|Jordan Wolfson, Colored figure, 2016|
Jordan Wolfson’s current show at David Zwirner’s 19th Street Chelsea location is in one word, Wow. This is the word I kept saying over and over again after seeing it this past week and although that word seems limiting, it is more fitting then just expressing a sense of surprise. Like all of Wolfson’s work this is bizarre, complicating and demarcating of tastes and sensibilities. For me though, it is one of the most captivating and unsettling things I have seen and more importantly it reflects more then just art.
What is happening is that there is a figure, entitled, Colored sculpture (2016), that is dangling, thrust and slung around off a gantry that has three mechanized chain motors that moves in three directions and has limited to copious amounts of slack. The figure is reminiscent of a certain archetype, Huckleberry Finn in his attire, Chucky in his disgruntled open mouth sneer. He is red headed and that hair color is a familiar trope of the problem child, the mischief-maker, and his freckly discountenance makes you annoyed with him at the start. He has an oversized head, making him adolescent, and his eyes have sensor detection so at moments his gaze locks onto yours. Uncanny, creepy, and effective. His limbs are a series of articulated joints that allow him to have infinite range and crumpleablity. He looks vacant, annoyed, but his childlike oversized yet weakling proportions taps into our preternatural inclination to empathize even if it just looks like a overgrown cartoon.
The head, hands and one foot are attached to chains and the chains at various speed and velocity lift, dip, and thrash this figure. It can be slow and dragging or relentless and pummeling. The chain makes an evil but functional sound. It creeps and clicks, and you wait for what will happen next. The gallery becomes a torture room and you are made safely a spectator by the metal railing that separates you from the figure. The idea of pain and also sex creates a psychological stench in the room. Yes it’s an inanimate object, yes it’s not actually suffering but you can’t help but feel the simulative connection to this stand in.
Most of the time you just hear the sound of the chains and the adjustment of the directions in the mechanized tracks but there are moments, suddenly, when music starts blaring. Percy Sledge belting out “When a Man Loves a Women,” makes the whole thing even more unbearable. The music also makes the pace and the force of impact inflicted on the figure even more climatic. And as you listen to the song you hold on to the words and they feel twisted and sickening. There are also moments when the figure goes into a possessed state and its interactive eyes become animated. Cupcakes and other animations hop around in the pupil cavity and then Wolfson’s disembodied voice starts counting off a numerical process of engaging with a person, presumably a woman. Then it gets quiet and starts all over again. The figure being dragged, raised, dropped and suspended in contortions. Relentlessly, ceaselessly.
The effectiveness of this work is due to many reasons. First it is Wolson’s ability to impart a simulative response and connection through his use of the body and the inanimate to produce reflexive and empathic relationships. Even though in these actions he can be seen as being manipulative, obvious and perhaps devious, the fact remains that this is being accomplished. The second is his use of materials. This work’s conceptual and visceral impact is beholden to the way it is constructed and in this work there is nothing extraneous. Everything about the way that it is constructed, made, and presented meets a required necessity. The oversized head gives predominate surface area for impact; the scaling of the body is relational to the needs of the pulling machine. The sounds of the chains, the scale of the piece in the room, even the scuffs on the floor and figure create an aesthetic action = result formula. These are all form following function and this makes the feelings the work produces heightened.
This also relates to another aspect and that is money. This work is not like other art out there because the levels of its production are more like seeing something at a tech expo or car show. There’s engineers, mechanics, computer wizs all hidden in its creation. It is high skills and big bucks and the partnership between David Zwirner and Sadie Coles galleries seems to attest to the scale of this. Is this a bit outrageous? This level of production for one artist and one piece? I think not and I think that it is about time as we all know that the art world, and especially galleries like Zwirner and Coles, have immense capital to produce at this level.
So much art today is being hyper produced. There are studios and warehouses and teams of other people building things for big named artists but many times I find that all so unnecessary. Richard Serra, Matthew Barney, okay okay, you may need all that but the way that Wolfson is using the art bank is at least exciting to me because it requires it so explicitly. Seeing Sigmar Polke, sharing the same gallery space in the extra rooms and also at Zwirner’s other location made me feel cheated. Having to again look at too big paintings in a too big space that are priced at ranges that make my brain ooze makes me grumpy and dissatisfied.
In contrast to the edifying simplicity of paintings in a room, Wolfson has created a spectacle. I kept hearing this word ‘spectacle’ being used by various people in direct and indirect conversations but what’s so surprising and/or bad about that? I have said, and will keep saying, that Wolfson is one of the artists that will be in the books. By that I mean when it comes to twenty, thirty, forty years from now and the kids are taking their Contemporary Art (or whatever it will be called then) intro courses Wolfson will be one of the ones to reflect this generation. My generation. The pre-digital natives that reflect the time in which they came of age and the symptoms and social/cultural climes in which they live. Trecartin will be there too. They are like bizarre twins that both tap into the pathology of our times (even looking like sociopaths in the process) and manically covering our faces in our own repulsiveness.
Spectacle is what we are right now. Helloooo, Donald Trump is literally going to be the GOP nominee. Spectacle is what the art world is right now. Has it ever gotten so close to being as corporatized then it is now? Spectacle is reality. It isn’t the oppressive alternate it is the only thing. We seem to beg for the Nietzchean zero point, the Anthropocene Judgment Day but when something says, here you go, like Wolfson’s work does, some of us pull away and pretend we didn’t want it. It’s too icky, it’s too narcissistic, and it’s too overt. Well we did ask for it. We do want it and right now I can think of no other artist that is making me feel so aware of that doom then Wolfson and that is why I do and will keep saying “Wow.”