New York

Jill Magid

Gagosian Gallery

Legal papers and surveillance cameras can be the stuff of messy divorces, but in the hands of Brooklyn- and Amsterdam-based artist Jill Magid, they become instruments for the expression of love—or something like it. Featuring various artifacts such as an activity log, documentary photographs, CCTV footage, and objects in Plexiglas displays laid out case by case like courtroom evidence, the artist’s New York solo debut detailed a series of perverse romances with authority. Blending forensic precision with poetic obliqueness, the works carve out intimate niches within civic structures, rewiring the closed circuits of love and law in a manner that cleverly destabilizes both.

Consider Evidence Locker, 2004. The provocative environment comprises several individual works by Magid, including One Cycle of Memory in the City of L (a “novella” in the form of thirty-one access-request documents she addressed to City Watch, Liverpool’s sweeping security camera operation, as flirty missives to a faithful voyeur) and four videos edited from footage tracking the artist in a red trench coat crisscrossing the city, at times with her eyes shut, guided by police via earpiece. In one of the videos, Final Tour, which portrays the artist on the back of a motorcycle as an officer steers her through the surveillance territory and finally past its outer limits, bureaucratic stultification is stylized so as to register as cinematic ennui. (Indeed, the mournful strains of Georges Delerue’s music for Jean-Luc Godard’s Le mépris [Contempt], 1973, serve as the sound track.)

Direct intervention by authority figures may be a foil to the necessarily one-sided watchfulness of security programs, but it also constitutes a professional breach and an invasion of privacy that is, at its extreme, truly disturbing. Magid’s installation Lincoln Ocean Victor Eddy, 2006–2007, for instance, illustrates her five-month relationship with a New York police officer, beginning with the artist’s brash, and unsuccessful, request to be searched, through the nighttime rounds on which he allowed her to “shadow” him, to a number of highly illegal, and oddly intimate, offerings—the cop’s uniform and gun (documented in the two most startling photographs on view) and a 9-mm hollow-point bullet, here placed on a pedestal. The penalty for transporting this type of bullet is apparently a $35,000 fine and incarceration, making such gift-giving a gesture laden with risk. But risk, it seems, is the beating heart of Magid’s practice, a twin desire to the longing for heart-fluttering intimacy.

Upping the ante of such pointed transactions, Auto Portrait Pending, 2005, lies somewhere between Damien Hirst’s grotesque diamond-encrusted skull sculpture, For the Love of God, 2007, and Andrea Fraser’s videotaped sex romp with an American collector, Untitled, 2003. In the farthest corner of the gallery, a gold ring sits behind glass near a vitrine housing contracts with Lifegem, a professional service that turns cremated bodies into diamond accessories. (Human ashes, like diamonds, are composed largely of carbon, and thus, theoretically at least, one can become the other.) Magid has signed herself over to one lucky, and as yet undetermined, customer who shall own the artist (in symbolic terms) until her death, after which her ashes will be transformed into a jewel to be put in the ring on permanent display.

The danger of both the ring and the bullet lies, in part, in their emptiness. The vacant setting lays the ring bare as a token of ownership, while the hollow point makes the bullet’s entry particularly brutal. In the latter case, the danger of ownership, or possession, rests not with the owned but with the owner. Let’s not forget Mary Boone’s arrest in 1999 for mounting a Tom Sachs exhibition that featured working guns and an Alvar Aalto vase of live ammo. Following her arrest, Boone pricelessly distinguished “art” from “arms,” but Magid brings the two close, as loaded tools of a similar sort, each of which symbolizes abstract structures in need of a personal touch.

Kyle Bentley