New York

George Kontos

Renwick Gallery

George Kontos’s The Vision (all works 2010) is an elliptical short film in which, as is typical for the Los Angeles–based artist, meaning is only hinted at and resolution perpetually deferred. The protagonist of the four-minute sequence is a bearded young hipster who pilots a motorbike helmetless, while smoking a cigarette. Taking to an empty stretch of highway—an abandoned bridge project in the artist’s native Greece—our hero is portrayed from various flattering angles as he zips along, popping the occasional wheelie. Eventually, he dismounts and strolls to the edge of the road. From this vantage point, he observes—unlikely as it seems—a busy sports stadium, wherein figures bearing large flags run laps while a watching crowd is lit up by flares. Remounting, the rider heads off-road and into the sunset. The film’s final shot is of a weather-beaten billboard that seems to bear his image.

The Vision features action so simple it might be a screen test, and though the film has been heavily edited, it also feels unfinished, raw, like a rough cut. Is this then a sketch for a feature, a single scene extracted from a larger narrative? Or is it intentionally elusive, a daydream in celluloid form? Are we supposed to empathize with the apparent freedom of Kontos’s hero or read his open shirt and reckless road habits as signifiers of self-centered irresponsibility? What of the crowd? Should we take it to be a familiar and welcoming community, or an alien grouping that the solitary biker does well to reject? And is the closing shot a knowing tribute to the protagonist as fictional creation or simply the filmmaker’s observation of a happy coincidence? The fact that the film is projected at very small scale in a fully lit gallery only adds to the ambiguity, as its images seem to vanish into the surrounding white.

Also shading into one another are the disciplines on which Kontos draws; he was originally trained as an architect, and there are clear traces of his background throughout the show. Perhaps its most obvious manifestation is The Next Big Thing, a distressed plaster-and-resin column placed atop a mirrored pedestal. A variety of images flicker across the column’s surface—a man’s face, a snarling tiger, a bit of graffiti, columns of text, shards of abstract pattern. They seem at first to have been collaged from disparate sources, but most of them turn out to have been rendered by the artist in a mixture of airbrush, marker, pen, and pencil. Still, the sense that the crumbling block might be a relic of an earlier time in a different place is hard to shake; the column looks unearthed and imperfectly restored rather than built from scratch in a studio. And as in The Vision, anything visually bold or conceptually definitive is kept at arm’s length. To what end this evanescence is directed itself likewise remains, I think purposely, beyond reach. To be sure, however, it comes across as more a slacker pose than as an act of defiance, let alone rebellion.

Kontos’s works on paper are similarly ethereal, their images drifting and intersecting according to some private symbolic logic. In Flare, an airbrushed plume of dark smoke hovers above a sketched-out landscape overlaid with a geometric design, while in Untitled and Foregrounding, loosely brushed ink grids provide graphic structures in and out of which various items pass: girls and sports cars, floor plans and decorative flourishes. Only Film Special, an airbrush and ink portrait in camouflage-like markings and benday dots that includes the words of the title, seems to offer something solid in its variation on the promo-poster form. The unpunctuated title of the show’s other film—a slow pan across and around various mysterious artifacts—might suffice for the exhibition’s open-ended entirety: What Was Planned What Was Done What Was All This About.

Michael Wilson