mercredi 23 juillet 2008

Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn (Elizabeth Dee, NY)

Masters of None, 2006, vidéo

I See You, Man, 2008, vidéo

All Together Now, 2008, vidéo

All Together Now, 2008, vidéo

This new body of work, which unites the spontaneous with the tightly scored, continues to develop a performative strategy that combines forethought, action, and acute attention to the present moment. Here, the risk-taking, vulnerability, and fearlessness which have customarily played a central role in Dodge and Kahn's practice constitute an urgent appeal to reinvigorate our sense of agency as citizens. I See You, Man takes place on a cold and foggy beach in California and features the character Lois (Let the Good Times Roll) as she scouts a beach location with Peter the cameraman, ruminating on the physical and psychological detritus they discover along the way. A one-take revelation in improvisation, the video skirts a line between found footage documentary and an exposé on process, revealing the complexities, triumphs and fractures of communication. Masters of None and the epic All Together Now mark Dodge and Kahn's departure from the dialogue driven, narrative nature of their earlier work. Ambient and textured, Masters of None captures the domestic life of a hooded tribe whose mundane activities coexist with the surreal. All Together Now presents a more complex universe set in a post-apocalyptic moment hauntingly close to the present. The twenty-six minute video, with a richly layered soundtrack, follows various "clans" as they forage for resources, develop interdependent relationships, and negotiate what's left of civilization. The threat of extinction looms alongside a sense of liberation from consumer trappings and corporate ownership, while an unanswerable question persists: how will we survive? In both pieces, facelessness and the absence of language push the artists' ongoing interrogation of communication, meaning and the possibly inextricable relationship between words, thoughts and forms. A deepening of their meditation on the collaborative process, Nature Demo is a partly choreographed, partly improvised piece in which the pair appears as an amateur film team attempting to make a "How-To" video about post-civilized life, but without any of the real skills needed for the task. Their methodical journey hovers between document and orchestrated farce as it poses questions about the average citizen's claim to competency in an unregulated landscape.

Amoreen Armetta:
“You’re not saying humans are bad, you’re saying things go wrong, right?” Stanya Kahn says to the cameraman (Harry Dodge) at one point during the Los Angeles–based duo’s video I See You, Man, 2008. Kahn draws out the sentence so one expects that it, too, will be punctuated with a man. The peripatetic camera, its path as winding as Kahn’s improvised monologue, follows her goofy jaunt along the beach and into and out of the ocean. Dodge and Kahn have wooed audiences since 2004 with this kind of idiosyncratic storytelling, which hinges on Kahn’s sharp comic timing. Here, the duo also stretch into new territory; two of the four new pieces on view completely eschew language. All Together Now, 2008—titled after the Beatles song—is their most ambitious work to date. Apparently set in a postapocalyptic near future, it features several tribes wearing color-coded hoods, most of which bear comically crude faces delineated by tape or marker. They gather supplies, forage for food and water, make out, cook, and enthusiastically watch one another on surveillance cameras, while an unmasked contingent is staked out in a grubby modernist hotel room. The editing and sound track here are also fractured; funny bursts of pop songs are interspersed with ambient noise and backward-running audio loops. A touch of Yellow Submarine–style loopiness prevents this from being a bleak vision. The new society Dodge and Kahn envision offers the possibility of interdependence, resourcefulness, new family structures, and modes of emotional expression in the midst of dwindling resources. Human beings aren’t bad, they seem to suggest, but things have definitely gone wrong.

