Los Angeles

View of “Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda,” 2012.

View of “Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda,” 2012.

Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda

REDCAT

View of “Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda,” 2012.

Who are Jay & Q? And what have they been doing these past ten years? Nylon flags decorated the walls, each featuring a drawing of two horse heads sporting matching hats, and bearing the same rough script—10 YEARS OF JAY & Q. The gallery floor was comparatively empty, punctuated by three monitors on pedestals and the gallery’s two preexisting structural columns. Via the few artworks physically present, we were encouraged to interpret the show through the artists’ biography, which has spanned so far from their first collaboration (begun in 2002, while they were still students at the Städelschule in Frankfurt) to this, their latest exhibition, staged this past summer at REDCAT. But this celebration was reflexively absurd, tempered by its own mock ambitions (the pedestals carried televisions, while the columns supported a Frank Gehry concert hall). Ready-made strategies, textual appropriations, and post-Conceptual deflections abounded; even elements as prosaic as the gallery’s fluorescent lights seemed part of some dark joke.

The most traditional, most referential piece offered a starting point: Untitled, 2012, a video in three parts featuring a man who is neither Jay Chung nor Q Takeki Maeda but an actor whom they have directed to channel a timeless Conceptual-art patriarch—a metareference by which the two artists position themselves at the tail end of an art-historical lineage. As the monologist sits in a rustic courtyard, hair parted down the middle, he paraphrases statements by the likes of Duchamp, Mike Kelley, and Christopher Williams—“dads” effectively scolding younger artists for aping the style but conveniently forgoing the rigor of their predecessors. In this, Jay & Q accuse themselves of lazy Conceptualism. But the master has a point: Mere appropriation and endless reference no longer challenge established ideas of art. Undeterred, Jay & Q simply exploited the exhaustion of “newness” or “radicality,” performing underwhelming versions of the strategies typical of the particular context that REDCAT might signal (a noncommercial gallery tied to the California Institute of the Arts, breeding ground of West Coast Conceptualists). And so, as in Modus Tollens, 2003, a work in which the duo collaboratively didn’t board an airplane, their REDCAT exhibition deferred the expectation of a career-making critical tour de force, instead delivering a pointedly lackadaisical critique of their own premature self-canonization.

Piped into the space were bursts of commentary from a midlevel show-jumping competition in Ladeburg, Germany. In the refined aesthetics of this event, the artists suggest, we might recognize the art world as contest. But this element was more than a witty jab. Implicating one supposedly aristocratic pursuit by investing in another, while seeking to diffuse the “burden” of patronage, Jay & Q allocated part of their REDCAT funding to the endowment of the Ladeburg S-Class prize. This conceit functioned both as a form of outsourcing and as a way of displacing the “event” of their exhibition. On a flat-screen monitor mounted high on one column, viewers saw a succession of horses and riders, each clearing a field of garishly striped fences (recalling the work of Buren and Cadere); a distant rural landscape; the detached poetry of horses’ and riders’ names along the bottom of the screen—and those same goofy flags (10 YEARS OF JAY & Q) glimpsed among the ads of other sponsors at the equestrian arena. The analogy is overbearing and obvious, yet once again Jay & Q’s brazen self-promotion is undercut by their apparent modesty. The Ladeburg competition is as underwhelming, in its way, as a sparse ten-year retrospective. This taste for self-parody is a pivot, a demonstration of the artists’ skill at, not avoiding, not reinventing, not intervening, not exploding, but negotiating a crowded cultural field. The danger here is mistaking a curled-in, conservative position for a productive, wry self-reflexivity. Jay & Q gambled that their REDCAT show might duck the question by means of its own middling showmanship. To paraphrase the video’s paraphrasing of Willem de Rooij, the problem lies in whether or not, in plotting her references, an artist remembers to make the actual artwork. Following Jay & Q’s own logic, the importance of their “retrospective” would actually increase if they never made art again; so, true to form, they probably will. Duchamp. Krueckel. Frye. Williams. Dalí. Skatman. Kaprow. Richter. Kelley. Ustinov. De Rooij. Jay. Q.

Travis Diehl