Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ghosts in the Machine at the New Museum

The Schmoos going home to their igloo. Courtesy New Museum, NY. Photo: Benoit Pailley
Ghosts in the Machine, at the New Museum, is a good old-fashioned group exhibition that studies "the prehistory of the digital age," mostly 20th-century references to or incorporation of technology in art, and sometimes the art in technology. The predominance of the mechanical underscores how internal, and in a sense invisible, the digital wave really is. Hence a certain steampunk-like nostalgia pervades Ghosts.

Keystone freestanding installations pull various amounts of weight: Robert Breer's eerie, lovable Floats (1970/2011), like miniature schmoos; Hans Haacke's Blue Sail (1964-5), a square of chiffon blown in wavelets from below; Stan VanDerBeek's time capsule-like Movie-Drome, viewed lying down; and Richard Hamilton's Man, Machine and Motion (1955/2012), a dry, didactic, corporate-looking modular installation with images of various means of transport. The show was curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari and runs through September 30.

François Morellet's cool Sphère-trames. Courtesy New Museum, NY. Photo: Benoit Pailley

There are a few works in the classic vein, such as Claes Oldenburg's Profile Airflow (1969), a translucent, green plastic mold of the automobile that resembles Jello; and drawings by Rube Goldberg detailing Professor Butts' demonstrations of the artist's famous jerry-rigged inventions. Francois Morellet's Sphère-trames (1962), a sphere formed of a metal grid, is an example of the numerous geometry-based, optical illusion artworks by such op-art pioneers as Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely. Otto Piene's light sculptures have a science project feel, making good use of the lure of twinkling lights.

Emery Blagdon, Healing Machine. Courtesy New
Museum, NY. Photo: Benoit Pailley
Breer's Floats are irresistible. Shaped like mini igloos, they are powered by motors to move in barely perceptible increments and are borderline menacing, like a big dog being overly affectionate. The film Ginrin (Silver Wheel) (1953), by Jikken Kobo/Experimental Workshop, was commissioned by the Japanese Bicycle Industry Association. It's visually striking and evocative of a certain generation's vision of the future, where bikes glided effortlessly through inky space. And Emery Blagdon's found metal object "healing" sculptures, circa the 1950s on, drape in clusters, or take on the shapes of vertical cages, entrancing in their complex simplicity. 

Some work emanated from scientific representations: Channa Horwitz's "Sonakinatography" compositions, carefully constructed and colored graphs; and Bell Labs engineer Herb Schneider's "Engineer Drawings" for performance evenings by Robert Rauschenberg and friends. While a show like this cannot be comprehensive, I felt Bucky Fuller's absence. The show only strayed when it came to the inclusion of Jeff Koons' double vacuum sculpture, which felt like a slapdash, cynical addition to otherwise thoughtful curation. Or maybe it's just backlash from overexposure, unlike the rest of the engaging artists in Ghost in the Machine

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