Arties were lined up at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery on Saturday night to see the latest video from Alex Bag, whose droll, if increasingly formulaic, shape shifting was intercut with graphic, wallsize excerpts from the Paris Hilton sex tape.
Those who had not seen Paris self-consciously maneuver her mouth and booty onto her green, ghostly cock-stroker impatiently tapped their fingers through Bag's various performances, so they could stick around and ogle every second of Paris lust.
As for Bag, who first burst onto the cover of Artforum in 1995 with her goofy impersonations of young art students, all the usual lefty targets (Halliburton, Chase, Jessica Lynch, maxi-pads, deodorant) are fodder for her dress-up antics.
What makes this show worth seeing is not just the titillation, but the formal, esthetic dominance of the Paris Hilton sex video in a gallery context. Give Bag, who was flitting around her opening in stringy orange hair and an ugly pumpkin-colored shirt, all the credit.
Bug-eyed in a murky glow, Paris Hilton resembles the mice in Bruce Nauman's recent 24-hour opus of his unoccupied studio, the ordinary as the otherworldly [see "Turn 'Em Loose, Bruce," Jan. 14, 2002].
There is a monstrous alien quality to Hilton, which Bag, juxtaposed in the same rushes in the roles of a nun, a corpse and a naked bimbo in the shower, cannot hope to match, and that's the point.
Thus, Bag powerfully questions the whole fine-art enterprise, including her own efforts, that we art addicts experience today. On one wall, in one Chelsea cube, she argues that all the arch tributes to Kurt Cobain, all the Patty Chang-style contortions, all the Matthew Barney pinheaded grotesqueries are one raindrop compared to the cultural impact of a dick-hungry Hollywood heiress on the internet.
Bag further posits that the Hilton video, its distribution and the "pleasure" it brings to millions, are a fig leaf for the capitalist consumer leviathan. Paris Hilton's body is a bank card or Pantene Shampoo or an Abrams tank or a detergent, to wit, the object that makes you its slave.
You can leave the gallery, she tells us, but you cannot escape these manufactured desires.
But if Paris gives you a sympathetic rod and you jerk off into a bag, a few seconds of satisfaction are yours.
Then, it's back into hell.
Alex Bag, "Coven Services for Consumer Mesmerism, Product Sorcery and the Necromantic Reimagination of Consumption," Feb. 21-Mar. 27,2 004, at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, 545 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).