New York

Michael Wang, NKEADDYY, 2013, certificate, powder-coated aluminum, knit athletic shoes, 5 1/4“ × 14' 2 3/4” × 5 1/4".

Michael Wang, NKEADDYY, 2013, certificate, powder-coated aluminum, knit athletic shoes, 5 1/4“ × 14' 2 3/4” × 5 1/4".

Michael Wang

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Michael Wang, NKEADDYY, 2013, certificate, powder-coated aluminum, knit athletic shoes, 5 1/4“ × 14' 2 3/4” × 5 1/4".

If Rite-Aid had ever taken a chance on Donald Judd, Carl Andre, or Haim Steinbach as shelf stockers, your local drugstore might have looked something like “Rivals,” Michael Wang’s recent exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery’s compact annex space. Ranged around the walls were five immaculate powder-coated aluminum display units tailored to the containment of selected consumer goods—cigarettes, sneakers, painkillers, bottled water, and nail polish, respectively. Each extended row of objects consists of multiple identical examples of equivalent products manufactured by a pair of rival corporations, so Nike shoes go toe-to-toe with their Adidas alternatives, boxes of Advil clash head-to-head with Tylenol, and so on. But there’s a twist: Sales of the work not only secure the art object for the collector but also fund a minuscule purchase of stocks in the companies represented.

Wang frames this loaded form of transaction as a “conceptual merger” and details it in the form of share certificates that reproduce the logos of each corporation, labeling their fusion with an acronym styled after those used on the stock exchange. So, the meeting of L’Oréal and Estée Lauder results in the rubric LRLCYEL, Nestlé and Danone give birth to NSRGYDANOY, and Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco unite to become PMBTI (all works cited, 2014). Here, the certificates were themselves grouped together, displayed in a single vitrine by the gallery’s entrance. As immaculately produced as the objects to which they are linked, they are characterized by the press release as “performance documentation”—though whether any of the deals they index had been activated via the purchase of a work was nowhere indicated.

By arranging them in long, slender lines of repeated shapes and colors, Wang manages to aestheticize the most banal consumer artifacts, leaving them entirely unadulterated but presenting them in a manner that is formally satisfying on an instinctive level. For example, the way that the green Perrier and clear Evian bottles in NSRGYDANOY alternate—with two of the former meeting in the work’s center—and are perfectly contained by their housing has an irresistible obsessive-compulsive appeal. (There’s a conceptual system at work here, too, of course: The number of items marked with each commercial brand correspond to the number of shares that come with a given work.) Wang thereby returns our attention yet again to the post-Duchampian readymade, underscoring by visual means the economic equivalences of mass production and artistic trope.

At a juncture when the mechanism of global capital seems more than ever to rely on smoke and mirrors for its continued functioning in the interests of a protective 1 percent, “Rivals” refuses to let us forget the art market’s fundamental culpability in this system. Not only is art, as bought and sold in New York and its international counterparts, a luxury good, but the ways in which we conceive and understand it consistently serve to buoy the same omnipresent matrix. If Wang’s arrangements are pleasing on one level, they are then wholly fatalistic on another, describing the current situation to a T but offering no way out. By presenting collaboration as just another possible outcome of ongoing proprietary competition, and by locating artist, dealer, viewer, collector—and, yes, critic—as points along the same road, the “performance” that “Rivals” enacted was, finally and perhaps inevitably, stalled, static.

Michael Wilson