Los Angeles

Dan Colen

Peres Projects

Dan Colen’s Secrets and Cymbals, Smoke and Scissors (My Friend Dash’s Wall in the Future), 2004–2006, is a life-size sculpture of a wall from a twentysomething’s garage or studio. Based on a scene also pictured in a photograph by “Dash” (the artist Dash Snow) himself, the sculpture re-creates a visually chaotic surface plastered with posters and photographs, magazine covers and pornographic images, knives and rubber gloves. Colen has crafted all of these things, and many more, from Styrofoam, paint, paper, and metal, even reproducing the wall’s infrastructure. But while many other contemporary artists also produce exacting renditions of photographic sources, Secrets and Cymbals fails to arouse the pathos at which it seems to aim. The point of his reproducing a Black Flag CD cover, say, remains obscure.

While Colen’s process is as painstaking as Dave Muller’s or Tim Gardener’s, for instance, his work contains none of their oeuvres’ longing or admiration. Secrets and Cymbals may be presented as a tribute of sorts, but the relics it immortalizes are neither unreconstructedly heroic nor provocatively antiheroic—they’re simply ordinary. And while the notion of a conscientious documentation of a particular time and place has its validity, Colen’s project stops well short of ruminating usefully on the presence or absence of nostalgia. The title’s reference to the future is correspondingly confusing, since in no sense do these images constitute a meaningful speculation on the shape of things to come.

Rather clearer from the title is the fact that Colen has no qualms about making frequent reference to his pals, and having received an early boost from hipster journal Vice, both he and Snow share an edgy reputation. What Secrets and Cymbals pays homage to, at least initially, thus appears to be little more than the artist’s social scene. Toward the center of the work, almost hidden by a model of an empty condom box, is a picture of a bear holding a tissue over its nose with the word BLOW written beneath—subtle!—while the show’s invitation poster depicts Colen and Snow mid–pillow fight. The impression is of a conceptual circle jerk in which no one can quite get it up.

Colen does have a real interest in both media and The Media, recreating covers of the New York Post, for example, in order to underscore the level of abstraction in popular news coverage. But any more developed critique flounders in the general boys-gone-wild mayhem. Ultimately, he fails even as a straightforward collector, since the subcultural artifacts he fetishizes have already been repeatedly recycled and are now utterly devoid of significance. Studded bracelets, punk rock, and urban graffiti have all long since been divested of their original sociopolitical implications, and Colen’s project is troubling in that the nature of this process is nowhere addressed: His painted Nikes, tags, and Bacardi bottle are as empty as we already assumed them to be.

Amra Brooks