Jordan Tate: Prefaces @Denny

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 color photographs, framed in light orange and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the reception area. All of the works are Lambda prints, mounted to ACM board with gloss laminate and dated 2016. Physical sizes range from 16×24 in. to 40×60 in. Six of the 7 are available in editions of 3+2AP; one is in an edition of 5+2AP. A two volume catalog of the exhibition has been published by Lodret Vandret (here). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: The satire in Jordan Tate’s second show at Denny Gallery is multi-layered. As this is an art exhibition about art exhibitions that never happened—that before this manifestation existed only in the realm of a software program—it’s impossible to take installation shots without feeling sheepishly complicit, as if you are helping to perpetuate a fraud.

The first layer of humor concerns the things that museums and galleries have presented as art since the early late 18th century. These objects include classical sculpture—one of the three white-framed photographs in IDGI@Kunsthalle, Bern is a half-finished Greek marble head—as well as so-called primitive sculpture: the central item in Oh Hai@ Wiels, Brussels is a clay female fertility figure. In both of these cases, rather than the objects themselves, Tate removes us from their original materiality by presenting only grandiose images of them. The fertility figure has been photographed against a black background, blown-up to mural scale, and mounted on a white wall.

In other instances, Tate has ingeniously fashioned ersatz art out of nuts and bolts he found on the internet. IDK, TBL FLP@ Spruth Magers, Berlin presents a bare white room and a gray cement floor, illuminated by six long white fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling. Flickering against the wall is a white neon sculpture that appears to be a Keith Sonnier or a knock-off of one.

It’s not. Tate drew this piece of geometric calligraphy himself out of emoticons and other communicative shorthand. Fresh Kicks @ Kunsstverein Munich has two rectangular images hanging in the white space: in the still-life that faces us, a white sneaker dribbled with gray paint rests on a white rectangular slab atop a wooden plinth. The ensemble is obviously Photoshopped, which isn’t as apparent in other images. Hanging at an angle and visible in an adjoining room is photograph (or canvas) depicting a pair of eyes masked in an oval cut out of a black painted ground—a reference maybe to the flirtatious voyeuristic photograph of the Comtesse de Castiglione.

If you don’t want to guess, as I did, about the sources for Tate’s amalgamated art, he has published a two-volume catalog with Lodret Vandret that illustrates where he found his quotations. Each of his inventions, it seems, is concocted from dozens of other images.

The second layer of mordancy in his work concerns the sorts of contemporary spaces where objects of this sort are normally displayed. Unlike his art, these rooms exist in the real Old (and New) World, although they were likewise downloaded rather than actually visited by the artist.

The environments here include not only the pristine white cube (the Kunstverein Munich; the Kunsthalle Baden Baden; and VI, VII in Oslo; ) but also the converted industrial warehouse (Wiels, Brussels) and the deconsecrated church (Nicolaj Kunsthall, Copenhagen.)

Tate’s mischievous reimagining of art for this Danish space is one of the highlights of the show. At the end of a dark corridor—with vaulted ceilings, smoothly lighted by a paned window—he has situated an immense photograph of a man wearing a water jet pack and rising above the spray if he were a rodeo rider. That a silly Disney water-park image might be exhibited in the apse of a formerly sacred structure is, of course, all too believable. Art in Europe that was once solemnly Christian has since the Enlightenment been defiantly secular and ironic; in many ways it’s become indistinguishable from other forms of entertainment.

Tate isn’t sermonizing about the loss of faith in religion or transcendent art. He’s merely commenting on the state of things. I’m certain, if invited, he’d be thrilled to exhibit his wiseacre works in any of these tony, state-subsidized spaces. (The series is larger than this choice Euro-centric sample. Other places where Tate has “created” work includes the Guggenheim Museum and the Swiss Institute in New York as well as the Pilar Corrias Gallery in London.)

The third layer of irony here is about photography in the age of the internet. Nothing that we see online can be entirely trusted anymore. Fake art is now as common as fake news. These aren’t forgeries exactly. Tate isn’t trying to pass these off as works by better-known artists. The absence of shadows around the image in the space, and the pixilated resolution of the appropriations, are signs that he wants us to notice the seams.

The title of the exhibition, Prefaces, refers to a group of writings by Kierkegaard: introductions to a series of novels that he had no intention of finishing. In a similar frame of mind, Tate has given us extrapolations, possible outcomes given the current rules of the avant-garde game, alternative art for alternative museums.

As both artist and curator, Tate is attaching himself to the tradition of Institutional Critique. The show is a parody of the installation shot, that bedrock of the newspaper arts page or contemporary arts magazine, or publications like Collector Daily. These mundane photographic documents are also the means by which galleries try to sell work to their clients, art collectors or museum curators. As such, they function as agents in the process where art education and art commerce meet to converse and maybe do business.

Parody is parasitic and Tate seems OK with that secondary market status, so proudly adopted by the Pictures Generation as the nature of visual reality today. In a 2015 interview with Elizabeth Denny on the gallery website, he claims that “the act of appropriating an image from a museum archive (which is a pallid reproduction of a cultural artifact) or a book to me isn’t inherently different than traveling to Petra to photo-graph it for myself, as the images of Petra are largely preformed in my mind from the deluge of images in the cultural milieu starting with National Geographic and ending with Indiana Jones.”

In other words, an artist doesn’t need to visit Jordan or Syria because any pictures he might reflexively take would be determined by those he had already seen in magazines or on computer screens.

This is a peculiar—and convenient—attitude to take toward photography, as it eliminates the need for physical adventure and the role of happenstance in discovering pictures. No need to go anywhere as every image you might want is available on your screen.

Tate has no doubt enjoyed following internet threads and memes, and maybe even forged an identity for himself as a shameless pilferer. But despite what it says in the art theory texts he has been reading and teaching, remixing bits from someone else’s art in Photoshop is not usually how lasting work is made, and he might not want to make a career out of it.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $2000 (16×24) to $4500 (30×45 and 30×40) and $7000 (40×60). Tate’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Jordan Tate, Denny Dimin Gallery, Lodret Vandret

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