“Two and a Half Men” is a formulaic television sitcom, a late example of a genre early in its seventh decade. People watch the show not because it’s funny or original, but because they’re comfortable with it. They know the stars: Charlie Sheen is familiar from both tabloid headlines and B-list movies such as “Major League.” Jon Cryer looks like he just stepped out of the 1986 cult classic “Pretty in Pink.” The pacing of the show is familiar and the show’s lack of originality or verve is masked by a laugh track. “Two and a Half Men” does the sitcom formula well, but so did 250 shows before it. [Image: Charlie Sheen via CBS.com.]
I thought of “Two and a Half Men” as I watched The Clock (2010), Christian Marclay’s 24-hour-long video installation recently on view at New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery. According to the gallery, The Clock features samples from thousands of films that reference clocks or time. It does this in accordance with what time it is when a viewer is watching Marclay’s opus. As you’re sitting in Paula Cooper Gallery at 3:10 in the afternoon, the Marclay features a short snippet from the 2007 Russell Crowe vehicle “3:10 to Yuma”: A guy on the screen asks, “Where’s the 3:10 to Yuma?” His buddy: “Running late, I suppose.” Then there are snippets from films in which that time, 3:10 is referenced or shown on a clock face. Then on to 3:11. And 3:12. And 3:13. And it keeps going. And going.
The Clock (left and below) is the latest application of the Marclay Formula: Choose a trope familiar to anyone with a Netflix queue. Mine film or some other aspect of visual culture for hundreds of clips of said trope. Stitch it all together with nifty editing. Then exhibit the work and rely upon the art world’s familiarity with the Marclay Formula — and the joy many film buffs get at recognizing short clips from long-loved movies — to get the work over. It’s so predictable that within 45 seconds of entering Paula Cooper Gallery’s installation of the work, I had solved it. Once a viewer understands what is going on, what reason is there to stick around for any of the other 86,355 seconds except to bask in rapid-fire familiarity? [Image: The Clock, (2010).]
Speaking of which: The Clock is really no different from any other Marclay stitch-job. If you loved Marclay and his editors in Video Quartet (2002), in which they edited together clips from over 700 films of people playing or singing music, you’ll love them in The Clock. If you loved Marclay’s rat-a-tat style in Crossfire (2007), in which movie clips of gunshots ring out as you stand in between a four-screen installation, then you’ll want to see The Clock again and again. The only real difference with The Clock is that it runs for 24 hours, a handy mix of gimmick and conceptual veneer. The Clock is so predictable that Artinfo’s Ben Davis more-or-less reviewed the work without having seen it — and pretty much nailed it.
Stepping back from The Clock to consider its underlying Marclay Formula structure, part of the problem is that we’ve seen what Marclay does before: Christian Marclay is to Andy Warhol or John Baldessari what Vanilla Ice was to Chuck D, Queen and David Bowie. Vanilla Ice added shiny parachute pants, Marclay adds Final Cut Pro. (Speaking of which, Crossfire is a less affecting version of Los Angeles-based artist George Stone’s 1988 installation In the Line of Fire (Civilized, Informed, Entertained).)
The Clock’s facileness renders explicable the crowds that flocked to Paula Cooper Gallery for the work. Contemporary art is in the throes of a salon moment, a moment during which once-difficult conceptual work is watered down enough to be accessible for the art market and its hangers-on. (Think Jean Metzinger-style cubism or Lagavulin over ice.) Ultimately Marclay’s particular success with The Clock is that he did something that’s been done to death — and extended it enough to make it seem like he thought of it first.