Photo Essays

Photo Preview of Cory Arcangel at the Whitney

Cory Arcangel's “Beat the Champ” (2011) (all photos by author)

Tomorrow marks the opening of Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools, a full floor of new and recent work by the artist at the Whitney Museum. Lucky you, you get to see it a day early! I previewed the exhibition and came back with a photo essay featuring bowling video games, photoshop gradients, bad golfers and epic sunglasses.

Fair warning to visitors: this is not, as I once thought, a retrospective of Arcangel’s work. Rather, it’s the third in a series of floor-size artist projects. Arcangel’s exhibition occupies the entire fourth floor of the museum, with each gallery given a distinct atmosphere. As Whitney director Adam Weinberg noted, each space could have passed for its own small show. In the first gallery was the huge “Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ)” (2011), in an edited down version from its London Barbican debut. The galleries that followed were filled with smaller, mostly non-digital works — interesting for an artist who first became known for his videos.

Most intriguing were a few non-physical, almost institutional critique pieces carried out by Arcangel for the show. He installed a cell phone antennae on the Whitney’s roof and a cell signal repeater in the gallery, to bring more bars to the museum. The artist also installed an open wireless network and instituted a temporary reversal of the Whitney’s traditional photo policy — now everyone can take photos of the work on display.

Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools is, according to curator Christiane Paul, based on the theme of “product demonstrations.” The artist’s work is about using stuff, sometimes for the purpose it was meant for, sometimes using an object to undermine its intended purpose. The show is about nostalgia for the things we use, how nostalgia impacts our interactions with obsolete technology and how creative reuse can make an old object new again.

Welcome to the Arcangel playground, where everything is a toy, but some toys play right back.

Arcangel’s “Various Self-Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ)” (2011) brings together six bowling games on various systems: Atari, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Playstation 1, Nintendo 64 and Gamecube. The games are projected on the wall and play on infinite repeat.

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More of Arcangel’s “Various Self-Playing Bowling Games,” plus the video game systems in front. The trick is that each system has a controller that’s programmed to always throw gutter balls — not one game every scores a point, but they keep going. The controllers are controlled by chips with the pre-recorded button presses. That means that the games aren’t recorded, they’re actually being played live.

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Screens from “Various Self-Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ)” (2011).

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Arcangel’s Photoshop CS series are gradients created solely in the eponymous popular image editing program. They look like a dessicated version of abstract expressionism or color field painting. The huge c-prints’ presence in the room is like that of an enormous canvas, but slicker, more disco ball and less tormented soul.

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At left, “Photoshop CS: 110 x 72 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum,” mousedown v=27450 x=6700, mouseup y=4800 x=13400” (2010). At right, “Photoshop CS: 110 x 72 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Yellow, Violet, Red, Teal,” mousedown y=16450 x=10750, mouseup y=18850 x=20600” (2009). The names should give an idea of the works’ readymade nature, kind of like a digital Sol Lewitt created from a sentence.

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“Masters” (2011) is another riff off of the “Beat the Champ” idea. The Playstation game comes with a golf simulator that visitors are free to pick up a club and use, but try the game out for yourself — no matter how hard you try, the ball will never go in the hole. It just veers uncontrollably off to the side.

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Art writer Carolina Miranda doing her best to sink the putt. But her effort was in vain!

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“Real Talk” (2011) is made up of T-Mobile, AT&T, and Cingular cell phone signal repeaters. The Whitney is infamous for bad cell service, but this piece changed all that with the help of an antennae installed by the artist on the Whitney’s roof. Public service or institutional critique? You decide.

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“Since U Been Gone” (2011) is a series of CD designs (on the disc itself) that have been screenprinted onto paper using metallic foil. Arcangel picked the CDs to trace a musical lineage of the Kelly Clarkson hit named in the title, plus newer CDs the song influenced.

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At left, “There’s Always One at Every Party” (2010), a super cut video of every time Kramer mentions his idea to create a coffee table book about coffee tables in the TV show Seinfeld. Supposed to be a riff on the reflexivity of conceptual art, but mostly just entertaining. Definitely a crowd pleaser. At right, “Sports Products” (2011), super 80s sunglasses remodeled in bronze and painted to look like the real thing. This was a big hit of nostalgia, memorializing a specific bit of culture that time left behind. They just look so badass.

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Detail of “Sports Products” 2011).

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“Volume Management” (2011) is ten Vizio 55-inch back lit LCD HDTVs in their original packaging, stacked in a monumental row. It’s the TV’s box that’s the real star here, with its already-obsolete advertising style envisioning a future of “Facebook on your TV!” and other miracles. I liked this piece a lot.

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“Paganini Caprice No. 5” (2011) is a species of super cut in which Arcangel takes specific notes from guitar tutorial YouTube videos and mashes them up into a discordant version of Paganini’s “Caprice No. 5”.

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The Hello World series (2011) encompasses both sculptures and drawings. The sculptures at front are randomly generated by algorithm and manufactured by automated process outside the studio.

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Two black and white Photoshop gradients further reference Sol Lewitt’s minimalist work.

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“Hello World(s)” (2011) is a series of drawings produced by an old architectural plotter that uses an actual pen. Each drawing contains a random number of points (0-100) connected by a random number of lines (0-100).

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Back in the front gallery facing the bowling video games is Arcangel’s “Research in Motion (Kinetic Sculpture #6)” (2011), a series of “dancing stands” meant for product display. The stands rotate at the joints between their shelves; each shelf rotates in unison with the other unites. A kind of live-action GIF, their motion is repetitive, never-ending and utterly addictive to watch. Curator Christiane Paul referred to the sculptures as “Sol Lewitt on performance enhancers.” They’re kind of sexy. I hope there’s a YouTube video of them soon.

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Whitney director Adam Weinberg speaking in front of two other Photoshop gradient works.

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At far left, curator Christiane Paul, to her right, Cory Arcangel.

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Cory Arcangel speaks about the show. The artist spoke clearly about his work and was perfectly willing to entertain questions, which was nice. He cuts kind of a nerdy Andy Warhol figure, a new media ringleader and trickster, but without the cynicism or the vacuousness. This is all non-ironic love for the 80s and early 90s — ahem, check out his sweat shirt.

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Art critic Benjamin Sutton of The L Magazine noticed that in the Nintendo 64 bowling game the audience appears to be naked. At closer look, it’s totally true, though Arcangel said that he hadn’t noticed it himself. All the flesh tones make it seem kind of obvious. Hmmm.

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Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools is on display at the Whitney Museum (945 Madison Avenue) from May 26 through September 11. Stay tuned for more coverage of the exhibition, including reviews.

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