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Joseph Nechvatal at Universal Concepts Unlimited
In his exhibition titled "ec-satyricOn 2000," New York artist Joseph Nechvatal has marked the new millennium with a dazzling, high-tech update of The Satyricon by Petronius Arbiter (ca. 27-66 AD), the witty and elusive chronicler of debauchery in ancient Rome.
A group of six large, abutting canvases wrap around the gallery. The visuals are accompanied by a piped-in audio component of ambient sounds, a sort of personalized electronica that the artist assembled from the streets of New York and reworked on the computer. Nechvatal aims in this work toward what he refers to as a "pan-sexual space," in which, among other things, a feeling of sensuality is heightened while sexual differentiation dissolves.
The artist achieves a kind of hypnotic force-field in the room, an effect that reminded me of James Rosenquist's 1965 work, F-111, but without any trace of garishness or aggression. Designed on the computer and executed by a programmed painting robot, Nechvatal's compositions feature fuzzy, flesh-toned bulbous shapes superimposed with fragments of text by Petronius and from a novella the artist wrote in Paris. They seem to beckon the viewer toward an alternate reality located somewhere in the cyberspace of the mind.
Only one element of the presentation thwarted my total immersion in Nechvatal's sublime and gorgeous space, and that was the gallery's harsh fluorescent lighting. The cold white light seemed to emphasize the high-tech aspects of the work, while a softer illumination would have enhanced the installation's warm and sensual properties. Nechvatal's idiom may be abstract, and his technique completely mechanical, but the realm he conjures is no less sensuous and human than the one described by Petronius.
Joseph Nechvatal, "ec-satyricOn 2000," Oct. 26-Dec. 2, at Universal Concepts Unlimited, 507 West 24 Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.