Cory Arcangel

New York

Cory Arcangel: Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ), 2011: Hacked video game controllers, game consoles, cartridges, disks, and video. Dimensions variable. Co-commissioned by Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Barbican Art Gallery, London. Collection of the artist; Team Gallery, New York; Lisson Gallery, London; and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris. Photograph Ó Eliot Wyman and courtesy Barbican Art Gallery, London.Cory Arcangel: Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ), 2011: Hacked video game controllers, game consoles, cartridges, disks, and video. Dimensions variable. Co-commissioned by Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Barbican Art Gallery, London. Collection of the artist; Team Gallery, New York; Lisson Gallery, London; and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris. Photograph: Eliot Wyman and courtesy Barbican Art Gallery, London.

By Bill Clarke

Cory Arcangel
Whitney Museum of American Art
May 11 – Sept. 11, 2011

Pro Tools, a survey of Arcangel’s most recent work,  makes its presence felt audibly even before viewers see any of the work. Upon exiting the elevator, viewers are confronted by the exhibition’s centrepiece, "Various Self-Playing Bowling Games" (all works 2011 unless otherwise noted), a large-scale projection of six video bowling games dating from the late-70s through to the present. Projected chronologically left to right, the games first give viewers – especially those old enough to remember the rudimentary graphics of video games from the early-1980s – a hit of nostalgia. As in his earlier work, including his breakthrough video, Super Mario Clouds (2002), Arcangel turns notions of play into something vaguely sinister and, in this case, decidedly abject. The din of the games – bleeps, bloops, sirens, the clatter of collapsing bowling pins – is disorienting, and one quickly realizes that Arcangel has hacked into the games so they bowl nothing but gutter balls. ("Masters", an interactive work later in the exhibition, is similar in that the game has been reprogrammed to prevent players from getting a golf ball into a hole no matter how accurately lined up their shot appears on the monitor.)

Photoshop CS: 84 by 66 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=22100 x=14050, mouseup y=19700 x=1800 (2010). From the series Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations (2008 –) . Chromogenic print, 84 × 66 in. (213.4 × 167.6 cm). Private collection. Courtesy the artist and Team Gallery, New York.Photoshop CS: 84 by 66 inches, 300 DPI, RGB, square pixels, default gradient “Spectrum”, mousedown y=22100 x=14050, mouseup y=19700 x=1800 (2010). From the series Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations (2008 –) . Chromogenic print, 84 × 66 in. (213.4 × 167.6 cm). Private collection. Courtesy the artist and Team Gallery, New York.The viewer’s sense of anxiety builds along with that of the onscreen bowlers – one figure (a woman clad in a pair of skin-tight shiny black pants and a bustier – what every woman would choose to bowl in, I’m sure; the game’s programmer must have been a man) displays increasingly melodramatic responses with each gutter ball, from collapsing in despair to pounding her fists in rage against the alley’s floor. Viewers are reminded of times when success was withheld, or they felt caught in an endless loop of frustration and failure. A sense of humanity manages to cut through the cacophony and flashing screens. Sharing the lobby space with the projections is a kinetic sculpture, "Research in Motion". It looks like a shiny, wobbly Sol Lewitt modular structure; it’s charmingly suggestive swaying motion, like undulating hips, is hypnotic.

Would that these empathetic or charming human elements carried over to the rest of the exhibition. This is not to say that Pro Tools isn’t entertaining or visually stimulating; it just all seemed to be about the uses of the technology. This is fine for the artist and technophiles but, except for the occasional nod to art history, it doesn’t give the rest of us very much to do except be impressed by Arcangel’s technical prowess. (However, the artist did direct the museum to allow visitors to photograph any of the works on display, which is a form of engagement and exchange, I suppose.) The series of large photo-based prints Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations (2008 – ongoing) is gorgeous, but their appeal mainly lies in their scale, lush colours and production values. The video "There’s Always One At Every Party" (2010) is a ‘supercut’ of scenes from the TV show Seinfeld in which the characters discuss the idea of a coffee table book about coffee tables. Such montages are ubiquitous on YouTube, so the difference between Arcangel’s piece and the thousands of others out there is hard to discern. The rapid-fire cut-and-paste "Paganini Caprice No. 5" reconstructs a ‘performance’ of that classical piece of music using found video clips of people playing guitar. It’s a lot of fun, but the final impression is the artist made this video simply because he could.

Paganini Caprice No. 5 (2011): Video, colour, sound. Courtesy the artist and Team Gallery, New York. Photo: Magenta.Paganini Caprice No. 5 (2011): Video, colour, sound. Courtesy the artist and Team Gallery, New York. Photo: Magenta.Pro Tools is rounded out by a series of drawings and sculptures from the Palms and Hello World series. This work is a return to a more human scale, and is again infused with a sense of the abject. These series were produced using outmoded Hewlett-Packard and Mutoh pen plotters, machines that were the precursors of today’s inkjet printers, but which used actual pencils or pens on robotic arms to render the image. For Palms, Arcangel developed code so that the plotters would produce drawings of palm trees; for Hello World, the machines were programmed to draw random zig-zagging lines. The final results don’t look much different than if a person had drawn them. The Hello World drawings were accompanied by sculptures made of stainless steel bent into pleasing, rhythmic angular lines. These pieces reference the history of abstract and Minimalist art, but the underlying failed ‘aspirational’ tone of the work – the faux exoticism of the palm trees, the obsolete technology, the optimistic phrase ‘Hello World’, which is derived from one of the earliest testing programs for such technologies – adds to their appeal. Here, as in the first works in the show, Arcangel is most interesting when technology and humanity inform his work in equal measure.