Every Future Has a Price

Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, USA

Organized by Anne Livet, in collaboration with Alan Belcher and Peter Nagy (two artists who co-founded Nature Morte, a fertile gallery of the period), the original ‘Infotainment’ (1985–87) was a touring exhibition honouring an early-1980s East Village movement in New York that emerged in the wake of the ‘Pictures Generation’. Often thought of as ‘Pictures Plus’, the ‘Infotainment’ group borrowed the style and strategies of mass-media culture, but evinced a modernist insistence on the art object. It is as if this slightly younger generation of artists realized it was possible to enlarge the Marlboro man and put him in a gallery, then, having digested that revelation, decided to apply the resulting sensibility to traditional artistic media.

Elizabeth Dee’s expanded remounting of the exhibition, titled ‘Every Future Has a Price: 30 Years after Infotainment’, after a 1988 essay by artist/critic Ronald Jones, is notable for displaying, in a vitrine near the gallery entrance, one of the two or three best lines of instant art criticism I’ve ever encountered: ‘We think op art is highly underrated, Bridget Riley. That’s corporate psychedelia, the orgasm of modernism.’ The quote is from Nagy, interviewed in REAL LIFE magazine, and for it he has my undying respect and gratitude.

All images: 'Every Future Has a Price: 30 Years after Infotainment', 2016, exhibition view, Elizabeth Dee, New York. Courtesy: Elizabeth Dee, New York

All images: 'Every Future Has a Price: 30 Years after Infotainment', 2016, exhibition view, Elizabeth Dee, New York. Courtesy: Elizabeth Dee, New York

All images: 'Every Future Has a Price: 30 Years after Infotainment', 2016, exhibition view, Elizabeth Dee, New York. Courtesy: Elizabeth Dee, New York

Far from orgasmic, the ‘Infotainment’ scene, which feels very transitional from this historical distance, was more like furtive foreplay with mass-media culture, which would eventually climax with the splashy neo-pop ejaculations of Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. As with the earliest sound films of the late 1920s and early ’30s – in which actors huddled closely around standing lamps and potted plants to deliver their lines into concealed microphones – viewers of the remounted ‘Infotainment’ can clearly identify the baby steps towards a new paradigm in aesthetics and marketing. How else to process Haim Steinbach’s Un-Color Becomes Alter Ego (1984), consisting of two Yoda heads and a boom box, which the artist deploys in a similar manner to that in which Andy Warhol used Campbell’s Soup cans? The objects, dusty and dirty, suggest Mike Kelley-like abjection, but offer a visual foreword to the gleaming, lacquered kitsch of Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988), a work similarly devoid of apparent ‘meaning’.

Peter Halley, whose work always struck me as corporate minimalism, brings characteristic, hotly coloured coolness to Rectangular Cell with Conduit (1983), a tri-tone, two-field painting, half of which employs Roll-a-Tex, his beloved textured architectural paint. Philip Taaffe’s large painting Undercurrent (1983) echoes Nagy’s love of op with undulating waveforms, which vibrate the eye to the extent that the viewer feels seasick. Gretchen Bender’s Wild Dead (1984) – a two-channel, four-monitor video work – cycles through random television clips from the era, an animation of the word ‘VIDEO’ being cut with a razor to reveal the word ‘DROME’ underneath, and primitive, proto-CAD wireframe computer graphics by artist Amber Denker. Of all the pieces in the show, Wild Dead feels the most of its time, delivering public-access television aesthetics corroded by postpunk desolation.

But it is Cindy Sherman who literally takes the cake (and the show) with her photograph Untitled (1987), a low-angle close-up of the obscene detritus of a two-year-old girl’s birthday party, complete with crushed chocolate cakes, noodles of brightly coloured frosting and a puddle of vomit, all strewn over an aqua-hued rug that renders the objects on its surface as nautical flotsam and jetsam. The piece works equally well as representation, abstraction, painting or photograph, and it rewards long contemplation. This, unfortunately, is less frequently the case with works by the other ‘Infotainment’ artists, who are often just ‘tracking the thrill’, as Bender described it, of the tsunami of media images in which we all swim, hoping to build life-savers and rafts that would both look good on the surface and allow them to keep surfing the wave.

Andrew Hultkrans is a writer based in New York, USA. He is the author of Forever Changes (Bloomsbury, 2003).

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018