking an industrial, rather than a studio-based, printing process.

The largest work in this series—a roughly eleven-by-ten-foot untitled canvas (all works 2006) on which an abstract rectangular image of striped upholstery was printed six times, with the sixth iteration excised and displayed as a separate piece—was annotated on the checklist: “This painting is a unique work but can be sold as six individual paintings for $5,000 each.” This suggestion that the artist didn’t really care if his work was carved up into pieces seemed, like the silk screens, slightly off-register, setting up an imperfect congruence between the piece as a work of fine art (a “unique” painting on canvas) and as a decorative design item (modular and saleable in configurations to be determined by the consumer). Taking the conceit further, one could say that Walker’s work derives its unsettling effect from the shifting superimpositions that accrue around the edges, so to speak, of his layered incursions into the productive and distributive logic of the “creative industries”—with this logic often figured by radical flatness and the theoretically endless modification and proliferation of images across a variety of platforms.

For example, a trio of monumental digital prints of magazine covers (one from fashion rag Uomo Book and two from men’s magazine King), over which Walker had layered images of smears of pastel toothpaste before scanning and enlarging the combination, each exist as a CD-rom and a “hard copy.” Walker’s April 2005 Artforum cover, itself a reworked version of an earlier piece, has been transformed into a light box available in an edition of three. He also returned to an image he has used before—a photo of a civil rights protest similar to one Warhol famously appropriated—turning it upside down and splattering it with chocolate in a series of six silk screens. But the chocolate, like the scanned toothpaste, had an eerily pristine quality, the painterly gestures leached of texture and dynamism in the production process. Another untitled work comprised four large digital scans, mounted on Sintra, of Michael Jackson’s Santa Barbara County ID card. Displayed upside down, right side up, facing left, and facing right, the four prints, like the upside-down civil rights silk screens, imply an equivalency of directional categories, a literal disorientation—a two-dimensional field in which it doesn’t matter which end is up.

The take-away posters stacked on the floor reproduced the Liston/ Warhol Braniff ad, with a crazy digital collage of five-pointed stars and half-unwrapped chocolate bars virtually obliterating Andy. Deadpan, blank, autistic: These are some of the adjectives that have often been used to describe Warhol’s oeuvre and persona, and they’re not terribly far from another adjective—sociopathic—that, in the recent documentary The Corporation, was proposed as an apt descriptor for “the dominant institution of our time.” If this is the slippery affective slope that Warhol’s art articulated, then Walker’s own media interventions—bright, even gaudy, but undeniably creepy in their muteness—are very much in the spirit of the original King of Pop.

Elizabeth Schambelan