New York

James Hoff, Skywiper No. 7, 2014, ChromaLuxe transfer on aluminum, 30 × 24".

James Hoff, Skywiper No. 7, 2014, ChromaLuxe transfer on aluminum, 30 × 24".

James Hoff

Callicoon Fine Arts

James Hoff, Skywiper No. 7, 2014, ChromaLuxe transfer on aluminum, 30 × 24".

Clement Greenberg, 1960: “The first mark made on a canvas destroys its literal and utter flatness, and the result of the marks made on it by an artist like Mondrian is still a kind of illusion that suggests a kind of third dimension. Only now it is a strictly pictorial, strictly optical third dimension.” Here Greenberg fastidiously refined his earlier pronouncements on painting’s intrinsic qualities. The picture plane’s “heightened sensitivity,” he explained, was such that even the taut weaves of Mondrian’s last compositions still induced the pleasant vertigo of illusory depth—albeit a “strictly optical” depth that lacked the navigable coordinates of linear perspective. In 1968, Leo Steinberg mocked this notion of optical space as a NASA-era fantasy of zero-gravity spectatorship. (Morris Louis, meet Major Tom.) By contrast, James Hoff suggests that the picture plane’s “heightened sensitivity” might today be understood as a glitch in its source code.

Hoff’s solo exhibition featured eleven paintings “infected” by either Skywiper or Stuxnet, both notorious computer viruses. (The latter made headlines in 2010 when it targeted the software regulating Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.) For each, Hoff converted a monochrome SGI file into hexadecimal code, a pages-long string of numbers he then spliced with the code of a virus, essentially through a method of copy-and-paste. When converted back into SGI, the manipulated code yielded bursts of color and dense clusters of variegated lines. Hoff repeated this procedure until he deemed the composition ready to be printed, typically as a ChromaLuxe transfer on an aluminum panel. No doubt the designation “painting” rankles anyone for whom a medium is consubstantial with materials—canvas, pigment, all that. For Hoff, who has subjected music files to a similar procedure, painting is one format among many, an efficient carrier for dubious content. “Viruses, like art, need a host,” he has written, “preferably a popular one.”

Previous write-ups of Hoff’s virus paintings have dubbed them “Richter-esque.” To be more precise, their striated patterns resemble Gerhard Richter’s “Strip” series, 2011–13, large-scale digital prints generated by bisecting and doubling the image of an earlier painting several hundred times over. That is, Hoff’s compositions recall the moment when Richter’s daily practice of painting adhered to a virus’s logic of self-replication. Yet none of this inoculates against the pleasures they afford. As purely a matter of taste, I tend toward Skywiper No. 8 (all works 2014) with its pendant triangles in cyan and magenta, gently curved like wind sails along a shoreline. Forget Richter; this is Kandinsky. Standing before Skywiper No. 4, I know full well I’m seeing noise, a canny aestheticization of compromised code. Still, its parfait stack of subtly modulated reds achieves an atmosphere, an absorbing, dematerialized mist hardened into countless glyph-like bars.

Beneath where the paintings hung, Hoff had cut away segments of drywall in a shape determined by a JPEG spliced with Skywiper, revealing studs, molding, electrical coil, and (oddly enough) a shovel. The excision harked back to the architectural interventions of early institutional critique—only here the interference with gallery protocol was determined by a virus’s code. The stronger affront came from the paintings themselves. It’s now commonplace to consider painting’s transit through exhibition venues as analogous to the spread of viral media over networks, and, in David Joselit’s recent writing especially, to privilege painting’s capacity to register its own circulation. Given how adeptly art’s apparatus facilitates painting’s traffic, this has always struck me as equivalent to complimenting a well-heeled traveler on the stamps in his passport. Hoff’s deferral to corrupted files advances a more unsettling proposition: that the first mark made on a canvas is the first sign of infection, a security breach that, for artists and audiences alike, will continue to cause errors until the hard drive is cleared.

Colby Chamberlain