Why is every critic in the city giving Ryan Trecartin’s I Be-Area a positive review? “I Be-Area is worth the [1 hour and 40 minute] investment” Martha Schwendener tells us at the New Yorker, “Its the best thing that could have happened to New York this fall” writes the New York Times Holland Cotter, and Barbara Pollock at Time Out New York goes so far to say “he’s poised to become the next Matthew Barney.”
Sufficed to say I don’t agree. Don’t get me wrong, Trecartin’s newest work isn’t so bad — his quintessential look; carnival like characters and oddball scenes — remain in tact, but the work simply doesn’t live up his previous A Family Finds Entertainment (available on youtube here here here and here.) Of course, you’d think nobody had seen this video given the derth of verbiage on the subject. Of the I Be-Area reviews I’ve read only Flavorpill references his previous work, and you really can’t expect too much critical comparison from a filter publication promising positive reviews in a 100 word format — it’s simply outside of their mandate. (Disclosure: I write for Flavorpill.)
As for the rest, Holland Cotter offers the largest write-up, failing to ask the most basic questions about the new video. How has Trecartin’s work evolved since A Family Finds Entertainment? Does the improved production value of the videos benefit the piece? Are the videos more effective at a 40 minute length or the latest 1 hour 40 minutes. Will I Be-Area be posted on youtube or distributed by EAI now that it is an editioned piece?
These are fairly obvious questions that should come up if the reviewer is aware of the artists earlier work. I can’t imagine Cotter hasn’t seen his earlier videos — he clearly read Dennis Cooper’s Trecartin write-up in January of 2006 last year, or at least it would seem that way since he cites the same artists as influences, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, and early John Waters, in the same order. Notably, neither critic mentions Tom Rubnitz, the artist with the most affinities to the video pieces (and one Trecartin himself has listed on his youtube favorites,) or Paper Rad, a collective working in Providence, home also to Trecartin when attending art school. Nobodies perfect of course, but these influences seem so obvious it’s difficult to understand how they were missed.
Had such influenced been discussed, it’s possible we might have read less about how the 1 hour and 40 minute video holds the viewers attention, and more on why the shorter Trecartin pictures do this more successfully. For one thing, I suspect the length of the film influenced the scarcity of animation in I Be-Area, an element that referenced Internet culture in a much more specific way than any other visual attributes in the film. In addition, I’ve always thought that a point of strength in A Family Finds Entertainment lay in its ability to push a viewers attention span for loud aggressive video to its absolute maximum. I had to return three times to view I Be-Area in its entirety, and I still have holes in my viewing. This can’t speak well of the piece.
One final observation: No critic has discussed the sculptural installation in the front room of Elizabeth Dee Gallery, probably because there isn’t much point. A mess of props from the film consisting primarily of broken furniture, the work is indistinguishable from any other clusterfuck artist showing in New York.