Virtual Is Political


New-media conceptualist Randall M. Packer moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in 2000. “I was so struck by Washington as a stage set for America. It all seemed like a Hollywood movie set,” he says by way of explaining the genesis of the US Department of Art and Technology (US DAT), the fictional government agency with which he is literally redefining art as politics—or at least its kinder, gentler, and funnier simulacrum. “It seemed like our country was missing a role for the artist. I decided to insert myself into the system,” he says. Having planned the concept during the summer of 2001, he was propelled into action by 9-11: He officially launched the Department on Halloween 2001, when he wrote to President Bush to propose the new cabinet-level department. He received a standard form letter in response but decided he was not going to take that as an answer. So he appointed himself Secretary of US DAT and staged a swearing-in ceremony at the Maryland Institute of Art, where he taught. A copy of John Cage’s Silence served as the Bible, a replica of Jasper Johns’s triple flag was the flag. “It’s not about activism and opposition,” he insists. “It’s critiquing the system from the inside out. What would it be like if there really were interaction between artists and politicians?”

As his project evolved, it took on a life of its own. “You can’t have a government agency without a seal,” he says. And so he created an official seal, representing the power of virtualization. He digitally appropriated a government building, “formerly the Department of the Interior,” he remarks of the official-looking photo of an imposing edifice. “It still is, in the physical world.” He created a political party, the Experimental Party, enlisted other artists, and came up with a motto (“Representation through virtualization”) and a virtual candidate, Abe Golam, who first appeared in Mark Amerika’s hypertext novel Grammatron. “Our candidate is an avatar. He’s electronic. He can go anywhere.”

US DAT now lists 15 agency officials (or “staff artists”), who collaborate on digital works and installations such as the Experimental Party Disinformation Center, a “convention intervention” that was installed at a 57th Street gallery during the Republican convention, with live real-time deconstructions of the media coverage. Mark Amerika is Director of the Office of Freedom of Speech. Jeff Gates is Deputy Secretary and Undersecretary of Artistic and Homeland Insecurity and founder of DJ Spooky the Subliminal Kid is Undersecretary for the Bureau of the Aesthetic Hyperculture. Roberta Breitmore, the National Chairwoman of the Experimental Party, is a performance persona created by Lynn Hershman. Andy Deck, Nick Kent, Rick Silva, and others are responsible for some fancy digital sampling and live-feed remixes of the daily news, including “Society of the Spectacle (a Digital Remix)” and “Overdub: The Remix of Politics,” in which Bush and Blair sing a love song and Grandmaster Bush remixes his own speeches. Jon Henry, Packer’s former student, is responsible for the Exquisite Corpse, a lifelike tableau of a body (his own) in a flag-draped coffin, “fallen in the line of duty,” that materializes the missing military image from the war in Iraq.

Expect to see more of US DAT’s work between now and November 2. A selection of the Department’s artifacts and official documents will be included in “Democracy Is Fun?” at White Box this fall. “They’re government documents; they’ll be under glass,” says Secretary Packer, who will also give a speech at the gallery. And he’s planning an event that will take place on election night: a live remix of media coverage, deconstructing election results. There’s a sense of urgency to the work. “I think we all feel we’re very close to the death of what this country represents,” says Secretary Packer. US DAT’s state-of-the-art projects may be tongue-in-cheek but they’re deadly serious.

“Democracy Is Fun?” opens October 21, through November 6, White Box, 525 West 26th Street, 212.714.2347.


Previews by Kim Levin


September 30–November 27

Peter Blum, 99 Wooster Street, 212.343.0441

“Ode à L’Oubli”


October 2–30

Lehmann Maupin, 540 West 26th Street, 212.255.2923

Two new video installations: Six Figures, a six-video loop about reincarnation and Turkish Shiite Arabs; and Stefan’s Room, about a man who collects moths.


October 6-January 2

Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, 800.944.8639

The meticulous L.A. artist spent five years creating this three-part installation, titled “The Perfect Ride.” It includes a large sculpture of a human ear, another inspired by the Hoover Dam, and an animated film of a cowboy on a bucking bronco.


October 13-January 9

Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, 212.864.4500

Known primarily for his monumental narrative paintings of life in black urban America, this Chicago-based artist has branched out over the past five years into sculpture, installation, photography, video, comic strips, and printmaking. “One True Thing: Meditations on Black Aesthetics” includes some 30 works in all those media.


October 15-February 13

Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, 212.423.3500

With some 450 works and a fat catalog with essays by more than 20 scholars, this exhibition—billed as the most comprehensive survey ever outside Mexico—could be a major event, or it could be another bloated blockbuster of handsome decontextualized objects. We’re counting on the Mexican co-organizers to keep the Gugg’s megalomania in check.