Howard Halle:
An artist duo puts the id in idiocracy.
I’d missed Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn’s debut at Elizabeth Dee Gallery in 2006, which is why the work of this Los Angeles–based duo was such a surprise to me at this year’s Whitney Biennial. In a show that was otherwise meh, their video, a sort of lo-fi tour de horizon of L.A. titled Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out, was a true standout. In it, Dodge and Kahn excavated the psychological terrain beneath Tinseltown’s urban landscape and found, not surprisingly, that the place was a psychotic mess. Judging by their latest exhibition, so is the rest of the country. Dodge and Kahn offer up a quartet of videos, three of which (I See You Man, Nature Demo and 2006’s Masters of None) run around ten minutes long; the show’s centerpiece, All Together Now, clocks in at just under 27 minutes. Taken together, the pieces are as insightful a look at Bush’s America as anything I’ve seen in the past eight years. Not that the works are overtly political: They’re too surreal and caught up in their own nuttiness for that. But in its own way each paints a portrait of a body politic that’s all but brain-dead—if not completely headless. In Masters of None and All Together Now, this last punch line is telegraphed quite literally, as both offer images of groups of people wearing hoods over their noggins like hostages in a Hezbollah video, or prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Dodge and Kahn take the irony that both sides of the War on Terror have adopted this device, and leverage it into a symbol for the post-9/11 state of mind—which, as they apparently see it, is a tabula rasa, as if the shock wave of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers wiped away all critical thought in the home of the brave. Masters of None focuses on what’s evidently a suburban family wearing orange jumpsuits and bright pink sacks over their heads, each with a different, crudely drawn expression, from happy face to sad. They do everyday things, like squirting each other with hoses in the backyard, or mashing food into their “mouths” while watching a python devour its prey on television. At one point, a female member of the clan leads everyone in a game of charades. None of the others get the clues she’s signalling, and soon, her frustration grows until she finally collapses on the floor dead (we know this because after a quick edit, her cartoon eyes become Xs). She’s then carried outside and solemnly buried under a pile of leaves. This narrative, if you can call it that, is conveyed wordlessly; the soundtrack is filled with mumbles and grunts and voices distorted electronically beyond all recognition. The far more elliptical All Together Now is similarly “silent”: It begins with Kahn at the scene of what we can only presume is murder, since she’s covered in gore; as the video concludes, she’s naked in a pond, scrubbing blood off her bruised body. In between, her character takes a long strange trip that might be in flashback—or not. Once again we see a family, or maybe it’s two families, it’s hard to tell. One group, relaxing at what seems to be a spa, is covered in grime and dressed in matching purple pants and shirts (like Kahn, in fact). The other group seems to be in an unfinished basement or attic; they wear hoods and busy themselves, filling small sacks with dirt, or breaking up furniture or checking surveillance imagery on a laptop. These activities seem pointless and nefarious in equal measure: Imagine the Three Stooges in a bomb factory, or members of Heaven’s Gate running a supremely inept bed and breakfast. Kahn drifts in and out of such scenes and others, including a clam bake at the beach with a pair of kids, and an afternoon of pulling weeds from an abandoned highway. Both point to a peculiar leitmotif that seems to occur in all of Dodge and Kahn’s work—the environment’s total indifference to man. This subtext becomes text in Nature Demo, which follows two would-be survivalists (Dodge and Kahn) as they bumble around the woods and natter endlessly about building a “windblock” (a word that gets repeated like a mantra), without ever managing to do so; the best they can come up with is a sad, site-specific driftwood sculpture. I See You Man features Kahn at ocean’s edge, dancing into the water while shouting “I see you man!” and “I’m going to vote for you!” before ending with “I feel like I found what I was looking for.” Would that we all had. But, as this work suggests, we’re permanently trapped in an imperial idiocracy. If you think real change is coming this November, this show just might disabuse you of that notion.

vendredi 11 juillet 2008

Fia Backström (White Columns, New York)

