New York

View of “Darren Bader,” 2012.

View of “Darren Bader,” 2012.

Darren Bader

MoMA PS1

View of “Darren Bader,” 2012.

The self-penned introductory wall text for “Images,” Darren Bader’s first museum exhibition, opens with a trio of epigrams. While two are easily attributable (to Groucho Marx and Leonard Cohen), the third, courtesy of “Ford” (Tom, perhaps?), is less so. However, of the bunch, it offers viewers the closest thing that Bader’s absurdist practice has to a guiding principle. “Stuff: the precise affinity between the generic and the specific,” it decrees. Accordingly, throughout the exhibition’s gallery space, where one would expect to find the products of artistic labor, stuff appears instead, and, in so doing, bogarts the formal presentation of art for a casual indifference more familiar to the fields of cultural production that optimize their products for the widest possible audience—namely, mainstream entertainment.

Bader’s prioritizing of the generic, of stuff, as the operative kernel of his exhibition strategy is accomplished by the way in which he blithely administers its institutional frame. Supplementing his presentation of art objects themselves, Bader deploys conventional exhibition devices—explanatory wall texts, descriptive labels, display pedestals, rope partitions, and even promotional posters for membership-outreach initiatives such as public parties (alongside the exhibition, Bader hosted the DJ event E-Party in the museum’s courtyard) and artist-inspired menus—but in a casual (and, to some, humorous) manner.

Throughout the exhibit, one finds other artists’ works, which, due to the absence of a checklist, have their authorship concealed. Wall texts are traded out for informal, stream-of-consciousness artists’ statements. Labels include only the artworks’ playful titles (Cat Made Out of Crab Meat, 2012). A grid of pedestals served as seats for fruits and veggies, which were later utilized as salad fixings and served to visitors. Diminutive, ankle-high stanchions ineffectually restrict access to a kitsch Buddha, a marble snowman, and a masterfully crafted glazed ceramic garbage can. Two nonvegetarian burritos perform a motionless pas de deux in a cheaply carpeted gallery, sound tracked to a looped clip from Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” as if the room has been abandoned by museumgoers for one of the institution’s signature dance parties. While a poster for the horror film Saw V hints at a deeper perversity strategically employed by the artist—it depicts the visage of the film’s villain used as a mask—it also treats the gallery’s walls as just another surface on which to slather a spunky guerilla-marketing campaign directed by the profit imperatives of entertainment culture. But rather than a demented mastermind, the subject-object dyad of Bader’s art might be closer in spirit to that of a marketing executive who sells his product by exploiting the generalized appeal of, say, cavemen and a Cockney-accented reptile. By what coincidence is it, then, that an adoptable iguana, alongside a live litter of orphaned cats, are also exhibited in the nominal site of his artistic product?

The installation of these disparate components in “Images” appears predicated on the entertainment value to be found on allowing art to conform to the consensus-manufactured criteria that mobilizes contemporary cultural markets, of persuading art’s institutions to pay closer attention to the rules of the culture from which it generally immunizes itself, pushing audiences away from reactionary exclamations of “n’importe quoi!” toward praises of “OMG so random!” In a way, Bader is something of a Bart Simpson character, whose clarion call, “Don’t have a cow!” neatly dovetails with the artistically reorganized institutional practices conditioned by contemporary neoliberal markets—practices, one might note, that moma PS1 has pioneered.

Beyond offering the sheer entertainment value of petting a cat after having paid the institution’s admission fee, Bader sets up a potentially overwhelming task for the viewer—that of processing the sheer mass of incommensurable stuff on view—that has been simplified, in part, by the very economies of attention from which the exhibition displays its dehierachized components. Multitabbed online browsing, which homologizes a heterogeneous glut of data into an operational plane of experience, yielding noise (pop-up advertisements being the most obvious example) in tandem with informed content, might be one interface through which to effectively cohere Bader’s “Images.” Given its extensively dedifferentiated organizational structure, this is an exhibition to navigate like one’s morning e-mails.

Sam Pulitzer