Edy Ferguson, American Cinema (detail), 2013, oil on linen, adhesive vinyl, video projection, overall   11' x 13' 2" x 4'.

Edy Ferguson, American Cinema (detail), 2013, oil on linen, adhesive vinyl, video projection, overall 11' x 13' 2" x 4'.

Edy Ferguson

Edy Ferguson, American Cinema (detail), 2013, oil on linen, adhesive vinyl, video projection, overall   11' x 13' 2" x 4'.

In “Conspiracy Theory,” Edy Ferguson treated the white cube like one of her paintings, which she produces initially from sketches made from images she has cut into squares and reassembled into compositional assemblages or picture puzzles. Here she incorporated paintings into larger installations with videos, photomurals, texts, and sounds (courtesy of a radio installation). One work on paper, Performance Drawing, 1999, summed it all up: Logos for Starbucks, Warner Bros., and Hard Rock Café were shown hanging like artworks in a roughly sketched-out room with other signage as well as abstract paintings and an image of Janis Joplin. Furiously scrawled at the bottom were the words ALL KINDS OF PICTURE MAKING, FRIES, THE WHOLE MACHINE CRASHED.

The exhibition references multiple sociohistorical perspectives, framed in American Cinema, 2013, a video presented behind a canvas in which Greta Garbo’s face is checkered into an Art Deco sign for a Parisian movie theater. The video collage depicts torture sequences from Zero Dark Thirty and snippets of Russian propaganda films from the 1940s and ’50s about improvements in the lives of agricultural workers. Then there is The Greek Protestor (Eau de Vie), 2013, in which a Molotov-cocktail-wielding demonstrator is integrated into a checkerboard-like grid with a sign for Eau de Vie. The work views the Greek protests from an ambiguous position, in that revolutionary violence is seen as an elixir for both worker and consumer. The painting exists somewhere between social and commercial expression: a kind of sinister capitalist realism.

There was a distinct incongruity to many of Ferguson’s references and compositions. Sokratous 11, 2013, is a painting in black and white of a black woman posing spread-eagle, her modesty protected by the white angular shapes, like those in a Suprematist painting, cutting through her body. The painting was hung over a photomural of the mugshot of Lizzie Grubman—the notorious publicist who, in 2001, injured sixteen people when she drove her SUV into a crowd waiting outside a nightclub in the Hamptons (she’d allegedly just called them “white trash”). The title of the work is taken from the street on which Ferguson’s Athens studio is located, an avenue in a ghetto rife with illegal immigrants, prostitution, and black-market trading. The relation (or nonrelation) between Grubman’s image and the seamlessly executed canvas disrupts the pleasure in the painting’s aesthetic quality. It ensures that the experience of the work is disconcerting. Meaning is at once lacking and manifold.

You might say Ferguson’s paintings are “poor images,” to borrow Hito Steyerl’s term for copies in motion—“ghost” pictures compressed, reproduced, and remixed into alternative channels of distribution. In Michael Jackson (Make a Wish), 2013, a neon sign for a Greek magazine, Zero One, is paired with a painting in which the singer’s name is mashed up with a news report hung from an ornate iron frame. Two songs—demos of “Working Day and Night” and “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough”—play from speakers, and an article from the magazine is attached to the back of the sculpture. In this text, Jackson is characterized as a “lost boy,” a “sexless and colorless stage animal,” and a victim of a “bloodthirsty public,” the “vultures of media,” and the “image industry,” in the end a “fallen star” for whom no one could “be found to make a wish.” Presented as a prodigal child consumed by images, Jackson embodied a tragedy that was transposed onto pretty much everything else in this exhibition: America, Greece, art, the politics of pop culture, even of painting, all caught in a process of replication and reduction.

Stephanie Bailey