That social space between speaking and meaning
Dear XYZ,
A preemptive war of evacuated words and unlawful combatants, it's more than we can take. Luring language reigns rampant and generic, while iconoclastic moves on the image abound. I can't smoke you out, because smoking indoors is not permitted. In with the good air out with the bad. This carpet of slipping senses, handy words to twist meanings for cunning and calculated usage - a visceral occupation of territory set up for US to inhabit. So Words, Don't Fail Me Now!
These are the bankrupt words of the undermined rhetoric no longer yours:
a for agency
f for freedom
r for resistance
exceptions made for CO-rporations or your CO-operative spirit turning them into secret mantras for soulful enlightenment or entertainment - a for Parisian model agence or f as in F U Calvin Klein far out signification. r as in rotten rhubarb pie, somehow anti-slogans enters the ads. Language development from think tank to focus group, market research into politics, finding selling words for a movement of merchan-dizing ideas. Resonating words which obscure the issue; ethnic marketing as site specificity, then criticality, a little whipping à la S/M... the right name is everything for enhancing policy sales. Rhetoric matters!
Looking for CO-ntemporary text (caption, tagline, keyword) in this list-headlines culture. A tailored message for you and you and you, that iconic place in your heart. The critical review, our only public chance to interact with the system in a registered way, a bit like voting in a democracy. Circular logic of the art text, for what is independent discourse if we are all part of one literary community... exchange as in affirmative description. Endless lists of names decorating the ubiquitous ads in the Art magazines, apparently you can build mystery as long as you believe in the story. The axis of art: t$xt–cli$nt–obj$ct. What is at stake, if anything at all? It is not an easy task to grasp a frontier. So don't forget sometimes words are more than enough, or not sufficient at all.
The illusory split between the siamese twins image-logo and text-slogan, a CO-dependant duality dancing the dung around. Currently China totals 85 million illiterate people, mark my words! but then again who needs ABC for logo reading or to visualize a tag line. The collapse of letters with visual culture; to read to think to see... decorative conceptualism turned plain CO-mmercial jargon. A CO-mmunist shared paper situation and a marketplace consumer experience, a public forum, a piazza - a poetry club. A testing ground for language and words that work. A place for reading gone awry, that inter-public feeling beyond ideology and inundating data flow. Writing a grey zone of who is what, where in which position; sliding articulation for another formation shift. A CO-authored environment, an evolving letter, a background where language's communal bead of labored meaning is continually altered. A public discussion and a personal address of merging tongues so that Poetry must be made by everyone or not be made at all.
Walking billboards and word peddlers! A ripped chain of signification for a shifted audience interpretation. I am. I war I write, my life, I misunderstand therefore I am, to Mean, to Do, to Use, to Score, chart upon chart, value more value. A worthless rupture, without meaning or speed, an un-sanitary structure where I and I together make mass of confusion and eruption. For you, for now, for ever!
Yours truly,
xo Fia

The project continues Backström’s ongoing investigations into “corporate address and political rhetoric.” The installation – which acts as a counter-point to radical modernist proposals such as El Lissitzky's “pressa” exhibitions and Herbert Bayer's Road to Victory - is an environment without any "images" that takes the form of a discussion club: a space to be socialized through informal and formal meetings, gatherings and readings. Traces of these conversations, either in the form of audio recordings or written transcripts will subsequently be posted into the space. The installation includes Backström’s own works and texts (including wall paper designs), alongside works and texts of other artists and writers (including Julieta Aranda, Julie Ault, Roe Ethridge, Claire Fontaine, Wade Guyton, Matt Keegan, Sister Corita Kent, Jutta Koether, Sean Landers, Olivier Mosset, Bob Nickas, Jack Pierson, Seth Price, and Alexandre Singh amongst others) as well as “found” objects such as the traveling frame for a Jasper Johns painting or the Sculpture’s Center’s “donor panel.” The project will culminate after the exhibition’s closing with a six hour “Poetry Club” – beginning at midnight – with readings from participating artists and guests.

Roberta Smith:
Fia Backstrom, a New York-based Swedish artist known for producing exhibitions, events, posters, magazine ads and conversations mostly as art, or close to it, is having her most substantial solo show in New York to date. Like many artists, Ms. Backstrom favors collage. As with Barbara Kruger and Lawrence Weiner, her main subject and material is language, which she reconfigures and layers together in ways that collapse mental, social and aesthetic notions of space. At White Columns she layers most of the walls with printed matter of some kind, either designed or appropriated, including wallpaper using the words of Ralph Nader or clusters of keywords from the image-retrieval system at Getty Pictures. There are wry letters and statements from the artist — who is adept at conflating linguistic conventions — as well as fresh printouts of conversations that Ms. Backstrom is having in and about the show itself. “Tablecloths for Commercial Galleries” is paper printed with geometric designs using the names of Chelsea galleries and available on rolls like butcher’s paper. Deviations from art-world norms dominate one wall: multiple copies of a Frieze magazine review by the artist Sean Landers of his own work, and unusually clever gallery press releases, mostly for hip group shows. A thoughtful review of one show is appropriated by the artist Jesse Ash and handsomely reprinted and framed. This wall is topped off by an incoherent word painting by Mr. Landers titled “Shut Up and Paint.” Ms. Backstrom has also appropriated works by Sister Corita Kent, Wade Guyton, Olivier Mosset and Roe Etheridge for the occasion; they use language or involve forms that can be construed as letters. A series of sculptures reminiscent of Manfred Pernice provide basic punctuation. Ms. Backstrom reveals the prison house of language in which we all exist to be a soft, inescapable web, ever available for repurposing and revelation.

