CyanotypesSeptember 20, 2011
Christian Marclay’s work varies greatly in media and effect. Some pieces, such as those showcased in last year’s Christian Marclay: Festival at the Whitney Museum of American Art, are stunning, while others suggest that he compromises his conceptual integrity to meet market demands. For Cyanotypes, currently on view at Fraenkel Gallery, Marclay presents large-scale cyan-blue photographic prints of cassette tapes and cases, as well as a single-channel video projection, in an exhibition that infers relationships between analog technologies, music, the machine, and the hand, but doesn’t fulfill that conceptual promise.
There are two variations to the images: the Allovers, in which unwound cassettes reference Abstract Expressionism and the Cases, in which cassettes and cases are neatly laid in grids with a nod to Minimalism and Conceptualism. While these formally arresting images suggest an underlying strategy regarding his selection of albums and the cyanotypes themselves, I failed to discover a cogent idea to give purpose to what seemingly presents itself as conceptually driven work. The photogram process captures the cassettes’ variation in opacity, design, and form, and sometimes the names of the artists or bands, albums, songs, and record labels. Moreover, some of the works’ titles include the musicians’ and bands’ names—such as Gloria Estefan, Nat King Cole, Queen, and the Dixie Chicks—to reinforce that they are central to how the work operates. However, Marclay’s selection seems random and doesn’t come together to foreground a single idea. The works are void of risk and experimentation; after viewing two galleries of images, I never arrived at a deeper meaning, formal exploration, or synergy.
While I was initially drawn to Marclay’s exhibition at Fraenkel for the cyanotypes, the strongest piece is his video projection in the back gallery, Looking for Love (2008). In one tight shot, Marclay records a series of needle drops and album changes. Without relying upon his amazing editing skills, Marclay’s action reads as a performance, in which he remixes songs emphasizing the word “love” in their lyrics. The video captures the idiosyncratic qualities of analog sound as the records spin or even wobble with his imperfectly timed needle drops. While Looking for Love reveals the repetition, variety, and reverberations of songs about love, the most interesting aspect of the work is the tension between his hand and the machine. While dubbing has largely shifted to the digital realm, Looking for Love references the early days of early hip hop when the DJ’s craft of remixing was performative.