You are on page 1of 4

Pop(Media)Art

by Thiago Carrapatoso

In 2011, the Whitney Museum of (north-)American Art hosted, in an entire floor, the new media works of Cory Arcangel, the youngest artist to be displayed in such space since the creation of the institution. The mark doesn't go just to the age of the artist, but for the kind of works displayed to a major and conservative public as well. It was the first time in the history of the museum that technology was inserted not such as some specificity in other group shows, but as a regular art exhibition. The adjunct curator of New Media Arts and responsible for the show, Christiane Paul, in a quick interview1, explained that although it is something unseen until that moment, new media art still have a lot of space to conquer in art industry (as Arcangel likes to address the art world2): Cory's show is important because makes an affirmation. I still believe that is an exception to the standard. Cory is more known, makes more success. He already had exhibitions in Barbican Centre, Miami Museum of Contemporary Art and other institutions. It is an exception. And it is not just that. Almost every work there were sculptures or videos, leaving behind all his pieces which explores the media in a different level so common in electronic art. The exhibition is still very traditional for the possibilities of digital art, explains Paul. Most of the pieces exhibited were made in the same year of the show, excluding his major and famous works, like Super Mario Clouds v2k3 (2003), in which he hacked the old game of Nintendo and deleted every information of the cartridge, except the clouds of the sky. It is a contemplative and questioning piece, bringing the 8 bits world to a gallery space (aren't
1 Interview made by the author in 2011, by phone, two weeks after the opening of the show. 2 ANDREA, Scott K. Futurism: Cory Arcangel plays around with technology. New Yorker: FACT; Onward And Upward With The Arts; Pg. 30 Vol. 87 No. 15. May 30, 2011.

these clouds too pixelated?). Roberta Smith, in her review of Arcangel's exhibition for The New York Times, elected the work as one of the best of 2004 Whitney Biennial: Its quietly animated fusion of Pop, Minimalism and giddy innocence was one of the exhibitions high points.3 It is interesting how Arcangel plays with pop aesthetics at the same time that tries to bring something beyond. This framework, nevertheless, causes a lot of confusion in traditional art critics. In Smith's article, for example, at the same time that she identifies the quality of some works, it is noticeable her difficult to analyze a kind of work that doesn't have an easy art reference on the first layer of interpretation, giving space to the common and regular prejudice against it.
In an opposite corner 'Research in Motion (Kinetic Sculpture #6)' rehearses the old saw about the similarity between modern abstract sculpture and commercial design with a series of 'dancing stands' typically used in supermarket displays, but here conjuring, according to the label, the grids of Sol LeWitt. Whatever.4

Whatever. When she uses this word in the middle of an art review, it demonstrates her approach to this kind of new media art, questioning the public and, inclusive, herself if that type of work (pop-new-media-amateur-art) can be analyzed such as the other regular and stablished art forms. It is unnecessary to point that a sloppy language is incongruous when analyzing stablished artists. But, for this case, she felt comfortable enough to use it. Arcangel's references are not structured in regular art history. His background is in a geek, nerdy environment, easily demonstrated by his works Theres Always One at Every Party (2010) and Paganini Caprice No. 5 (2011). At the first one, he edited several chapters of the TV show Seinfield and compiled every cut in which a character, Kramer, explains his dream to have a coffee-table book about coffee tables. The other one is another compilation,
3 SMITH, Roberta. A muse in the machine: click. Create. In The New York Times, May 26, 2011. URL http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/arts/design/cory-arcangels-pro-tools-at-the-whitney-review.html? pagewanted=all&_r=1&. Accessed in October, 7th, at 2h32pm. 4 Idem

but this time of hundreds tutorial videos of how to play the very fast piece by Niccol Paganini in the guitar. Those are the references, the raw materials, that Arcangel uses to create his own works. It is the same procedures of so many pop and surrealists artists, like Andy Warhol himself. The major difference is the media chosen to create a derivative work. Instead of using traditional tools (such a canvas, silk-screen, video, etc.), Arcangel use codes to create and improve a video-editing software to be able to cut the videos in the proper speedy to recreate a music; reconfigure a pen plotter machine to create random drawings (2010's technology outputting through a 1980's machine); or hack cartridges of bowling games to make explicit the non-connection between the physical and virtual worlds, and the frustration that this relationship can cause (gutter balls all the time?). The importance of the show doesn't lie in exhibiting masterpieces of an artist or in setting a movement trend. As Paul points out: the most important aspect of this exhibition is how pop culture interferes in fine arts world; and about internet aesthetics, such as the piece in supercut, which take back references from previous decades. The show is helpful to know pop culture and bring back the remix to the museum space.5 Smith's article, nonetheless, fails to analyze it through those lens. Instead, she deposits her arguments in the freshness and contemporary situations of the art work (No big case for greatness is posited; were just being shown some fresh new art, barely six months of work; or It also potentially underscores art as a momentary distraction, photo op or tweeting topic in a world of ever-shortening attention spans), inducing the reader to believe maybe because of the low age in the inexperience or ingenuity of the artist. Not that the art work needs to be considered a masterpiece it is not , but it is problematic for the argument when the discourse falls far from the creation process. The most assertive part of the review lays on the art-about-art and dry, didactic wall
5 Interview to the author.

label. All these classifications and sensations reminds of how mechanic and unpleasant the technology can be. In the ready-made series of gradient pictures Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations (2008-), for example, the titles (and, consequently, the labels) are extremely direct with the coordinates to reproduce the same work how many times wanted. It is a manual. It is instructions. They are tasteless. But they prove a point and connects with different parts of analysis and interpretations. They were never supposed to carry a meaning as a poem (like Magritte's famous titles), but to question the reproducibility and uniqueness of art through new media. Duchamp 2.0.
Mr. Arcangel seems guided by a somewhat callow faith in the avant-garde, striving to perpetuate its tradition, dating from Duchamp, of laying claim to new areas of nonart for arts sake. Sometimes he succeeds, but sometimes he falls short, at which point it is perfectly O.K. to reach for your cellphone.6

Roberta Smith's piece, although doing a grateful work in disclosing and promoting art and technology exhibitions, shows the problems and paths that new media art still needs to conquer. The field is still constructing its legitimacy to be considered a stablished art form, in which real and serious analysis can be published in newspapers; freshness will not be an argument to disqualify an art piece; and the artists are not considered super-humans to have a success in 100% of their works.

6 SMITH, Roberta. A muse in the machine: click. Create. In The New York Times, May 26, 2011. URL http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/arts/design/cory-arcangels-pro-tools-at-the-whitney-review.html? pagewanted=all&_r=1&. Accessed in October, 7th, at 2h32pm.