Tuesday, January 10, 2012

John Pilson, Long Story Shorts @ Nicole Klagsbrun

I have had a sneaking suspicion that if video art sold better, video artists would show a lot less photography. I am a fan of Pilson’s videos, but as much as I try, I haven’t been able to see his photographs as anything but elegant mementos of his undeniably skilled videos. Videos that have been in short supply over the last five years since his last Nicole Klagsbrun show of old suburban men talking sports. Pilson has for some time had his work fit into two camps, work that dealt with the inherent absurdities of the life of affluent corporate types where office workers break into song where a coworker could verbally assault a woman in a wheel chair by singing Minor Threat’s “Seeing Red” in an storage closet. And work that I’ve been less enthralled with, where women sit around drinking wine and reading through the masculine dialogue of David Mamet, in Pilson’s academic take on cinema. 

The show is broken into a series of perplexing almost YouTube-esque videos, where, for example a couple acts out a theoretical movie written by two preteens who narrate a barely comprehensible plot. The piece provides charming insight into the cognitive abilities of children but still falls a little short in the carry through. There are also various people singing a song from Night of the Hunter. It is an oddly charming tribute to the movie, but combined with a guy attaching an iPad to a motorcycle and driving around while watching a hard-to-make-out movie and a snippet from a move (possibly Slackers?), I just get a little lost. I understand that the videos all center around cinematic narrative, but I have hard time understanding what Pilson is getting at, and the Stan Douglas’ YouTube stream visual style is less than engaging.

That is especially true when the short videos are compared to the other piece in the show, the longer multi-screened video that debuted behind the counter at MOMA earlier this year. In the MOMA piece, Pilson’s returning cast of corporate giants wander the most visually attractive yet banal corporate space ever seen, carrying nondescript paintings, playing with poppy seeds falling from bagels before sunrise or just going about their work day. As in his last show at Klagsbrun, the action follows the upper crust to their lush homes where Pilson draws out the absurdity of there wealth by hovering on an idealized portrait from younger years or on an older white man, the star of many of Pilson’s works, in tennis whites struggling up a wooded hill. In the context of the recent economic downturn, the videos are fascinating. I am not sure the tone is actually changed since the roaring 90’s when the worked seemed like a personal attempt to stave off any chance that he might end up working a similar fate.

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Nicole Klagsbrun (526 W 26th St. 2nd Fl. Btw. 10th & 11th Aves.)


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