Magazine article Artforum International

Rob Pruitt

Magazine article Artforum International

Rob Pruitt

Article excerpt

If The Book of the Courtier, the etiquette guide penned by the sixteenth-century Italian diplomat Baldassare Castiglione, is known at all today, it's probably for its coinage of sprezzatura, a word it uses to describe a very particular, and very practiced, mode of nonchalance. One classic translation renders the term an approach that "shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought." According to Castiglione, then, "true art" will be that "which does not appear to be art" at all.

All the ripest paradoxes of the courtier's Renaissance koan were on view at Rob Pruitt's recent extravaganza--a hilariously gigantic, tirelessly ironic, and sociologically fascinating show that featured dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of works deployed across a truly astonishing expanse of Greenwich Street floor space. At once a ravishing display of earnest exertion and a cynical hymn to indolence, "Pattern and Degradation," as Pruitt called his hot mess, was at first blush a great gust of raw affirmation, a big sloppy yes from an artist both blessed and cursed with a unique combination of unbridled enthusiasm and seriously limited impulse control. Yet there's something deeply guarded in Pruitt as well--this is, after all, an artist whose career was famously derailed over the badly misjudged blaxploitation show he mounted with his then-partner Jack Early at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1992, so Pruitt's relationship with the socioeconomic dynamics of the art world is, as they say, complicated. And the deeper one waded into the mind of the show, the more one saw questions of genuine effort and thought being turned on their pointy little heads.

Built of an array of antic, strenuously disharmonious artifacts (all, somehow, made in the first nine months of 2010), the show was apparently inspired by the Amish rumspringa, or "running around," a period of freedom during which adolescents are expected to get their ya-yas out before deciding whether or not to formally sign on for the austerity of their socioreligious community. With a checklist that ran to twenty-two pages, the exhibition was designed to offer something for everyone (and a few things probably for no one at all, save the artist), including huge Day-Glo paintings and faux hipster T-shirts; face-shuffling silk-screened self-portraits that owe as much to registration errors and Mad Libs as they do to le cadavre exquis; googly-eyed robots constructed from repurposed clocks and flattened cardboard boxes; flea-market chairs wrapped in aluminum tape; screen grabs of a zillion or so Gmail subject lines; walls covered with ink-jet prints of cinnamon rolls and hundreds of pix of Hitleresque lolcats harvested from teh internets. …

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