Joshua Mack:
Fia Backström’s texts and performances employ mind-bending—and sometimes mind-numbing—conceptual conceits and word associations to critique the glut of information that floods our daily lives. Her exhibition at White Columns is replete with dense if often witty writings that skewer such usual targets as fashion, art criticism and advertising. Along with her own pieces, Backström includes and contextualizes works by artists like Roe Etheridge, Seth Price and Wade Guyton—all of whom likewise explore the slippery relationship of image and meaning. An “open letter” at the entrance cites the prevalence of “walking billboards and word peddlers.” A glass panel nearby juxtaposes the names of football players with those of New York Times writers and editors; another lists donors to Queens’ SculptureCenter. Taken together, they seem to suggest that art, news and big-league sports are all equally scripted forms of entertainment. But the artist is interested in more than just exposing the manipulation of information: She’s also intent on creating a sort of mental space for independent thinking. Her installation, equipped with stools and tables of her own design, functions as a reading room while her press release promises planned formal discussions. What she’s encouraging is a form of social interaction beyond the commercially determined exchanges created by marketing. Solo viewing, then, is a bit beside the point. Leaving aside, for the moment, the obviousness of including names like Guyton and Price, Backström’s proposed public programs should add a touch of fun to a show that can sometimes seem overdetermined, albeit completely dead on.

Crop Rotation (Marianne Boesky Gallery, NY)

Neil Campbell. Bloodline, 2007. Acrylic on wall

Ferdinand Kriwet. Rundscheiben, 1960–63 Offset print, 10-parts

Marc Bijl. Urban Modernism (Lozenge with 4 lines and grey) Stenciled and borrowed , just to survive, 2007. Stencil and spraypaint graffiti

Commissariat: Clarissa Dalrymple
Avec Marc Bijl, Neil Campbell, Jeroen Jongeleen, KRIWET, Jochen Lempert, Marlo Pascual, Jeffrey Wells

Within the work of each artist in this group show is an impetus toward constantly reusable procedures, which becomes a contained art practice in and of itself. Marc Bijl, Jeroen Jongeleen, and Neil Campbell make much of their work directly onto the wall. Bijl and Jongeleen also make constructions from prosaic material such as wood and plaster board or in the case of Jongeleen transferring a wall work onto canvas. Marlo Pascual makes tableaux from retrieved photographs, re-assigning form and role to selected images. Ferdinand Kriwet traduces television events such as the 1974 election in America and the first moon walk. He uses graphic process in the composition of discrete works. Jochen Lempert is a zoologist. In the banks of photographs exhibited there is an intense focus on the birds and animals combined. Jeffrey Wells's examination of sensory perception is constantly re-employed throughout his art practice. In this case the nature of a solid corner is betrayed with a video of laser light.