October 22-November 27

Andrea Rosen, 525 West 24th Street, 212.627.6000

With this display of Altmejd’s latest and most ambitious constructions, his schizy conjunctions of mirror-display-case minimalism, bejeweled trinkets, and disintegrating werewolves should finally make perfect sense—at least in terms of preservation and decay. Adding to the antiseptic weirdness are Craig Kalpakjian’s digitally created photographs in Gallery Two.


October 22-December 4

Sean Kelly, 528 West 29th Street, 212.239.1181

New work by this major first-generation Conceptualist whose projects—as intellectually rigorous as they are visually seductive—deal with site, context, history, and society, as well as more formal disembodied ideas.


October 28-December 4

Anton Kern, 532 West 20th Street, 212.367.9663

Bock, who built his bad-boy reputation for unpredictability by attempting to create an unmediated experience with extravagantly improvised environments, costumes, and performances in the form of lectures or impromptu fashion shows, shows a sculptural installation and a newly filmed project.


October 28-December 18

Mary Boone, 745 Fifth Avenue, 212.752.2929

“Picture/Readings” and Color Work.


November 5-December 4

The Project, 37 West 57th Street, 212.688.4673; Gagosian, 555 West 24th Street, 212.741.1111

A double show of his latest mesmerizing images is in the works. Expect some new small format video installations, one large new projected piece at each gallery, a suite of photographs tentatively titled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and probably some sculptural elements as well. And prepare to be surprised: The work, still in progress, could evolve into something entirely different.


November 6-February 26

Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, 212.219.2166

Five clusters of new work by an artist whose understated ultra-informal installation at the Whitney a long time ago startled everyone. While his little-nothing works have acquired a certain aura of formality by now, “It’s a Room for 3 People”—an understated installation of sculpture and drawings—still stresses seeing, simplicity, and the basic materiality of wood, paper, cloth, string, cardboard, and Styrofoam.


November 9-December 18

The Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, 212.255.5793

The art scene in Mexico has been hopping, so it makes sense that works by 100 Mexican artists will be shown in 26 exhibition spaces here during November, thanks to the coordinated efforts of “Mexico Now.” The Kitchen does its part with this sampling of new video works, including a media installation by Silvia Gruner, a multi-channel video by Julio Orozco, and a screening area with videos by a number of other young Mexican artists.


November 9-December 30

Bose Pacia, 508 West 26th Street, 212.989.7074

This scarily smart New Delhi group—which since 1991 has been making use of software and the Web in new-media installation projects about the production and dissemination of information, the nature of urban and digital space, surveillance, and commodity culture—was a big hit at Documenta 11. “The Imposter in the Waiting Room” is their first show here.


November 11-January 8

Artists Space, 38 Greene Street, 212.226.3970

“Could one utopia be simply a flipside of the other?” asks this group show, which features 34 artists from Eastern Europe and the U.S. With pieces by Maja Bajevic, Yuri Leiderman, Pavel Kruk, Vadim Fishkin, Joan Jonas, Tony Oursler, Donald Odita, and others, it’s bound to pose new questions about political, economic, and cultural change, even as it reverts to pre-globalistic binary opposites.


November 11-December 11

LFL, 530 West 24th Street, 212.989.7700

Having skyrocketed from fledgling obscurity to the 2003 Venice Biennale, Schutz continues to produce disjointed, intelligent, quirky paintings that manage to be simultaneously about representation, abstraction, the weird processes of painting, and the malleability of imagery, while exposing the unruly psychology of a painterly mind at work.


November 20-January 31

Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, 212.708.9400

If all stays on schedule, MOMA returns home and pats itself on the back with an inaugural exhibition honoring the new building’s architect. Along with MOMA’s bigger (and hopefully better) new self, it includes eight of Taniguchi’s museum buildings in Japan. Also highlighting the new museum’s digs is Mark Dion’s “Rescue Archeology—A Project for MOMA,” which offers historical relics unearthed from the museum’s foundations.


December 3-March 19

New Museum of Contemporary Art/Chelsea, 556 West 22nd Street, 212.219.1222

Revisiting the renegade art scene that flourished briefly in the ’80s and suddenly died out—decimated by the AIDS epidemic—this exhibition ranges from the ‘Times Square Show’ to the Mudd Club, from graffiti and punk to Neo-Geo. With paintings, sculpture, films, videos, and installations by over 50 artists, and documentary material, it offers a glimpse of the days when the East Village teemed with shop-front galleries and unruly creative energy.


Previews by Vince Aletti


September 22-January 2

Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, 212.832.1155

This is the first stop on the international tour of a major Tomatsu retrospective, which includes a broad range of his tough, engaged vision—vastly influential on the look and attitude of post-war Japanese photography but still underappreciated in the West.


