The New Beauty of Our Modern Life, on view at Higher Pictures through March 1, was curated by the digital painter-of-modern-life Kate Steciw and delivers an annual report for contemporary avant-gardism.
For these artists, the Internet—encompassing all of modern culture and its technologies—is the primary support for their medium. Shall we call it Photography? I am not sure. Some would like to fit this type of image making under the rubric of photography, but perhaps we need new terminology?
In this self-reflexive or re-Modernist moment (the prefix re- dominates the plastic arts today) the Internet contemplates its own material essence. What Kate Steciw and the seven other artists turn up is an image that can only point outside itself. It is an allusionary space—relentless representations and cultural associations abound.
The obscure and rambling Suprematist text by Kazimir Malevich, which Steciw borrows her title from, calls for a creation of new forms from nature that are born of our impulse and intuition rather than objects of our knowledge. What this amounts to for the Suprematists is an abstract and geometric art free of ‘vulgar subject matter,’ but for the group at Higher Pictures their raw material—the Internet—is already always coded. In using culture to create a new nature, the artists must bump up against our cultural literacy; remove it from our realm of comprehension.
The work in the show is notable for its lack of humanism; the hand in these handmade readymades is surely not attached to any complex, thinking/feeling body. Even Rachel de Joode’s tear drops—universal signifiers of human emotion—are made solid, are pilfered and pedestaled. Nothing is sacred, it’s simply material. They sure are an industrious group.
Kate Steciw’s conglomerations of everyday imagery (laundry listed in her titles) are built up on her digital canvas in painterly swaths of color and pattern. The sculptural frame, hung perpendicular to the wall with commercial, kitsch objects fixed to the surface, reasserts its physicality outside the digital sphere. The accompanying meta-data from the title allows us to dissect the image. The metaphors never gel, but the composition is harmonious and productive. The title also operates like an Internet tagging system, where any one of these search terms might spark our desire.
On the flip side, Yannick Val Gesto mines the discarded depths of the Internet—an accessible memory of fads and technologies. The resulting plexi-prints are primal in their mark making and legibility; however their idiocy points to the infancy of this new unnamed medium.
Sara Cwynar’s black-and-white photographs are an elegy to pre-digital memory. Her collaged compositions of encyclopedias, self-help books, photography manuals and literary tomes read like textbook illustrations, emphasizing the past they belong to. Rather than the possibilities her fellow artists see, Cwynar is lamenting the end of a kind of slow-life and knowledge, as our technology continues its invasion.
The show also includes a floor installation by LES It Boy Alex Da Corte. Handcut tiles in red, purple and mirror fill the space, which Da Corte has littered with plastic romaine lettuce leaves. The piece is full of art-banal references to M.C. Escher and Giovanni Anselmo’s eating sculpture. Besides being a David Scanavino rip off, Da Corte’s piece is merely decorative.
The same could be said for the remaining three artists. Ethan Greenbaum is represented by more-of-the-same pressed plastic sidewalk paintings (the problem with a really cool process is moving beyond it), and Asha Schecter’s ribbony web of stock and pop images overwhelm the frame, some even spit out into the gallery with the gimmick of placing stickers of the images around the space.
Finally, Harm Van Den Dorpel’s suspended plexi-print ball, which prominently features a nautilus—the many chambered shell whose spiral follows the Golden Ratio. However, the harmony between nature and form demonstrated by the beautiful and mysterious Phi is misplaced here, as culture (not nature) gives birth to these new forms.