Magazine article Artforum International

Paul Pfeiffer

Magazine article Artforum International

Paul Pfeiffer

Article excerpt

THE PROJECT

A smash at both the Whitney Biennial and P.S.I's "Greater New York" and the inaugural recipient of the Whitney's Bucksbaum Award, Paul Pfeiffer is on everybody's shortlist of discoveries. Expectations were predictably high for his first solo exhibition since last spring's double triumph-but the results were mixed. Like any artist, when Pfeiffer is mediocre, he's mediocre. Unlike most, however, when he's good, he's brilliant.

The show opened with an oversize bathtub installed complete with tiled walls, plastic curtain, and running shower (all works 2000). The 1:1 1/2 scale brought on a pleasant sense of dislocation, but the tub was surrounded by a metal superstructure that interrupted the viewer's physical engagement with the work and diminished the effect of the enlargement. Cameras mounted on this armature fed black-and-white close-ups of the shower's interior to a split-screen monitor located in an adjacent room. The press release explained that the tub was a blown-up reproduction of the Bates Motel fixture in Psycho and that the work's title was Self-Portrait as a Fountain, after the well-known 1966-67 photograph of Bruce Nauman spitting a stream of water. Without these clues, the piece fell flat. But with them, it turned hyperbolic. Cleverness flickered in the nod to surveillance cameras (we watched Pfeiffer watching Hitchcock and Nauman--and by extension, Douglas Gordon), but the auteur references had a tacked-on feel, and the video was surprisingly dull.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was likewise a combination of overdetermined content and underrealized form. The clouds of washed-out color in this quartet of large Cibachromes were appealing, but again, the work's impact depended on a combination of title and underlying concept. The title, of course, recalls Albrecht Durer's fifteenth-century woodcut personifying Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence. The images, meanwhile, derive from studio portraits of Marilyn Monroe; the love goddess has been digitally erased, leaving only strangely atmospheric backdrops. Nearby, 24 Landscapes, a group of blandly pretty, unpopulated ocean photographs, was based on another well-known Monroe sequence. Had Pfeiffer managed to embed the Monroe connection in the images themselves, their air of mournful immanence would have clicked. …

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