Armory Show – The Movies

This year’s Armory Show is short on video. My explanation is that videos are hard to sell, and harder to get the friends whom you’re trying to impress to watch. There’s also the risk that the video you paid $50,000 for won’t look much better than the video made by your child. Remember that kid who’s costing you  $55,000 a year at NYU Film School?

Let’s not start with moving pictures, but with production design. At the north end of Pier 94, near the entrance to the New York Times Media Lounge, where real moving pictures are shown (and panelized, of course), Kysa Johnson’s replica of a Bank of America waiting room is installed. You can do everything but sit in the chairs and write on the walls – and you can even do that if security isn’t watching.  It’s the size of a small art fair booth, nowhere near too big to fail.

Kysa Johnson's Monochrome Writing on the Wall

Johnson painted the walls of her three-sided cube a blackboard black and then drew patterns from sub-atomic particles and Roman ruins via Piranesi on that surface in chalk. The writing on the wall? Is this targeted Twombly, or a Francis Bacon scene with everything but the gaping central figure?


The suggestion (or more than that) is that banks like Bank of America are leading us into mummified ruin. Think of Pompeii or of the WTC underground spaces shrouded in thick dust and soot after 9/11.  No surprise that Johnson includes the banks themselves among the eventual victims. There’s a monochrome Bank of America logo in relief on the back wall.

Extreme? If the apocalypse isn’t extreme, what is? But the formal overall game that Johnson plays is as fun as surrealism can be. Everything is black and inscribed with chalk, even the vase between the two chairs, and the “plants” in the vase. Think of a Meret Oppenheim room, then fast-forward a century.

Bear in mind that while Bank of American was cheating consumers and foreclosing illegally on families, it was giving money to museums, to educational institutions that overlooked the bank’s pecadillos that harmed millions.  Let’s hope that one of the museum beneficiaries of the bank’s marketing dollars will exhibit it. At $50,000, the room is relatively cheap, but unwieldy for the individual collector, unless that collector got a bonus from one of the too-big-to-fail banks. Johnson’s “paintings,” black squares with drawn chalk, are only $2000, at Morgan Lehman Gallery.

It’s a short trip from Fancis Bacon to zombies, although it was easier to find Bigfoot between Piers 94 ans 92 than it was to find the New York Times Media Lounge, where In Search of ….Zombies, a 47-minute movie by Matthew Day Jackson, played to the few people who could find the place. Maybe the Times though it was sponsoring a speakeasy.  The satirical movie about a dead society eating itself comes to us right at the end of testimony in the trial of a notorious NYPD “cannibal cop”, and it had the lurid bodily-fluids palette of spaghetti westerns that serve up anything, as in Tarantino’s Django. If an art fair is a smorgasbord, the film — more populist than POP — was another dish on the buffet, and an attempt at critique, complete with TV commercials that played into the zombie theme.  Why not a cameo for Bank of American execs?

Matthew Day Jackson - You Are What You Eat

Here’s the official description —

In Search of… Zombies” is the third in Matthew Day Jackson’s series of videos based on the ’70s TV show hosted by Leonard Nimoy investigating supernatural and paranormal phenomena. Filmed in New York and across the American West, from Las Vegas to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota, the episode focuses on the ubiquitous contemporary figure of the zombie. The program tries to figure out why zombies are everywhere, or at least appear to be, and proposes alternate or expanded ways in which we might think about them.

The filmmakers’ misfortune was being scheduled on the first day of the Armory Show, when nothing seemed to work. The plastic seats, designed to look like folded cardboard (to appear even more cheaply-produced than they were, just like Jackson’s film) could not have been more uncomfortable. Is art the same kind of punitive therapy as exercise or religion – no pain, no gain? That seated discomfort won’t change, but the team of technicians who stood mute and motionless through the entire screening might reconsider the roaring bottom-heavy sound, which seemed to come out of a cheap jukebox, and the rumbling HVAC fan, which ensured that the room was freezing and most of the soundtrack was inaudible. Or was noise the intention?

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