September 23-November 13

Robert Mann Gallery,210 Eleventh Avenue, 212.989.7600

Oddly unsettling hotel, guest house, café, and factory interiors from around the world by a Dutch photographer who’s been a hit on the international festival circuit.


September 23–November 27

Throckmorton Fine Art, 145 East 57th Street, 212.223.1059

Classic images of the people and landscape of Mexico, made in the early 1940s by this self-taught but quite sophisticated German editorial photographer.


September 24-October 30

Roth Horowitz, 160A East 70th Street, 212.717.9067

For “Rimbaud in New York,” Wojnarowicz, who has come to stand for the East Village scene at its most protean and committed, photographed himself masked as the French Symbolist poet. Previously unexhibited images from the series are here, along with a comprehensive new book.


September 24-November 20

Gitterman Gallery, 170 East 75th Street, 212.714.0868

The U.S. solo debut of a Dutch photographer whose black-and-white pictures of family, friends, and atmospheric landscapes have a deeply personal, diaristic quality.


September 30-December 30

Sepia International, 148 West 24th Street, 212.645.9444

A substantial retrospective of work by the Indian artist (1942-1999), who was one of the pioneering color photographers of the 1970s and whose signature style broke new ground in the documentary tradition.


October 5-November 13

Zabriskie Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, 212.752.1223

This Japanese newcomer, recipient of the 2004 ICP Infinity Young Photographer Award, made a strong first impression with canny, identity-shifting self-portraits reminiscent of early Cindy Sherman. For her new series, titled “Costume,” Sawada takes a page from Nikki S. Lee, dressing up as a grocer, policewoman, and nun and posing in the appropriate environments.


October 7-30

Charles Cowles Gallery, 537 West 24th Street, 212.741.8999

One of the first contemporary photographers to present staged cinematic images, Nicosia shows work from three new series, all involving startlingly surreal digital manipulations, sometimes of the landscape around Santa Fe.


October 13-November 20

Marvelli Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, 212.627.3363

This collaborative team shows extraordinary life-size color portraits of homeless teenagers in Seattle, along with a video of Endurance, a 26-hour performance piece their subjects participated in. Also here: black-and-white portraits of young male and female inmates in a Russian juvenile prison by the Berlin-based rising star Ingar Krauss.


October 14-November 13

Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street, 212.645.1701

The Israeli photographer shows the confrontational color photos of Arab men being interrogated and incarcerated that he made for Vogue Hommes.


October 15-December 4

Bonni Benrubi Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, 212.888.6007

The gallery inaugurates its new Fuller Building space with work from one of its stars, including Morell’s dreamlike camera obscura interiors and his idiosyncratic twists on the classic still life.


October 21-December 4

Julie Saul Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, 212.627.2410

This British artist created a sensation in the U.K. with her paparazzi-style staged photos of look-alike royals and celebrities in tabloid situations (e.g., Diana, Dodi, and love child). For her American debut, Jackson takes on the Bush White House in what’s sure to be a provocative show.


November 4-December 31

Ricco/Maresca Gallery,529 West 20th Street, 212.627.4819

The modern master of the grotesque shows both hand-colored and black-and-white images that, typically, involve deformity, death, sex, and a slew of knowing art-historical references.


November 5-January 8

Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery, 120 Eleventh Avenue, 212.414.2770

As part of the ongoing rediscovery and appreciation of color work from the ’70s, Meyerowitz, a key pioneer in the field, shows photos from that period, most of them vintage and nearly all previously unseen. A bonus: black-and-white images from the same period.


November 12–March 20

Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, 718.638.5000

Pictures from the collection of Leon and Michaela Constantiner record the rapt, relentless construction of a legend. Among the iconographers: Robert Frank, Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Eve Arnold, Weegee, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Bert Stern, whose famous “Last Sitting” series is here.


November 16-January 8

Zabriskie Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, 212.752.1223

The tireless trickster’s latest series began with deliberately misassembled jet-plane model kits. The resulting sci-fi jumbles—more sculpture than aircraft—are photographed in imaginary flight high above the equally imaginary Earth.


November 25-December 31

Marvelli Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, 212.627.3363

Working in a raw, intimate style that suggests a meeting of Ed van der Elsken and Larry Clark, this important Swedish photographer (making his American debut here) focuses on society’s outsiders, including the denizens of a Hamburg dive he haunted in the ’60s.


December 2-January 29

Gitterman Gallery, 170 East 75th Street, 212.714.0868

A photographer with a cult following shows gritty pictures taken in the strip clubs and burlesque houses of Boston’s Combat Zone in the ’70s, along with subsequent work made in the Native American communities of towns along the Mexican border.


December 9-January 29

Staley-Wise Gallery, 560 Broadway, 212.966.6223

A retrospective of work made between 1935 and 1990 by this great British fashion photographer, whose remarkably energetic and entertaining output was stopped only by his death.