Ken Johnson:
Organized by the independent curator Clarissa Dalrymple, “Crop Rotation” is perplexing, but theatrically engaging. The words “walk” and “talk” printed in yellow on black on a length of plastic stuck to the floor — a piece first made in 1970 by Ferdinand Kriwet — lead to a room where a rickety wooden structure by Marc Bijl holds up three horizontal mirrors reflecting words spray-painted in reverse on the wall. They read, “The construction of life is at present in the power of facts.” In a corner of the main gallery two enormous black circles painted on each wall by Neil Campbell give the momentarily thrilling illusion of openings into infinite space. But a poetic tableau by Marlo Pascual involving old photographs under glass, a seashell, a large rock, electric lights, an antique telephone and a much enlarged page from Walker Percy’s novel “The Moviegoer” is portentously heavy-handed. Don’t miss Jeffrey Wells’s video projection of an almost invisible line wavering in one corner of the gallery or Mr. Kriwet’s video montage of television clips from the 1972 presidential race between Richard M. Nixon and George McGovern.

jeudi 10 juillet 2008

Standard Sizes (Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York)

Matt Sheridan Smith, Untitled, 2006, Newspapers

commissariat: João Ribas
Avec Ricci Albenda, Kjell Bjorgeengen, Kerstin Brätsch, Martin Creed, Liz Deschenes, Morgan Fisher, Rachel Harrison, Imi Knoebel, Camilla Low, Allan McCollum, Brian OíConnell, Blinky Palermo, Richard Pettibone, Josh Smith, Matt Sheridan Smith, Sturtevant

Standard Sizes surveys a diverse group of artists over several generations whose work resists the notion of art as the product of an expressive subject - the radically individuated self largely equated with the figure of the artist. In place of this vestige of Renaissance self-fashioning and the affectations of Romanticism, the exhibition presents works that look to standards and formal procedures to displace the idea of expressive subjectivity as the domain of art. If the figure of the visionary artist was once emblematic of the emancipatory idea of the 'individual', in a society where it had not yet fully emerged, this notion is deradicalized by the democratization of subjective expression today. As a result of this abiding 'selfness,' it seems more pressing to understand the structures and standards built into the parameters of ëexpressioní and the production of meaning itself. By foregrounding an effect, rather than the affect, of meaning, Standard Sizes looks to practices that solicit content from standards or procedural form, cede subjective control through generative systems, or that elicit meaning from iteration, standardization, or repetition. Ranging from work based on standard formats and materials, to the rhetorical use of tropes such as the expressive brushstroke, the works in the exhibition looks to the implicit, if now obscured, values and norms present in standardized form. This is to evince how frames dictate content, how the values assimilated in standards belie whose feet and fingers are measured to arrive at consensus, and to discover meaning by way of slippages in the process of standardization. Standard Sizes takes its departure from Pierre Menard's line-by-line rewriting of Don Quixote; the standardization of canvas sizes in the French Academy; the Kuleshov effectís suggestion of affect from juxtaposition; Duchamp's 3 Standard Stoppages; CMYK color; imperial units of measurement; lorem ipsum text, based on a dark passage from Cicero; standard paper sizes; modernism as a rhetorical vernacular; stochastic music and seriality; cinematic aspect ratios; T.S. Eliotís poetics of 'impersonality'; generative algorithms; as well as the possibility of meaning in the difference produced by repetition.

T.J. Carlin:
As the discrepancy grows between the exponential amount of information in the world (including art) and our ability to absorb it, it’s become necessary to invent new ways of framing ideas and considering them afresh. “Standard Sizes,” organized by João Ribas, does just that. Billed as a group show of works that avoid personal expression, the exhibition contextualizes the pieces in such a way that almost all of them exert an undeniable pull. As the title suggests, the 16 artists here have limited themselves in one way or another by a process of standardization. The majority of the works are overwhelmingly formal, and some of them would be unremarkable on their own, were it not for a setting that makes them shimmer with meaning. Matt Sheridan Smith’s rather flatly executed geometric canvases, for example, take their form from technical paper sizes but also nod to Josef Albers’s system of color. They have a particularly elegant (and art-historical) conversation with Josh Smith’s small works across the room, which look like oil palettes mounted on the wall. Kerstin Brätsch’s copper shelf units are laden with photocopied booklets featuring pictures of vacation getaways, reproduced in various colors. Color is key to many of the contributions, which could be why you might find yourself scrutinizing these groupings for relationships. “Standard Sizes” offers a mash-up of processes stripped bare while maintaining the residue of human experience, making the objects in it seem refreshing.

