View of “Nate Lowman,” 2012–13.

View of “Nate Lowman,” 2012–13.

Nate Lowman

The Brant Foundation Art Study Center

View of “Nate Lowman,” 2012–13.

The more you know about something, the harder it is to say something about it: One is encumbered by the weight of meaning, the artifice of language, the tiredness of metaphors used too often, but perhaps more than anything, simple fear. “One thinks a lot when one is afraid,” writes Denis Hollier. “And even more when one is afraid of being afraid. And even more when one is afraid of what one thinks.” What could be more luxurious than to give up, to turn away from this space where the familiar presses its face to the glass of reflection? What can be seen there? Perhaps the smeared surface of the mirror is the truest image of that which is too close for comfort. Nate Lowman’s exhibition “I Wanted to Be an Artist but All I Got Was This Lousy Career” at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center sustains the artist’s sociological impulse to research and catalogue a world that is, for all its immediacy, more customarily, and more comfortably, seen at a distance.

Lowman’s handpainted Xerox-dot patterns can be hard to look at, creating a labor-intensive aesthetic that easily passes unnoticed. The worker’s ethic of this faux-industrial process is borne out in Lowman’s approach to the installation itself: The Brant Foundation’s vast galleries have often encouraged artists to scale up—to create singular massive objects or images to complement the arena. Here, the artist relies on the methodology of accretion—dozens of modestly sized pieces, the silhouettes of taken-for-granted detritus of modern living, fill an enormous wall. The human scale of these works, along with their illusionistic production techniques, calls the viewer over for a closer look, drawing him or her into a relationship with evidence of a sullied culture. This process of interpellation echoes what Althusser has described as the physical turn toward authority and ideology that provokes recognition. Being hailed by a police officer, the individual stops and turns; “by this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject.” Lowman subjects us to recognitions we might prefer to avoid: An Arbre Magique air freshener is covered with bumper stickers that call out . . . PRESS 1 FOR ENGLISH, PRESS 2 FOR DEPORTAION; the Apple logo, design emblem of today’s Bauhaus, is sullied with mud and spilled Coca-Cola; the artist’s own bullet-hole paintings, valuable art objects, are referred to as evidence of a lousy career and stepped on by sneakers.

From the image in the multipart Four Seasons, 2009–12, of a wasted girl falling out of a car onto her face to his display on the Brant Foundation’s front lawn of the white Bronco driven by O. J. Simpson in the slow-motion car chase preceding his arrest, Lowman collapses distance, bringing home a culture that generally remains unimaginable because it is too omnipresent. In “Commitment,” Adorno writes, “Kafka and Beckett arouse the fear which existentialism merely talks about. By dismantling appearance, they explode from within the art which committed proclamation subjugates from without, and hence only in appearance. The inescapability of their work compels the change of attitude which committed works merely demand.” At our historical moment, is it possible for fear to instigate change, as Adorno envisioned? On the lower level of the Brant Foundation, a series of tow-truck cross braces are mounted as crucifixes in a dimmed space opposite gunshot-blasted bank-teller windows. The juxtaposition of shattered glass and these metal devices recalls the trappings of torture-porn films, and brings to mind -Frontière(s)_, a 2007 French horror film whose young heroes, seeking to escape from an Orwellian police state, rob a bank to shore up their finances. Pursued by police, they stumble onto the estate of aging Nazis with a preference for chains, perversion, and mayhem. When the pregnant lone survivor escapes at the end of the film, she is welcomed back to the real world by the police from whom she had been running. No Exit indeed.

David Rimanelli