That film is open to all sorts of escapes, inspirations, and incursions has long been the stuff of movies. From Buster Keaton to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Demons (where the monsters in the movie-in-the-movie mirror the monsters in the movie) and many others, supernatural busts-outs and break-ins are not uncommon cinematic happenings. In the real world, however, no matter how many cursed VHS tapes you watch, nothing is going to come in or out of your television or film screen. So what kind of mystical TV does the Swiss Institute have, then? Over at the Soho nonprofit, its waggish and watchful exhibition FADE IN: INT. ART GALLERY – DAY is full of things taken from or put into TV shows and movies.
Featuring works by 25 artists, the majority new commissions, the exhibition is sort of art through the looking glass (of mass media). Fade In is thoroughly interested with how artists are presented (so many stormy geniuses with van dyke beards) and, particularly, the idea of stage props-as-art, in all senses of that thought — props that are art (a statue or painting), props that become art (many works in Fade In ), and the intriguing space in between.
Appropriately, the show plays along with a canny, jokey sense of vanity. On one wall (as a pair) are Henrique Medina’s “Portrait of Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray” from the 1945 Hollywood film, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Cindy Sherman’s “The Evil Twin” (2016), a copy of the same painting, but this one hidden by black valet veil, a nod to its darker implication in Oscar Wilde’s story. (Not exhibited is Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s painting of Dorian Gray from the movie. A case of art in a film becoming just plain art, it is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.) Christian Marclay’s “Made To Be Destroyed” (2016), a delicious and destructive supercut of art biting the dust, features more than a few stereotypically intense and moody Artists, not to mention that outrageous shootout in the Guggenheim rotunda from The International, which begs at least a few questions — like who got to design a whole fake exhibition, and when is it going to be recreated as a real fake show?
This ties into Fade In’s other, more trenchant, yet still reliably wry track, which looks into the role of art in TV and film, the status and appearances it assumes. Which happens to be front and center to the show — greeting you are on your entrance are works by Allan McCollum and matte artist Albert Whitlock, alongside William Leavitt‘s “Set for The Tropics with Jaguar (from ‘The Tropics’)” (1974). Lifted out of a movie — his own, or at least his script for a fictitious one — “Set for The Tropics” features a couch, lamp, table, ashtray, and a pretty good, middlebrow-ish painting of a jaguar hung on a stage flat wall. A reversal of Albright’s painting, here a fragment out of an imaginary film set starts out life in an art gallery, not just the painting from the scene, but part of the whole scene. There’s an odd mixture of potential and stasis hanging over it, a stripped-down Gregory Crewdson photo without the people.
Though less dramatic, McCollum’s “Lands of Shadow and Substance” (2014) — a set of stills he took while watching Twilight Zone, freezing the scene whenever a landscape painting appeared — establishes what becomes a bit of a fun, extractive trend. Michael Bell-Smith’s striking, ambiguously strange “Covers” (2016) collects prop magazine covers (which explains the ambiguous strangeness) into a surprisingly impressive grid. Carissa Rodriguez’s oddly violent “La Collectioneuse” re-creates a sculpture from Éric Rohmer’s film of the same name. Combining artworks that appeared in three separate films (Teorema, Minnie & Moskowitz, and 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle), Danai Anesiadou’s “Vesica Piscis: Down with all States. Down with all Churches. Long live this Painter” is a messy, esoteric mix-up of paintings and mixed-media works: a chain fence, chairs, flowers, an Yves Klein imitation. Rodrigo Matheus’s “Scene Game,” a long wall of curtains and other props sourced from a New York prop house, runs down the middle of the main gallery room. These and other similarly referential works highlight the wildly changeable status of an object. Depending on the setting, a prop is a prop, or is a real gun, or is a piece of art. Also not on display itself, but still referenced in photographic form in Mike Cooter‘s mixed-media piece, “MacGuffin: some archetypes towards a definition,” is the the legendary Maltese Falcon: a prop, a MacGuffin, a thing worth killing for, a worthless thing, and now a $4-million luxury item. Seemingly incredible chameleons, Fade In might have you thinking these props are less the stuff that dreams are made of and more just things from a dream.
Which makes In the Name of the Place one of the show’s most interesting pieces. Created by the GALA Committee, a loose collective of artists and students formed at the University of Georgia and California Institute of the Arts — get it? GA [Georgia] LA [Los Angeles] — with some help from confederates on the inside, In the Name of the Place was a two-year project in which members smuggled script revisions and specially crafted props into 1990s primetime soap opera Melrose Place — ever so slightly sneaking little injections of art into the controlled and sterile world of network television. The project wasn’t carried out solely for subversion’s sake, though. The collective saw it, perhaps naively, as an institutional eye-breaker, “a blueprint on how artists can collaborate with commercial production from the inside.’”
And then there’s Amie Siegel’s “9 1/2 Weeks,” which, though it is just a clip out of the erotic drama, is unforgettably situated and set, archly pushing Fade In’s play with context, medium, and art to a cheeky, sexy, and peculiar end. Beyond crossing the border between the worlds of art and film and television, Fade In is interested in what each looks like from the other side, and what changes occur when you move from one side to the other. No cursed book, painting, artifact, special potion, or magical machine required.
FADE IN: INT. ART GALLERY – DAY continues at the Swiss Institute (18 Wooster Street, Soho, Manhattan) through May 19.
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