vendredi 4 juillet 2008

Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns? (Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York)

commissariat: Urs Fischer et Gavin Brown

Jerry Saltz:
Two Coats of Painting
Tony Shafrazi, the man who tagged Guernica, tries another way of superimposing new art and old.
'Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” is an early contender for Gallery Group Show of the Year. It has 22 artists—or 25, if you count those on view in reproduction. But really it has no artists at all. The show centers on a collaboration by the two impresario-organizers, gallerist Gavin Brown and artist Urs Fischer. It is all about memory, morals, redemption, tribal loyalty, and railing against cozy cliché. One of its causes can be traced to February 28, 1974, the infamous day when Tony Shafrazi, a 30-year-old Iranian-born artist, entered the Museum of Modern Art, yelled, “Call the curator. I am an artist,” and spray-painted KILL LIES ALL in red letters across Picasso’s Guernica. I’d always assumed Shafrazi meant to paint “All Lies Kill.” However, he recently told me he wrote exactly what he wanted to write, and that it was meant to be read in “a Finnegans Wake way” so that it said something whichever way you read it. (It’s still gibberish to me. Whatever.) Asked about it later, Shafrazi stated he wanted to bring Guernica “absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life.” Regardless, the painting had a protective coating, was cleaned soon after, and now hangs at the Reina Sofía in Madrid. Shafrazi was arrested, charged with “criminal mischief,” and released on $1,000 bail. The story gets weirder from there. Around 1980, Shafrazi opened a Soho gallery and began exhibiting artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat—who also graffitied over things. Shafrazi’s gallery became a hot spot. Or so I heard: My inner Church Lady got the best of me, and, except for occasional shows, I smugly boycotted Shafrazi’s gallery for the next two decades. By the time my moralism calmed down and I started going again, the gallery was only a shadow if its former self. These days, Shafrazi isn’t in the limelight so much. No one would have expected to see this new show in this gallery. He’s known mainly as a dealer of secondary art and blue-chip artists, but “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” changes that, at least temporarily. Shafrazi claims, “I put my life in their hands.” Gavin Brown puts it this way: Shafrazi’s previous show had been up for months, and “there needed to be an intervention.” The intervention they came up with produces a discombobulating retinal wallop. Fischer, the living master of visual disorientation, had the previous four-person exhibition photographed, including the ceiling and the guards. These images were reproduced in perfect one-to-one scale and wallpapered into the gallery, even on the ceiling, in an exact replica of itself. Then a new show was hung atop the old. Initially, you don’t know what you’re seeing. Everything looks as if it’s on top of everything else, an optical overload. It’s uncanny. There’s a Picabia on top of a Donald Baechler, Francis Bacon atop Kenny Scharf, a Lawrence Weiner overlapping a Jean-Michel Basquiat. Lily van der Stokker has painted over graffiti painters, a Cady Noland leans on a Haring, a real Haring hangs on top of a photographed one. Some juxtapositions are nasty. Sue Williams’s man slapping a woman while calling her “stupid cunt” is next to Richard Prince’s rephotographing of the naked preteen Brooke Shields; Cindy Sherman’s picture of vomit is placed in the mouth of a Scharf. Other juxtapositions read like homage: Rob Pruitt’s eternally burning lighter in front of a John Chamberlain sculpture. Knitting this whole phantasmagoria together is a fantastic smudged white carpet by Rudolf Stingel. “Who’s Afraid” is like some mad replicating vision machine, or a walk-in Louise Lawler. The ghosts of shows past have their way with the present; the art of now elbows aside the art of “then.” “Who’s Afraid” allows you to optically experience how every work of art is in dialogue with, building on, reacting to, or fighting against every other work of art ever made. The gallery says that the show “demonstrates how each work of art has many selves hidden within, and how forces outside the frame constantly … limit a work’s interpretation.” Brown and Fischer suggest that the purposeful white cube of the modern art gallery is also a curse, that it neutralizes art and our thinking about it. Some visitors have called this show adolescent and self-serving. Time Out’s Howard Halle called it “deeply cynical.” But cynicism can also be a creative force. “Who’s Afraid” isn’t insincere and misanthropic. True, the organizers are criticizing the insider art world from as deep inside the belly of the beast as possible. Everything here is A-list. Yet “Who’s Afraid” is a labor of love and a rebel yell. It communes with artistic ancestors and resurrects art no longer in fashion. Insularity notwithstanding, Brown and Fischer want to set art free from the context of the white box. Successful or not, something freeing did happen the night of the opening. It was Shafrazi’s birthday. At the large after-party, Brown and Fischer presented him with a five-foot-long cake decorated with a perfect rendition of Guernica. Brown climbed atop a table and, amid much yelling, toasted Shafrazi. He then thrust a cake decorator filled with red icing into Shafrazi’s hands. As the crowd screamed, Brown implored, “Write, Tony! Write!” Shafrazi started moving the device over the cake. Slowly he wrote the words I AM SORRY. Time stood still. It was like an angel of redemption had entered the room to take away Shafrazi’s guilt. The room went silent. I was shocked. Then, Shafrazi began writing again. He wrote one more word: not! It was like the Sopranos finale. Just as you thought everything was going to change, everything only became more of what it already was.

