Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 33 Questions a Minute, Detail, at the “Die algothmische revolution” exhibition, in ZKM, Karlsruhe. Via Marc Wathieu
Note: To read part one of two click here.
Not that anyone will notice this now that Automatic Update has closed, but MoMA wisely rewrote the text that appeared on their exhibition walls for their website. I suspect most people don't place much stock in curatorial statements anyway, but in the unlikely event anyone pays attention to this exhibition even two years from now, they may well find this statement, much like the show's organization, lacking all virtue but ambiguity.
The exhibition summary replaces a sort of retrograde, 90s throwback vocabulary, which I can only attribute to some sort of ironic gesture on the part of the curators: “In these works, Pop artists' irreverent approach to popular culture has been translated into the information age.” with the following: “What at one time was Pop art has now become pop life.” This final “everything is art” sentence should thusly explain the multiple arms of a show that grew out of the initial tenuous connections between three recent acquisitions featured in the exhibition. Those three purchases by the museum were disclosed to me in a press release circulated to critics and reviewers this summer—for the record the accessions are works by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, and Paul Pfeiffer.
To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of the film series, shorts, and inactive del.icio.us feed that were attached to Automatic Update; it's not that I dislike the work — though like anything some of it is better than others — I just don't know why I'm looking at it. For example, Synthetic Pleasures, 8-bit, Pi, Crash, and Hiatus are all part of the film series, and, for the life of me, I can't figure out what Aronofsky's Pi and Cronenberg's Crash have to do with the concept of an Automatic Update. I asked London directly about this, who responded obliquely, “When appropriate, we often expand and elaborate upon our gallery exhibitions with relevant programming in the theatres. It made perfect sense with Automatic Update to include the appropriate feature films and independently produced short experimental videos and films.”
Well, now that that mystery is solved I guess I can focus exclusively on the exhibition. To be fair, most of the work in the show isn't bad. Xu Bing provides the only real low point, his picture icons retelling one of the dullest stories of men meeting on a plane I've ever read. I guess I disregard the larger meaning that people communicate more than ever with imagery, but if they aren't saying anything that interesting I don't understand why I should care.
Aside from these gripes, the show includes a strong piece or two. Paul Pfieffer's John 3:16 poetically illustrates the degree to which sports have become points of religious worship, the simple elegance of Cory Arcangel's Keystone projection recalls some of the best post-war art of the 60s and 70s, and while I've been critical of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's work in the past for being too invested in engineering, I will grant that their work looks impressive, and the second-date concept carries the piece.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's LED installation generates 33 questions a minute and asks onlookers to contribute new ones. Unlike the three works previously cited, this piece in particular underscores the curatorial problems within the show: its political edge is lost entirely in the murkily conceived exhibition thematic of “pop life.” Not that viewers would have any way of knowing this, but when displayed in countries where the citizens are not allowed to express dissident opinions from the state, the Lozano-Hammer piece presents this opportunity, by allowing viewers to input political statements that are then obfuscated and uploaded to the web. This aspect of the work is simply inaccessible to viewers at MoMA, thereby neutering the political bite of the installation. Institutional settings tend to do this to contextually sensitive work regardless, but at least they do so without situating it in shows that are distinctly apolitical. Ultimately the failure of Automatic Update lies not only in its inability to bring together work under a common thematic, but its disservice to art it seeks to valorize.