Many people in New York know Jorge Pardo’s work because he designed the last ground floor exhibition for the Dia Foundation’s 22nd Street location, before that space went to rot to make way for Dia Beacon. Pardo’s colorful, Jim Isermann-like floor tiles were visible through the windows for years. His installation at Friedrich Petzel, which closed June 19, will not leave such an indelible impression. The exhibition began promisingly with some kitschy-but-catchy photos of guinea pigs in overdetermined, mazelike frames but then the main room had to go and make a statement about modular display apparatus. Aisles made of freestanding wood-colored plastic stackable units, a couple feet higher than your head, with a kind of open weave shamrock pattern reminiscent of Alvar Aalto furniture, were positioned like hedge rows, shopping aisles, or lacy Richard Serras to dominate the room and force you to wander around among them–much like the Heather Rowe installation a few doors down from Petzel, or to a less manipulative extent, the Anne Truitts across the street at Matthew Marks (June was a banner month for meandering inside art).
This Container-Store-on-Steroids might have worked but for Pardo’s choice of adornment for the stackables: round peel-and-stick photos affixed to medallions inside the “shamrocks.” (Some of these were starting to unpeel, I noticed.) The idea of defacing Aaltos with stickers–impurifying modernist purity with popular iconography, blah blah–isn’t of itself bad. It was Pardo’s choice of photos that rankled, all of which, we were told in the press release, came, inevitably, “from the internet.” At least when Mike Kelley wanted to give some Net frisson to his traditional installations, he chose well (e.g., the video clips of kids having accidents incorporated into some recent Gagosian sculpture). Pardo’s was the worst kind of laundry calendar imagery–flowers, scenes of nature, pets, clothing accessories, Lady Di. Neither bad enough to be bad nor bad enough to be good, just relentlessly bland. What is the point of this? That the internet is bland? Is that really a problem? At least when “surf club” artists use stock photo imagery they leave the watermark on them. The only reason I can think for the “Internet Lite” metaphor is that Pardo is anticipating an institutional sale and wants to keep the work “family friendly.” Yet Christian kids with parental filters firmly in place will see a racier internet than this.
Pardo’s popularity with institutions has long been a mystery to me. Jim Isermann, who I mentioned earlier, makes smarter, better-crafted, and overall more succulent work: he emerged from the SoCal scene around the same time as Pardo with a vocabulary of discarded Modernist motifs and “questioning the boundaries among painting, furniture, and architecture,” as museum wall labels like to say. Because Pardo apparently had a better command of institutional critique-speak, Isermann fans were forced to watch in dismay as the less-talented Pardo blitzed the mid-’90s art magazines. Now, judging by this show, Pardo is an established figure on autopilot, cranking out the festival circuit art, regardless of whether it’s particularly interesting to look at or has anything to say.
Tomorrow I may do a final post wrapping up my discussion of the Truitt, Pardo, and Rowe shows, using them as examples of the creeping vacuity in large Chelsea exhibitions, a style Jesse P. Martin has called “mannered bereft.” It may turn out I may have nothing more to say about this work about nothing, in which case I’ll try to write about something (maybe work on the Internet, where more compelling things are happening). Comments should be functioning now but we are back to the old system where there may be a delay before they appear. Everything will be read (except butt plug ads).
Update: Commenter Matthew says Isermann emerged a “decade (plus)” before Pardo. I was giving Pardo every benefit of a doubt on the fuzzy concept of “emergence” but certainly won’t dispute vigorously that he copped an earlier style. See discussion in comments.