Roberta Smith:
When Artworks Collide
“Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?,” a group show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea, is the latest proof that you don’t have to be a museum to shake things up. It was organized by Gavin Brown, who has a downtown gallery of his own, and Urs Fischer, a Swiss artist he represents. Demonically aerobic for brain and eye, the show conflates two exhibitions and several different times, styles, art markets and notions of transgression. Highly site specific, it may also be one of the last words in appropriation art, institutional critique and artistic intervention, not to mention postmodern photography and, especially, wallpaper. The histories entwined here begin with Mr. Shafrazi, an infamous one-hit-wonder graffiti artist and longtime graffiti art dealer. In 1974 he spray-painted, in red, the words “Kill Lies All” on Picasso’s “Guernica,” then at the Museum of Modern Art (he meant to write “All Lies Kill”). By 1982 he had a SoHo gallery known for showing graffiti-related artists like Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Donald Baechler. In 2004 Mr. Shafrazi relocated to an austere second-floor gallery in Chelsea, putting up long-running shows and concentrating mostly on the resale market: not only the graffitists but also blue-chip works by Picasso, Picabia and Francis Bacon. In October he reprised his glory days with “Four Friends,” an echt-’80s exhibition of paintings and a few sculptures by Haring, Basquiat, Mr. Scharf and Mr. Baechler. Mr. Brown and Mr. Fischer had been lobbying Mr. Shafrazi to let them organize a show at his gallery, and “Four Friends” only spurred their determination. “The show had been up for six months,” Mr. Brown said. “There needed to be an intervention.” About six weeks ago Mr. Shafrazi finally agreed; Mr. Brown and Mr. Fischer went to work. The resulting exhibition is an adventure in juxtaposition and visual argumentation; either way it’s a far cry from the quiet contemplation of isolated art objects. Nothing escapes unimplicated or unmanipulated, least of all the show’s announcement: a picture of Mr. Shafrazi being arrested at MoMA in 1974. You suspect that curatorial limits will be tested even before you ascend the gallery’s broad concrete staircase. Water is cascading down half of it like a mountain stream in April. The work, “Viagra Falls,” by Rob Pruitt, is sophomorically titled but noisily invigorating. But the dominant fact, stage-setter and to some extent gimmick of the show is Mr. Fischer’s wraparound wallpaper extravaganza. It continues his penchant for radically altering art spaces by knocking holes in large walls (as he did for the 2006 Whitney Biennial) and in floors (as he did last winter at Mr. Brown’s Greenwich Street gallery, creating a 10-foot-deep wall-to-wall pit that was part earthwork, part bomb crater). What he has done at Shafrazi is much gentler and far more pervasive; it unsettles perception by subtly confusing original and copy. To begin, Mr. Fischer had every square inch of the “Four Friends” show photographed: not only paintings, frames and their shadows, but also blank walls, windows, ceilings, views through various doorways and the gallery’s two guards. He then converted the images into trompe l’oeil wallpaper that, meticulously applied, lines the gallery with a same-size simulacrum of itself, which enables “Four Friends” to stay in place while a second show is installed on top of it. All this is a lot less obvious than it sounds. The oeil is really tromped in a veritable echo chamber of stylistic and generational clashes: real artworks “deface” real-looking copies of other works, evoking Mr. Shafrazi’s transgression against “Guernica.” In the first gallery, for example, Malcolm Morley’s 1976 “Age of Catastrophe” — a vibrant blue painting of a mangled airliner and colliding ships that is a precursor to both 1980s Neo-Expressionism and appropriation art — hangs atop a Haring graffiti canvas of purple and green figures on