A view of some of the Matisse-inspired art works by Claudia Hart in The Ruins at Bitforms gallery (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)

Claudia Hart’s new exhibition focuses on the masters of Modernism, Matisse in particular, an artist whose work straddles early 19th-century and Modern art galleries in most museums. But it’s not the stylistic shift from one to the other that interests her, rather the very modern phenomenon Matisse also straddles: copyright. Matisse’s work remains under copyright in the US, because of the country’s prohibitive laws, unlike that of earlier artists which has since entered the public domain. Hart’s use of Matisse seems to relish the contradiction at the core of modern and contemporary art today; in a field with so much appropriation, borrowing, and stealing, what does copyright mean anyway?

Hart’s interest isn’t limited to painting and copyright, as she sees parallels between the digital world and physical image making, much like the way 19th-century photography influenced the painting of its time. The Ruins plays with the visual culture of this period but makes it anew via animate sculptures, augmented wallpapers, and animations

A view of “The Ruins (three-channel)” (2020)

In the larger, Matisse-inspired digital works that dominate this solo exhibition, Hart references a number of his well-known Fauvist paintings, but knowing the references doesn’t feel essential. Their five-minute loops imbue a quiet and calm quality that suggests a meditative space. The plants sway but never grow, the clocks turn with their own rhythmic pace, refusing to tell time but conveying a sense of it nonetheless. The scale and rectangular formats recall windows, which also evokes a favorite trope used by Matisse in his art.

While the three digital works are the more enthralling and vivid of the bunch, the exhibition is named for the larger, three-channel work that dominates one wall. This peculiar work leads you through a labyrinth populated by well-known 19th-century and early 20th-century paintings. Speakers softly play texts penned by four white male utopians: Henry Ford, Thomas Jefferson, Walter Gropius, and Jim Jones. Ford’s portion sounds like it was read by Mickey Mouse, while Jones’s portion is read with a demon-like voice, raising questions of what constitutes utopia and what ruins they are built upon.

Hart pokes at the art world’s obsession with technology and radicalism as both an end and a form of commodity. She avoids capturing moments and images, and prefers to simulate them in her digital creations. By making still lives come to life, Hart plays with the fantasy of breathing life into the static. It’s unclear if she is trying to resuscitate these tired, old forms that have been reproduced infinitum, or if she is proving how dead they truly are.

Claudia Hart: The Ruins continues through October 24 at Bitforms gallery (131 Allen Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan).

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.