Julian Hoeber

One problem with postmodernist pastiche might be that, like postmodernism itself, one can’t say for certain where it stops. With all things liable to fall into its ken, contemporary art sometimes resembles a no-holds-barred citational frenzy, where even pastiche itself is fair game. Julian Hoeber’s work might act as a barometer for this twenty-first-century license, referencing everything from Op to Pop to post-painterly abstraction. But Hoeber avers that he has simply arrived at a post-postmodernity, having “properly digested” postmodernism, “chewed it up and made some shit out of it.” Though this scatological swagger belongs to a previous press release (for his show at Blum & Poe last fall), its temper was perhaps best demonstrated in his latest show, where characteristic trippy swirls disclosed, ever so literally, their historical fundament.

Updating his laborious inking of hypnotic spirals in the works shown at Blum & Poe, in four similar pieces here, Hoeber produced sinuous swirls by spray painting along a wavy stencil that he steadily rotated a degree at a time. The resulting compositions effulge from the nexus of spray-painted rays, like cosmic black-and-white versions of the Tibetan national flag. Another element in Hoeber’s practice is represented by Great Train Robbery (all works 2008), a small photorealistic drawing showing a still from Edwin Porter’s eponymous film of 1903, “affixed” to a manila mat with trompe l’oeil painter’s tape. The image both recalls Hoeber’s former, often sanguinary focus on video, and anticipates the sculptures in the show: two bronze heads, one of them cast from a montage of the artist’s features and those of a friend, both riddled with bullet holes. Seated on mirrored plinths that capture the viewer’s body below the neck, they encourage a fleeting moment of spectatorial overidentification, similar to the one solicited when, as in the photorealist shot, a gun is pointed at the camera in a film (or when, for that matter, the frères Lumière’s train comes barreling toward the audience).

Despite the brutality of the heads, there is something decidedly good-timey behind their fabrication (shooting up head casts in the desert), with all the thrills and none of the consequences of a violent Chris Burden–esque gesture. Whatever adolescent kick the works gave was complicated by an arresting display of five large works on paper, hovering in glass frames a few feet from the wall. For these pieces, Hoeber first painted the entire ground black, then created swirls—sometimes centered on a photo of his own grimacing face, painted with swirls—by stripping back the top layer of the paper in sections. Hoeber then girded the fragile remainders of the painting by pasting colored scraps onto the back of the paper. These functional collages on the verso—evoking Frank Stella, Josef Albers, and Daniel Buren, among others—could be glimpsed from wall-mounted mirrors set behind the glass frames. This endearing peek-a-boo gesture performs the desire to both show and conceal its art-historical parentage. But in turning the erstwhile urgency of these forefathers into peeping underskirts and fronting them with fun-house patterns, that gesture takes on a sinister gloss. You can decrypt the words DUH DUH DUH embedded like a Magic Eye illusion across one spiral—as if testifying to a time made a little madcap, a little ridiculous, and all too saturated, by so many possibilities.

Joanna Fiduccia