yellow. The Haring is only an image on the wallpaper, but it’s a sharp, convincing one. A Picabia pulp-fiction portrait of a woman is affixed to a Baechler depicting an old-fashioned man in a top hat. A gray-on-gray Bacon portrait is atop the wallpaper copy of a bright Scharf painting, which is also partly draped by a pink dripping blob. This is actually painted directly on the wallpaper by the Dutch artist Lily van der Stokker. The Bacon has some of the Scharf’s cartoonishness, but its Expressionism also counters the kitschy cool of the Picabia, which in turn presages the Morley. Finally, a thin bundle of wood studs — a sculpture by the German maverick Georg Herold — leans against a wall that is bare except for two trompe l’oeil wood wall mounts. A painting was removed from the “Four Friends” show before the photographer arrived. In the second gallery, an enormous wallpaper Basquiat triptych, “Gastruck” (1984), is seemingly stamped with a piquant word piece by Lawrence Weiner — the phrase “As Long as It Lasts” — in big letters of a bright red that matches the fiery hues of the burning truck. On other walls a more classically photorealist painting by Mr. Morley, as well as works by Christopher Wool, Richard Prince, Sue Williams, Mike Bidlo, Robert Ryman, Gilbert & George, Cindy Sherman, Cady Noland and Sarah Lucas, argue among themselves and also with the “Four Friends” paintings. Topics include appropriation, high and low, art and history, materials and abstraction. Ms. Van der Stokker returns in the third gallery, swamping especially handsome efforts by the four friends in what appear to be bright blue waves: perhaps the 1980s art market, or our present one, going under. Other than the guards standing next to their own images, this room contains the only matchup of art and double: a real Keith Haring white-on-black subway drawing, cut from its original site and framed under glass, on top of two similar Harings (which also include the reflection of the Baechler across the way). In a little space where even the windows, brick walls and view of the stairs are actually wallpaper, a Jeff Koons painted wood sculpture of flowers from 1991 hangs like a big corsage on a 1982 Scharf of Fred and Wilma Flintstone. The summary of found-object sculpture that began with Mr. Herold’s work in the first gallery continues — on the show’s smudged wall-to-wall carpet piece by Rudolf Stingel — in works by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Robert Morris and John Chamberlain. The show might be seen as concluding with Mr. Pruitt’s “Eternal Bic,” a perpetually burning cigarette lighter that answers the elemental waterworks at the show’s start with fire. There is a refreshing fearlessness to this exhibition, which takes its title from a story that Mr. Shafrazi told Mr. Brown and Mr. Fischer: that the original title of Barnett Newman’s four primary-colored abstractions, “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?,” was “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” The kicker — that Mr. Johns objected — is probably apocryphal. Objections are overruled in this show. The network of references it unleashes defies any coherent visual or interpretive cartography, and it is pleasantly impossible to know which of them are on purpose, which are dumb luck and which are simply your own reading. It can’t be by chance, for example, that Mr. Prince’s “Spiritual America” (1983) — a photograph of a photograph of an under-age, overly sexy Brooke Shields — and “Dessert” (1990), an acidly feminist early painting by Ms. Williams, share a wallpaper Basquiat like two strangers on a beach blanket. With their play of copies and originals, Mr. Brown and Mr. Fischer might mean to imply the triumph of appropriation art over 1980s painting. But then you realize that quite a bit of the visual firepower is coming from the works in, not on, the wallpaper. On top of the exhibition’s view of art as a continuing form of argument is a visceral reminder that art history’s books are never closed.