Positively 24th Street

A Block of Spectacles in Chelsea

Many carp about the bigness of Chelsea galleries. Metro is a nicely scaled three-room space, but it's still considerably bigger than anything T.J. Wilcox has filled in New York. With this new show he expands the tenets of his art, but at a cost. Previously, this 37-year-old seduced with smallish, fragile films. Wilcox's was the allure of a great interior decorator, his mystery that of a music box or unusual curio. His 2000 show at Gavin Brown consisted of two mini-theaters and old projectors. The films he showed there were as much about what you were seeing on the screen—which was often a deftly spliced-together sequence of borrowed, altered, and new footage, featuring some movie star or historical figure—as how you were seeing them. The apparatus of both the gallery and the film were called into question and gently tweaked.

Which is what's missing here. Wilcox has changed the syntax of his art from private to public; his touch has gone from ephemeral to unsure, his medium from film to video. In one gallery, we sit in a darkened room, gazing at a monitor where two theatrical women answer questions about men, love, and clothes. What might have been enticing turns blandly documentary—a genre Wilcox has little feel for.

Midnite Movie, projected in the largest space, gives us the clearest idea of what Wilcox is up to, and of his moody gifts. Shot over the last year at participatory screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show throughout Europe and the U.S., the video depicts people who make spectacles of themselves within the tightly spelled-out confines of a cult. We see self-appointed actors from Paris, Paramus, and Providence going through the exact same motions. The combination of repressiveness and flamboyance is absorbing. It might have been more so if it hadn't been undercut by echoing sound and the anonymity of the room. The entry gallery, filled with framed images from these two videos, not only seems unnecessary, but also creates the disturbing impression that Wilcox just didn't know what to do with all this space.

Thinking big: Julian Schnabel's Ahab (2002), foreground, and Anno Domini (1990) at Gagosian
photo: Robin Holland
Thinking big: Julian Schnabel's Ahab (2002), foreground, and Anno Domini (1990) at Gagosian

Carping about Chelsea, or 24th Street, is pointless. Some artists succumb to the allure of so much space at the expense of their work; others use it to further their ambitions. As always, what's on view shows us a little bit of both.

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