POST BY KAREN ARCHEY
“Photoshop CS: 72 by 110 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=1416 x=1000, mouseup y=208 x=42,” 2008, unique c-print, 75 x 113 inches. In the back room at the New Museum, image, found on Cory Arcangel’s site, brings to mind the work of Louise Lawler.
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Are Cory Arcangel's new gradients a significant departure from his previous work? Shown at the New Museum's Younger Than Jesus exhibition, the artist's new large scale prints garnered a few pans amidst broader reviews of the exhibition. Granted, the total number of sentences about his specific work wouldn't reach double digits, but unlike many artists in the show we've repeatedly heard that Arcangel's gradients are out of step and poorly considered.
Produced in one mouse click, the large high-quality chromogenic prints are simple manifestations of a pre-fab gradient tool in Photoshop. The titles provide all of the file's data needed for their creation, and act as a DIY manual for prospective viewers. Not that any of this information did much to convince critics. New York Magazine's Jerry Saltz described the work as a “decorative one-liner,” while Howard Halle at Time Out New York believes the artist spotlighted his artistic privilege by getting something as easy as a digital readymade into a major museum.
But given the quality of the artist's earlier production, I remained skeptical that the work was quite so vacant. Hoping I might make sense of the gradients and their criticism, I attended Arcangel's Public Art Fund lecture/g-chat session with his sister Jamie at the New School's Tishman Auditorium. Though they were not discussed at length during the presentation, I asked him later about their departure from his earlier work which seemed far less commercially based. There is no a shift in content, he told me, just a change in physical production. From here he went on to describe a concept he's known to have long created work about: the ephemerality of technology and our cultural obsession with the new. The qualities of greatest interest to the artist were the very threads critics failed to consider, their quick and poor aging, and likelihood of irrelevance in years to come.
Rather than creating a piece typical of his previous work — one that would continue to straddle the realms of net-based and plastic art — Arcangel wanted to make an object specific to exhibition in a gallery setting. Almost as though relieved the artist spoke about how he was “finally able” to create this type of art. Could this desire — accounting for the artist's confusing shift in production — come from fatigue from balancing those two worlds? We know it's rare for net artists to make physical objects that are exhibited in the contemporary art world. Arguably, Arcangel's gradient prints challenge the boundaries between net and “gallery specific” art within this milieu. Although, it may lean too far toward the plastic side too early in the game, the artist's new work surely isn't worth a quick dismissal.