Alex Bag, Julie Becker, Sadie Benning, Mark Bradford, Jonathan Horowitz, Sean Landers, Paul Pfeiffer, Jack Pierson, Sean Snyder, Maki Tamura.
Greene Naftali Gallery, New York
9 September – 9 October, 1999
‘This is the American Century.’
Henry Luce, 1940
Publisher of Time, Life & Fortune
The title of the exhibition, borrowed from Sadie Benning’s work, is an ironical reference to America as an ideal place. The desire to romanticize the ‘American Dream’ persists as an icon of achievable possibilities. Dreamy and hopeful, the artists allow melancholy and disenchantment to lead the work into a narrative reflecting the current realities of American life.
Pierson and Snyder explore the urban landscape and what it portrays about today’s society. Pierson’s Johnnie Ray alludes to the stifled career of an amazing talent due to rumors of the singer’s homosexuality commenting on the arbitrariness of taste and the power of popular opinion. Sean Snyder notices that what society renders important and defines as successful can be dysfunctional and inadequate. In Urban Planning Documentation, Snyder uses the architecture of the city in the cartoon Road Runner as a metaphor for the indifferent rigidity of society and the negligence in city planning. In another work, Snyder covers the map of Paris with golden arches using the location of McDonald restaurants as spatial coordinates. Reflecting what ‘Americanism’ promotes, the corporate symbol reduces the beautiful city to a fast food mecca.
Tamura grew up in Japan and moved to America as a young adult. She fashions delicate styled scrolls with fairy tale icons, such as Cinderella and Bambi. A contradiction, the work charms the viewer with the sweetness of childhood dreams and the suggestion of despondency. Maki asserts the influence of Disney in constructing an unrealistic representation of America as prosperous and happy. Bag also exposes the cynicism of corporate platforms as they attempt to shape our dreams and mold society.
Commenting on the strong automatic response American society has to pop culture, specifically film as opposed to art, Horowitz discusses an awareness of emotion and promotes an individual reaction in his video sculpture, Movies that Made Me Cry. The work overrides today’s expectations of detachment and asserts a subjectivity on a seemingly sterile presentation. In Suburban Legend, Becker articulates the infinite possibilities of interpretation by actualizing a popular teenage myth, that Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon could be the soundtrack for the film, The Wizard of Oz. Suggesting a disaffected youth culture, the coincidences created by the fusion of iconic childhood references with an adolescent state of mind produces a fantastical, psychedelic place to escape from monotony and responsibilities.
The video work of Benning and the sculptural work of Bradford both articulate the pressure to conform and gain acceptance. In A Place Called Lovely, Benning’s grandmother says to her, ‘I want you to be one of those sweet little white girls that represent everything that is right in the world.’ Benning mocks this idealized norm resisting constructed stereotypes. Bradford’s wall text collapses against a sky blue wall. The scripted message, ‘Can you feel it, can you feel it, is it straight’ becomes the voice of the self conscious boy/girl trying to fit the strategies prescribed by society.
Lander’s drawing of his family crossing the Atlantic from different points in Europe, typifies the immigrant dream of America as a place to prosper. Realizing their hopes are now passed onto him, Landers discusses this pressure and questions if America is still the ‘land of opportunity’. Pfeiffer’s Fragment of a Crucifixion, addresses our changing perception of heroes and the new hierarchy of success. Pfeiffer isolates a three-second anguished moment of triumph in a basketball game. Flashes, twinkling like stars, surround the iconic African-American basketball player exposing him as the quintessential figure of achievement.
Shootings at Columbine high school, Y2K, John Glenn goes back into orbit, AIDS, death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., boom on Wall Street, burning of Woodstock, genetic engineering, overnight software millionaires, Waco, Tiger Woods, Monica Lewinsky, gay bashing in Wisconsin, Celebration: the Disney city, riots at McDonalds in Paris, George W. Bush admits to cocaine use, Generation X, Y, and N, are just some of the recent events and people that make America a ‘lovely’ place. The works in the show paraphrase suggestions to these topical issues and resonate with what is feared most: America is not perfect and the path to utopia is not always clear. Survival and hope is all that is left.