New York

Diana Thater

David Zwirner | 525 & 533 West 19th Street

On wall-mounted flat-screen monitors, well-groomed hands move without hesitation over chessboards turned at an angle to the screen, hitting clocks and grabbing pieces in confident advances. Thus did Diana Thater’s most recent show at David Zwirner offer what her work so often does: a technologically mediated abstraction dependent on yet oddly divorced from the representations through which we perceive it. Yet in these deft moves, chess initiates will no doubt recognize a narrative after all, since Thater, in the jejune spirit of battle reenactment, has staged—with the help of various members and the owner of the Los Angeles Chess Club—the so-called Immortal Game of 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky (which also appeared in a somewhat altered form in Blade Runner) and Garry Kasparov’s 2003 mêlée with his computer opponent, Deep Junior, as well as the fictitious game between Alice and the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass (which Thater decided to play herself).

This is not to suggest that any of these games told a story as such even if one could decipher it, but that the context itself introduced a plot—temporal succession and history. Thater also commissioned a senior master to devise what she calls a “portrait” match of the “game as a subjectivity—a coming into being” to be played with black and white pieces and then all black. The show’s title, “Here is a text about the world . . . ,” is taken from this work, Here is a text about the world, Written by Mick Bighamian, Senior Master, September 2007 (Played by Nathaniel Lagemann and Mick Bighamian), (all works 2008), but the connection between it and the remainder of the installation was difficult to discern. What, exactly, was the proposed link among the chess reenactments, two large-scale projections related to falconry, with an even more involved backstory than the works involving chess, and projected still images of the sun (tinted blue to “defy color conventions”) and moon (washed with gold for the same reason)?

For Horus, Thater invited fifteen California falconers to a stone amphitheater in the Santa Monica Mountains, which she proceeded to film from above, surveying the scene while the birds remained on the ground. A motley group of women in wraparound sunglasses and men in faded jeans sit on the stone steps, a scene at odds with portraits of gilded nobility frequently associated with the sport. Long prized for its manifest articulation of capital, falconry now appears less triumphal than quirkily subcultural (in fact, the New York Times recently quoted Thater discussing the fact that the bird owners were initially wary of her and feared her inquiries for participation were attempts to confiscate illegal birds). Needless to say, too, the California topography of Thater’s shots is not a convincing stand-in for Central Asia or even Western Europe, further distancing the scene from its Old World associations. Elsewhere, Thater’s other projected work, A Cast of Falcons, focused more closely on the animals, and the photograph Shumla (a female Gyr/Prairie falcon, handled by Ashlee Miknuk) constituted another kind of portrait that follows past projects involving a virtual Noah’s ark of zebras, wolves, and bees.

The gallery’s press release reminds us that “chess and falconry are linked by their shared medieval aesthetic, historical origins in the East, and appropriated traditions in the West,” but the works were neither oblique enough to one another for the juxtaposition to feel entirely arbitrary nor related enough for their placement alongside one another to be helpfully meaningful. And while so much of Thater’s best work renders institutional spaces reflexive, on this occasion the gallery just felt plain large and full of coy artifice, a text about the world right now, indeed.

Suzanne Hudson