New York

Jonathan Horowitz

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency. That night, an election returns party was held within Jonathan Horowitz’s opportunistically timed and oddly entertaining “Obama ’08” exhibition. Horowitz irreverently and wittily appropriates items from American lowbrow and middlebrow culture, converting an already-reified pop vernacular into a pastiche of itself, and reveling in the tragicomic dimensions of postmodern life. His practice is cynical, hopeful, soulful, empty, celebratory, critical, complicit, engaged, fatalistic, satirical, stupid, and thoughtful.

“Obama ’08” might be understood as an alternative campaign headquarters, a platform offering an acerbic lampooning of the ridiculousness of popular and advertising cultures, the news media, the art world, and mainstream politics. Two elements of the show were viewable from outside, through the gallery’s windows: the title phrase OBAMA ’08 inscribed on a wall, and a canvas (The Ugly Republican [violet], 2008) that slyly evokes Richard Prince with this joke: JOHN MCCAIN AT A REPUBLICAN PARTY FUNDRAISER: “WHY IS CHELSEA CLINTON SO UGLY? BECAUSE HER FATHER IS JANET RENO.” Inside hung an ink-jet-print pseudo–campaign poster featuring a grid of US presidential portraits and, at the bottom, a photo of Obama and the phrase OBAMA ’08. Nearby hung a framed sequence of New York Post front pages combining images of Britney Spears gone wild and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with headlines such as SUICIDAL BRITNEY and HILL FIRE: SHE LETS LOOSE BLAZING ATTACK ON BARACK. Horowitz produced two other fake campaign posters (together titled Nightmare on Main Street: Election ’08, 2008) that riff off the underlying racial fears surrounding the election: The VOTE MCCAIN one features a hip-hop Britney carried like a child by a dreadlocked Snoop Dogg; the VOTE OBAMA one offers up a pregnant Jamie-Lynn Spears in a parking lot. Nearby, a soda vending machine (Coke and/ or Pepsi Machine, 2007) offered us the archetypal consumer-culture menu of non-choice as choice, difference as sameness: Pepsi as the blue candidate, Coke as the red candidate, a reference to the corporatization of politics and the politicization of consumption. This allegorical two-party machine sat near a raunchy split image: above, Katie Couric reading the news; below, a widely circulated paparazzo shot of Britney’s naked crotch—resulting in a deliciously sordid media hybridization.

The main event, however, occurred within the gallery’s larger space, wherein we encountered red and blue carpets (Your Land/My Land, 2008), and two large flat-screen televisions suspended from the ceiling (Culture War [CNN vs. Fox], 2008), one transmitting, in real time, CNN, the other Fox News, again invoking the feedback loop of implosively binary ideological “choice.” A gaggle of red, white, and blue balloons were corralled within a net attached to the ceiling, awaiting release at that orgasmic moment of political consummation. A chronological progression of framed reproductions of official portraits of all the US presidents, from Washington to George W., was mounted on the gallery walls, while a photo of Obama sat on the floor next to the last empty spot, awaiting an inevitable installation, or coronation. A new beginning for our political culture, or merely a sobering reminder that Obama enters a pantheon of dashed hopes?

Horowitz also offered up a table densely populated with small kitschy figurines of different typologies (We the People are People Too, 2008), inscribed with sayings like CHRISTIANS ARE PEOPLE TOO, EDWARD KENNEDY IS A PERSON TOO, HENRY PAULSON IS A PERSON TOO, BRISTOL PALIN IS A PERSON TOO, and so on. A gold-plated bronze titled Larry Gagosian Is a Person Too, 2008, stood across the room from a larger-scale bronze, Hillary Clinton Is a Person Too, 2008, featuring a woman about to be crowned. No one, nothing, escapes Horowitz’s skepticism and rapier wit as he performs the role of the artist-as-court jester, coyly asking: Is there anything left to believe in?

Joshua Decter