04 December 2016

On the Exhaustion of Something of Other

Christian Viveros-Fauné, writing at artnet News, on "Containers and Their Drivers," the Mark Leckey mid-career retrospective presently on view at MoMA PS1:

"Fiorucci [Made Me Hardcore] achieved cult status at almost viral speed, thanks in large part to its timely anticipation of the YouTube generation’s breezy manipulations of digital sources. This accident of history lent the North England-born artist the veneer of being the Cezanne of the interwebs—in today’s artspeak, post-internet art’s analog pioneer. A gifted but ultimately trivial sculptor, filmmaker, poster-maker, installation-designer, lecturer, musician and general jack-of-all-0-and-1-art-trades, Leckey seems to have never recovered from the pigeonholing. [...]

"Traipsing through Leckey’s multiple rooms at MoMA PS1, consequently, comes across as a spiritually exhausting, Reagan-era throwback experience. As captured in his first US survey...Lecky’s life’s work takes physical shape as a concatenated set of new media reworkings of Jean Baudrillard’s 1980s-style vaporings. The majority of Leckey’s current installations, in fact, deal with some unacknowledged version of hyper-reality. Were Leckey American, no doubt this exhibition would have featured the DeLorean from Back to the Future. [...]

"'I see myself in a tradition of Pop culture,' Leckey told artnet News contributor J.J. Charlesworth in 2014. 'I'm a Pop artist – I believe in the idea that you’re essentially a receiver, that you open yourself up to, and you allow whatever is current to come through you and absorb it into your body and somehow process that, and that’s how the work gets made.'

"The work's chief revelation is as simple as it is uncritical: in our era of data glut, everything is everything is everything. Leckey’s replicas (or are they simulacra?) accrue on repeating shelves and pedestals, one after the other, in ongoing, insistent, recurrent, nearly endless succession."

The gist of Viveros-Fauné's critique is hardly a new one. If anything, it very much echoes that of Julian Stallabrass's YBA bollocking of some years hence, High Art Lite. That being, that "pop conceptualism" rapidly degenerated into a a default modus in which postmod irony, long having lapsed into a state of rhetorical depletion, becomes a form of passively (if not somewhat masochistically celebratory) fatalism. We are all merely receptors, culture is effectively like a pinterest page,  and "thinking isn't cool -- shit and stuff is cool."

The prevalence of 1980s tropes, themes and cultural references in Leckey's work is apropos in a way. For those old enough to remember the art of the '80s, this sort of installation art bound to seem so tiresomely familiar, because it's little more that the eternal return of Haim Steinbach -- endlessly reused and recycled and diluted into a thinner gruel with each iteration, a cultural product that exceeded its shelf life with the close of the prior century, a salon art that now signals aesthetic inertia and little else. Except, I suppose, some would argue that in his day there was something about Steinbach's work that seemed simultaneously both humorous and ever-so-slightly horrific. Whereas much of the stuff of this latest generation too often comes across as thoroughly anesthetized.

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