Aernout Mik, May 6-July 27, 2009, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019
Someday the Museum of Modern Art will be filled with nothing but flat screen televisions projecting slow moving, high definition video paintings for the delectation of future generations who never heard of Picasso.
The Dutch existentialist Aernout Mik kick-starts this eventuality with a series of video installations spread through the museum, from the Titus II theater lobby in the sub-basement to a corner on the sixth floor. To be sure, Mik comes from a long history of Dutch art ironists, whose work is as deliberately formal as a flower arrangement. Was there ever a more planned and artificial scene as differentiated from its visual sentimentality as Rembrandt's The Night Watch (1642)?
Mik's most notorious piece is at MoMA, Scapegoats (2006), a slow-motion ballet of a hostage situation held in an airplane hangar. Both gun-bearing commandos and kaffee-klatsch burgers reel from fear to indifference and back, as they maneuver over restaurant tables advertising "Red Bull." Two screens of Mik's humorous loop Fluff (1996) recall the Paul Thomas Anderson film Punch Drunk Love (2002), about a dystopian warehouse office and its seriously bent clerk.
In Mik's version, five lost souls advance haltingly like Merce Cunningham dancers in a room full of plastic-wrapped furniture, only to be smacked in the face by clumps of Hydrocal thrown from off screen, as they robotically remove their pants, sit down and shuffle along without ever really interacting. Alienation never looked so dry and inevitable. The one vision of possible hope in Mik's bleak half smile, appropriately situated over the roaring bar at his MoMA opening, depicts an enthusiastic gaggle of Latin children, precariously perched over a graveyard of junked automobiles, whacking a piñata shaped like a blue sports car.
Mik bows momentarily to the sentimentality of the Barbra Streisand standard, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world," and, God knows, Mik needs people, if only to portray the automatic zombies he requires for future projects. The just-released volume of Samuel Beckett's letters demonstrates that, however despairing an artist's vision, nothing prevents that artist from dipping into pleasure, fame, self-indulgence and careerism.
If artists like Mik truly believed the grimness of their production, they would all rot in their beds.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).