MONTRÉAL — In the 24/7 news cycle of BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, and every other “content producer” on the internet, there is a fine line between news and entertainment. In the group exhibition You Won’t Believe (. . .) at Division Gallery in Montréal, curator Loreta Lamargese appropriates the now iconic Buzzfeed homepage, creating an exhibition postcard that pretends to entice the art viewer with the super clicky non-headline “You Won’t Believe What Happened When These 22 Artists Got Together For A Show.” Today it’s increasingly hard to discern between information, spectacle, entertainment, and infotainment. The works in this exhibition intelligently speak to this issue, but at times come across so tongue-in-cheek so as to feel either flat and data-driven or hyper-emotional like the internet media environment itself.
Some of the work on display does a simplistic, rather dull intermeshing of mass consumer culture and art history, as in Carly Mark’s pieces “Doritos Rivera,” “Francisco de Goya Plantain Chips,” and “Utz Fisher” (all 2015), layered digital prints that incorporate scanned oil paintings of bags that probably just as well could have appeared in a Buzzfeed Art post. (Things that do actually appear in a Buzzfeed Art section post are quizzes like “How Well Do You Know Art?” and “Is It A Warhol Or A Basquiat?”).
If Mark’s works are a reconsideration of pop art in 2015, then Jillian Mayer’s works ignore the past and jump to a critique of post-internet art. Mayer’s chromogenic print “My phone died meet me here” (2015) is a photograph of a building with exactly that spray-painted onto the side — because really, there is no meeting place if the phone dies. Chance determines if these people will ever meet again. But what if there was a meeting place for everyone whose phone died? Mayer’s photograph offers up the idea, leaving the rest to wonderment. Mayer’s other work in the show, the video “Hot Beach Babe Aims to Please” (2014), is a one-minute and 12-second loop of the artist walking in and out of the water, with a cluster of computer mice following her pixelated bod; online, the female body offers itself like porn by doing nothing more than existing in virtual space, ready to be consumed.
BFFA3AE’s “Year-Round Relief” (2015) is made of two humidifiers and eight water-soluble prints; the humidifiers blast wet air onto the prints, providing what they say they do — but so what? This piece blandly speaks to easy consumer fixes and simultaneously shows that it is a smart one-liner of a conceptual art piece. In a similarly obvious appropriation of consumer goods, Wyatt Niehaus’ series of vertically flipped horizontal interiors of a car’s dashboard recall playing video games in a darkened room. In another room, further back into the gallery, Eric Yahnker’s funny pencil crayon drawing “Bey-watch” (2015) re-imagines a Baywatch babe as Beyonce babe. It’s not a critique of TV culture’s lack of diversity; it’s just a funny-haha take on an image that could just as easily become a meme if it were a photograph.
Jayson Musson, more regularly known in the art world as Hennessey Youngman, redeems the cynical art of the show with a gorgeous interwoven quilt-like work called “Even Righteous Minds Go Through This” (2015), made of mercerized cotton stretched on linen. The work is both subtle and appears more process-oriented and meditative than the consumer-culture-riffing around him, like Eric Yahnker’s “American Piece” (2011), an arrangement of 92 films bookended on either side, all with the words “America” or “American” in their titles.
There’s an ongoing taboo about making art that heavily references TV, film, pop culture, or mass consumer culture. How is it possible to make art about these topics without having it come off as a bland one-liner joke, an obvious “conceptual” rendering of mainstream culture, or a conversation about post-internet landscapes? Is it possible for visual art to incorporate entertainment imagery without it feeling too familiar or unsurprising? At best, this exhibition is a part of this ongoing, open-ended investigation.
You Won’t Believe (. . .) continues at Division Gallery (2020 rue William, Montréal, Canada) through March 21.