New York

Alan Scarritt

Cynthia Broan Gallery

On seeing Alan Scarritt’s recent exhibition at Cynthia Broan Gallery, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rosalind Krauss’s landmark essay on ’70s art, “Notes on the Index, Part I” (1977), even though most of the objects on view were made in the last three years. Everywhere in the twenty-seven works of photography, video, sound, sculpture, and installation were those trace markers that function simultaneously as indicators of presence and ciphers of absence: photograms (“that subspecies of photo,” according to Krauss, “which forces the issue of photography’s existence as an index”) showing hands over water, their extended index fingers generating ripples; footprints; oversize captions; a plaster cast of a foot. Shadows predominated: In the droning twelve-minute video Re:Naissance, 1981, a feedback loop is generated by aiming a camera at the monitor into which it is sending its signal, revealing what at first appears as an undifferentiated field of gray to be an image of Scarritt’s hand, his fingers spreading to cast hazy, overlapping silhouettes.

Early in her essay, Krauss cites the connection between video art and narcissism that she had charted a year earlier, and the first part of Scarritt’s exhibition title, “Echo and Narcissus (Ain’t It Just Like the Night),” invokes the myth from which obsessive self-regard takes its name. The choice is fitting: As the spurned wood-nymph Echo can only repeat the last words she has heard, the artist’s production of the past twenty-five years is made up of successive series that reiterate, often with slight developmental increments, the concerns of previous work. Such thematic constancy made for a coherent show, one resonant with internal echolalia as well as multiple doubled images; a proliferation of diptychs summoned the original selfsame—and thus hopelessly split and helplessly doomed—individual.

At certain points—especially in the Rorschach imagery in Kepler’s Book (SOL), 1995, the two drawings of a narcissus bloom, and the scumbled-over mirrors in a set of small mixed-media assemblages—Scarritt’s Ovidian mapping was a bit too neat, and he ran the risk of allowing his fabular framework to outflank work that was affecting enough without an attendant allegorical context. But three curious sculptural installations—spare amalgams that call up both Alberto Giacometti’s attenuations in metal and Robert Smithson’s canted mirrors—forestalled an overly literal reading, as did the emotional breadth of Scarritt’s evocations. The prints Lotus Studies I and Lotus Studies II (both 2004) possess a Harold Edgerton milk-drop-like composition that is at once geeky and whimsical, while elsewhere intermittent hints of sensuality (the come-hither pose of a female figure in the left half of Hello Goodbye, 2005) were steadied by intimations of mortality (a murky human skull, in its other half).

The centerpiece of the exhibition was Narcissus, 2006, a sculpture comprising two glass panes leaning in a V against the wall and, wedged between them, a plastic replica of a brain that, when viewed from above, becomes a dizzying hall-of-mirrors circle. This model of an infinitely spiraling, imprisoned cerebrum conjured the half of Scarritt’s title taken from mythology as well as the parenthetical allusion of its second part. “Ain’t it just like the night” are the first words of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” (1966), whose pronominally fluctuating narrator, loving the one he’s with instead of the absent, spectral femme named in Dylan’s title, finds himself losing it, his conscience (and consciousness) exploding. The reference is poignant, but Scarritt would have done just as well with the song’s second line: “We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it.”

Lisa Turvey