White House Purple Heart Ivory Tower Red Neck Blue Devils Yellow Submarine Agent Orange Black Power Green Thumb Pink Dollars Dumb Blond Golden Showers Silver Linings
30 October - 20 December 2008
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Though beautifully rendered in Sharpie, Aleksandra Mir’s large drawings and installations in her new exhibition are overly obvious. They dress tired complaints about American politics and sloganeering in a hyperstylised lexicon. Though her literalistic adoption of patriotic imagery and propaganda is intentional, the elegant typography and cheeky slogans distract from the fact that her faintly political gestures are neither exceptional nor very interesting.
Her latest outing is such a disappointment because her previous work is both biting and incisive. The 2007 exhibition Newsroom: 1986-2000, at Mary Boone’s Chelsea space, was superior. During the two-month run of that exhibition, she and a handful of assistants continuously reproduced noteworthy tabloid newspaper covers. Intentionally or not, she summoned the rich modernist implications of newsprint; from Picasso’s collages to On Kawara’s ongoing Today series (1966–) incorporating newspapers and their headlines, the appropriation of newspaper has always been tied to the evidential. Duly, Newsroom was an archive of the collective consciousness’s present-as-past. Even her earliest videos and installations impress. Her nomadic public sculpture project Plane Landing (2003), for example – a lifesize inflatable replica of a jetliner tethered a little way off the ground – does well as a sort of silly yet melancholic reminder that so much of progress is self-defeating; a stride forward can be a step back, a disembowelment, and in the case of Plane Landing, no step at all – just a sort of slow deflating of expectations.
But in this show, the awkwardness between expectation and reality, the epic and the intimate, is barely present. Each black-and-white drawing appropriates the title White House in stylised script, pairing the phrase with a one-dimensional cliché. In the heavy-handed White House Red Neck (all works 2008), the title – in blocky, utilitarian typography – is on a license plate placed directly beneath an oversize Confederate Stars and Bars. White House Black Power showers the phrase with falling, prickly snowflakes, both drawn and cut out. In the centre of the room, two tall fans display a mock theatricality. They gently rustle the loose ends of patriotic Stars and Stripes bows adorning a column. In the adjoining gallery, three walls are covered in a pattern of variously sized presidential buttons. Each is either a drawing or a contrived presidential slogan. Some are embellished with skull patterns, others with abstract hash marks and others still with roses. The slogans are mildly amusing: ‘Ringo for president’, ‘Silent majority’ and ‘Republicans are people too’, for example.
With the recent saturation of political ephemera and discourse, from buttons and pins to coffee mugs and text messages, it is inevitable that Barack Obama’s revolutionary fundraising and campaign tactics would influence artistic production, including Mir’s. Her work has always been obliquely political, but this exhibition’s directness does more harm than good. The humour is short-lived in its reliance on obvious, literal flourishes. Contrary to other artists who spit out feverish, detailed diatribes and criticisms – Raymond Pettibon comes immediately to mind – Mir’s stylised lettering and two-dimensional patterned backgrounds don’t offer much more than a cursory, and flippant, reading of American presidential politics. While her take on the presidential election is perfect timing, her body of work is beautifully designed but of fleeting interest this time around.