This Modern World

This Modern World
'Double Gulp,' a concrete cast of a Big Gulp cup on part of a speed bump is a pretty brilliant use of the materiality of the material.

"Base Period"
Alan Resnick and Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez
Through Aug. 8 at Springsteen Gallery

A hundred years ago, artists and writers took up the mantle, as expressed by Ezra Pound, to “make it new.” But it wasn’t as if they were acting in a vacuum. The world, with its airplanes, tanks, electric lights, trains, germs, and telegraphs, was new. It was the artists who needed to keep up and help make sense of it. 

Now, we are dealing with changes nearly as drastic and problems perhaps even more grave. The rate at which our technology advances has made it difficult to make an truly profound artistic change. Everything about the ways we live and work and eat and date and masturbate and travel has changed in the last 20 years, and yet most of our art still feels resolutely 20th century. Making it new, now, somehow means addressing all the new forms of technology that beset our cellphone-infected lives.

If this is the challenge for artists today, Alan Resnick is in the extreme avant-garde. In "Base Period," a show with Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez at Springsteen Gallery through Aug. 8,  he uses the tricks of technology to explore old philosophical—and even painterly—ideas.


It is obvious to say that part of what makes the internet interesting is that the technology allows amateurs to be professional. Anyone can publish a blog or a photograph, not just a newspaper. This creates a weird world where these photographs and stories proliferate endlessly through our live and news feeds. The two major works in "Base Period" take an idea from extraordinarily base part of internet culture—gazing globes sold on eBay—and does with them something like what Picasso did with wallpaper patterns and newspapers. In one, called 'Ebay Gazing Globes—Suffering Mask,' Resnick pilfers a series of photos that people have taken of their gazing globes. He then blows up what is an incidental detail and uses it as a backdrop for a computer-generated face, lying on a table, that, well, seems to suffer (Hunter Bradley, the gallerist, said that Resnick made the rather-disturbing facial motions by mapping motions of his own face). The face contorts and distorts, and in the background is this parade of dozens of people, each with a camera, taking slightly warped reflection selfies in these globes—to horribly Lynchian effect. The crazy act of perception required to make this piece comes from the fact that none of the pictures are supposed to be selfies at all. But, as people took pictures of their iridescent lawn balls to sell, they also captured images of themselves, their room, or their yard. It is something of an act of genius to harvest these little incidentals and make something so grand of them.

'Koons's Rabbit Reflections' makes an even better, altogether more-astounding use of reflected ephemera. I am not particularly impressed by technological gadgetry and would normally be suspicious of a work that required me to wear special goggles and sit in a chair at one end of the gallery—but holy shit. This is really cool. So, you put on the Oculus Rift goggles and, somehow, Resnick has created a way to put you in the middle of this distorted world seen in reflected in a Koons sculpture. Like, you can turn all the way around, look up, look down, and the world moves with you. You are surrounded by it. The hazy, low-res curved blur creates a new kind of digital impressionism as the reflection becomes your world. And there is always the person taking the picture, looking right at you, even when it fades out to a hazy overall blue. It is one of the most engaging and promising uses of gadgetry for art happening anywhere.

Two other digital works, 'Two Horrible Brothers,'  build on Resnick's fascination with faces, creating ghoulish images that, like the suffering mask, seem somehow monstrously human and inhuman, as if they were stuck somewhere in the uncanny valley with an ever-unfurling nose hole. Overall, Resnick's contribution to the show continues to explore what it means to be human in a technological world.

Gonzalez Alvarez's part of the show begins with what could be a seamless transition from these works with super hi-res images of mundane cultural items—a disassembled blender, shot with such a clarity, however, that it seems almost frozen or burnt or sculpted from icing—as some strange artifacts. There is another image, 'Natural Order (confluence of minerals)' that is a perfect selection for this show. It is a digital print of a 3-D rendering on aluminum of a stone, with a Dorito chip coming out the top, in a way that at first looks like fire or lava, especially since the top half of the chip is covered by super intense ice crystals.

The crazy thing about it is that, like Resnick's work, this could almost be part of an ad campaign, in this case for a new kind of Dorito with some X-treme flavor. Almost. Artists now have the means to produce all of the slick forms of the corporate world (and I honestly don't understandhow these images were produced), but that corporate world doesn't have the means to produce art: soul, or whatever it is we may call the thing that makes an individual distinct. The layers of detail in this Dorito picture—looking closely at the rock, it appears like one of the early analytical cubist paintings that Braque and Picasso did—could never be dreamed up by some modern Don Draper. To the side, there's a super-crisp and sharp-looking stick that, when we are lost in its details, reminds us what the stickness of a stick might be.  However much Doritos might want to seem hip, they could never get it quite so random and yet so intentional and calculated. Any image it used would be would be decided by committee and would, in the end, only be a parody of something like this. Which is interesting because this image is, too, in some ways a parody, not necessarily of advertising, but of our world. We live in a world where it is possible to have a complex thought about stones and sticks and Doritos.

To this end, there is another large installation (or collection of numerous pieces) in the center of the room that does away with all the slickness of the show. It is rough-hewn with, say, 'Double Gulp,' a concrete cast of a Big Gulp cup on part of a speed bump, which is a pretty brilliant use of the materiality of the material. Other pieces seem like ancient pot shards with fragmentary images. There is a bent spear, a VH1 sign, and some red-and-white sticks. It is kind of a mess, but it is also a mess that works. It is not a lazy young kid who just throws a bunch of shit together under some conceptual banner, but an honest engagement with the conditions and materials of our world. And,  from a curatorial perspective, it offsets some of the cool hardness of the other works, bringing a different kind of life ot the gallery.

It would be hard to think of a smarter pairing than Resnick and Gonzalez Alvarez. With this show, Springsteen offers further evidence that it is among the most serious galleries in town. They're not just interested in the opening parties or brokering Brooklyn shows for their pals. As art should, these works make you rethink our world.