State of the Art: New York
Urbis Manchester 9 April to 6 September
During Clement Greenberg's heyday, New York City was considered the only place that mattered when it came to contemporary art; today, however, the city is one of several global epicentres of cultural production. 'State of the Art: New York' launches Urbis's new series of exhibitions profiling emerging art from some of the world's most dynamic cities, but with just 16 artists one wonders how representative such an endeavour can be.
Spread across Urbis's second floor, the exhibition's open plan, degree-show-style hang gives rise to several problems, most notably the irritating confluence of sounds emanating from various audio-visual works. One of the main culprits is Jennie C Jones' sound piece Suite for Cassette, Flute and Percussion, 2009, which uses the auto-reverse function on an old Walkman to create a disjointed jazz loop from a portion of Elvin Jones' 1969 LP Poly-Currents. As one of the show's stronger inclusions, its interference with other works is unfortunate. Nearby, Michael Paul Britto's video installation The Gossips/Bochinches, 2008, provides another seeping soundtrack. Paying homage to New York's window culture, Britto's series of lighthearted vignettes present various characters talking or shouting from a high-up window at unseen passers-by below. The high point comes when a ranting African American woman whips out a large kitchen knife and tells her cheating lover to 'stay there while I come down and show you how much I love you!'.
More humorous character-driven monologues are provided by Tamy Ben-Tor, whose hilarious videos, featuring neurotic talking heads, inject further moments of levity. In The End of Art, 2006, Ben-Tor plays an ebullient Thai artist, espousing the virtues of social sculpture as a means to dupe gullible collectors; 'Stupid rich people! I make Pad Thai, one million dollar; I put peanut sauce, two million dollar!', she squawks in a ridiculous fake accent. The wall text informs us that BenTor's verbose characters are not based on real people, although this one seems unsettlingly close to Rirkrit Tiravanija. As enjoyable as Ben-Tor's self-consciously mocking videos are, this piece is several years old now and it is surprising that newer work wasn't selected.
Derision also characterises Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung's political satire Residential Erection, 2008, an intense, digital cut-and-paste animation inspired by the 2008 US presidential election campaign. With a bombardment of surreal and unsettling imagery featuring senators Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and the rest, Tin-Kin Hung's dense mash-up lampoons Democrats and Republicans alike; but, despite the astounding attention to detail and digital virtuosity, it, too, seems rather dated now.
Surprisingly, very little work in the exhibition addresses present-day politics or provides any sort of challenging critical commentary on pressing stateside affairs. However, a handful of works do take a look askance at some of the various social, economic and spiritual issues occupying the American imagination. Carolyn Salas and Adam Parker Smith offer a tangled attempt at religious critique with their disorienting installation Holy Ghost, 2008. Beneath a cloud of white umbrellas, spilling out in all directions, a swarming mass of fake wooden planks and bones frame what appears to be a large disembodied head of Christ made from assorted textiles. …