Magazine article Artforum International

"Into the Light: Image in American Art 1964-1977"; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Magazine article Artforum International

"Into the Light: Image in American Art 1964-1977"; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Article excerpt

After the September II attack on the World Trade Center, some psychologists discovered that young children watching the endlessly repeated footage of the second collision on TV believed that each replay of the crash represented a new event. The fact that adults in the United States would never fall into this gruesome misperception is not only an index of greater maturity but also an indication of how inured we are to the pulse of repetition that characterizes television-a medium in which events of the past are compulsively renewed in the present. Literary theorist Fredric Jameson has identified this condition as fundamental to postmodernism, which he described in his essay "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" (1984) as the "disappearance of a sense of history, the way in which our entire contemporary social system has little by little begun to lose its capacity to retain its own past, has begun to live in a perpetual present." Elsewhere Jameson declares that video (encompassing television and video art) is a primary tool in accomplishing this massive evacuation of memory through the constant replenishment of mediated experience. Video and history, then, would seem to be incompatible, since the former is permanently locked in the present tense. The prospect of making a history of media art, as the Whitney Museum claims to do with "Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977," organized by Chrissie lies, is therefore both significant and vexed. How can one give to video and film the are of historical development they tend to undermine through their own procedures? To attempt this paradoxical project at this moment is doubly overdetermined. First, while video and film projections of the '60s and '70s tended to be aesthetically and conceptually severe, the current vogue for projection is typified by a lushness and scale more commonly associated with painting. The Whitney's project thus implicitly offers a suppressed genealogy for the more spectacular media works of the past few years. But more poignantly, this survey comes at a moment when historical events are absolutely, and from the start, experienced as media events. The imbrication of history and media is, of course, nothing new. Already in 1961 Daniel Boorstin spoke of pseudo-events, which he defined as activities self-consciously crafted for media reporting. But in our current moment when virtually every television drama has incorporated a story line referring to September II; when Osama bin Laden delivers his messages to the West via videotape; and when a former advertising executive, Charlotte Beers, is hired by the Bush administration to, as the New York Times put it, use "her marketing skills to try to make American values as much a brand name as McDonald's hamburgers," the pseudoevent has become our primary reality.

Iles's central thesis is that the traditions of media art and post-Minimal sculpture meet in a variety of film and video installations of the '60s and '70s that, in Jameson's terms, "spatialize" media. In a nice turn of phrase, lies describes this convergence as a "hybrid of white cube and black box." Just as Jameson's postmodernism opposes space to time by arguing that, in a media-saturated world, narrative collapses into a dizzying simultaneity of information, Iles's show would seem to promise not only a historical account of an art practice, but also a shift in the nature of history--from sequential narrative to a spatialized projection in real time. But the questions of history and media that are raised by the show, and which have been central to American life since the '60s, are not adequately addressed by the exhibition's structure. Instead of constructing chronological or thematic genealogies, works are arranged in an arbitrary sequence that articulated neither a synchronic moment nor a diachronic narrative, offering instead a chain of new and different spectacles like successive rides at an amusement park. On entering "Into the Light" one first encounters Robert Whitman's Shower, 1964, in which a film loop of a nude woman rinsing herself is projected into a working shower. …

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