New York

Josephine Meckseper

Elizabeth Dee Gallery

Josephine Meckseper, well attuned to the ways in which consumer products are arranged to concoct desire, creates facsimiles of store displays in which all the elements are present, with the charm—that ineffable whiff of possibility that propels a buyer toward opening his or her wallet—replaced by astringent commentary. In a recent show at Elizabeth Dee, the artist plausibly conjured the auto showrooms around the corner on Eleventh Avenue, with their decor of aggressive male Minimalism (mirrors, black surfaces, lots of chrome) that equates power with clean lines and metal. Meckseper anatomizes this decidedly dated fantasy, which persists in the automotive world, with a political edge.

Most of us know what geopolitical measures are necessary to fuel this particular idiom. It is not, after all, startling news that our unchecked devotion to car culture—to movement, autonomy, and flashy design—is connected to wars waged in the Middle East, and as the premise of an exhibition this juxtaposition feels, at first blush, a bit thin, its absurdity a bit obvious, especially compared with Meckseper’s previous, more complex works. The connection is made plain in DDYANLALSATSY, 2010, a video composed of clips of anti-American protest and oil rigs (taken not from documentary footage but from the television series Dallas and Dynasty, both repositories of another kind of oil-fueled fantasy) and set to a throbbing beat that is difficult to ignore. And yet despite this obviousness, a feeling of dread lingered about the gallery, a kind of persistent and irritating anxiety pervading an installation that resembled a store with a depressed, picked-over feeling—something very far from the aesthetics of abundance that enable consumer denial, a kind of dead city populated by objects very nearly drained of meaning.

Presiding over the gallery were the logo for the automotive brand Infiniti and a number of large-scale photocopied advertisements for Cartier watches, but here the contents of the endless arc of time were by turns discomfiting and aggressively bland: orthopedic shoes, unopened boxes of designer underwear, chains, rabbit tails, steel wool pads, a bottle of engine oil in a jaunty bag made of some kind of industrial mesh. These objects hung or perched on display racks, which, being largely empty, contributed their own puzzling architecture, designed as if for specific yet unimaginable purposes. A wall fitted with slatted mirrors and a mirrored ceiling suggested endless reflection, another sort of infinity, or perhaps narcissism, albeit returning to consumers a less-than-ideal vision of themselves. Politically charged images (of the Reagans, of an offshore oil rig, of protesting Shiites) were positioned here and there, sometimes close to the floor, like footnotes. The sense that one was in a necropolis was particularly strong in a smaller, dimmed gallery with three empty chrome sales racks in the middle, an overblown Cartier advertisement tacked up on one wall, and, leaning against the other, a monitor showing a loop of static behind a net of what looks like a shattered screen. There is somehow a terrible dignity to the empty rack—it appears to be awaiting orders that are not likely to arrive.

Together, the works evoke memento mori placed among the living, as in a Dutch still life or Victorian parlor, but the living here is synecdochic, with bits and pieces of bodies—a mannequin’s leg, a shoe, an image of a torso on an underwear box—implying the real thing. A good deal of Meckseper’s previous output has been aimed at the ways in which women are represented and manipulated in consumer culture, and in those works, body parts can be said to represent the body atomized, decontextualized, and marketed to. Here the resonance was more of spaces where bodies ought to be but are not, as if we were not really inhabiting our fantasies or taking responsibility for them. Shopping would be a different activity indeed if it involved taking off our blinders rather than putting on ever more elegantly designed ones.

Emily Hall