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Picture Industry (Goodbye to All That) at Regen Projects
Picture Industry (Goodbye to All That), Organized by Walead Beshty. Installation view at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, July 17 – August 21, 2010.

By: Walead Beshty

LOS ANGELES, CA.- Twentieth Century debates over the "politics of representation," the autonomy of art, or art's capacity for "critique" still linger like disgruntled spirits on the hunt for living bodies to inhabit. At first, contemporary art looks vaguely amenable to such interpretations: appropriated/pop imagery, collage, the monochrome, automaticism, the aleatory etc. are no less common now than they were when such ideas were a breath of fresh air. But seen through a contemporary lens, the meanings of these strategies are less certain, less overt, as though much contemporary art beckons to these anachronisms only to misdirect them. How better to display ambivalence for such battles than to invite them in only to step gently to the side, behaving, in the terminology of language acquisition, like a false friend?

Theodor Adorno referred to a phenomenon similar to this as "late style," where "conventions find expression as the naked representation of themselves," turning, "emptiness outward". Late style was a perversity, an ambivalence directed at analysis, a "dredg(ing) up of the past in the anguish of the present as sacrifices to the future," (and it was Adorno who punned museum into mausoleum, art works reduced to memento mori in its halls). Melancholy aside, Los Angeles is a city whose character is akin to his notion of late style, offering a hollowness that questions our expectations of civic cohesion, even its physical appearance as a flat smear of beige semi-disposable low-flung boxes extending from mountains to ocean seems to mock the traditional idea of the metropolis. In truth, it is a city born after the industrial revolution that projects the image of a "soft" city of "soft" labor and "soft" products: pictures, services, cultural capital, and flexible workforces. This is probably why its affectless architecture often incites derision from those whose affinities lie with older conceptions of urban life, who prefer gears and pulleys to govern the operation and appearance of their machines, and granite and marble to anchor their cities to the earth.

In most Los Angeles social circles, when one speaks of the "industry" they are referring to the Entertainment Industry (a.k.a. the "Picture Industry"). Pictures have a knack for supplanting the concrete, sliding as though self-lubricating around the globe, like poltergeists, they haunt the world they represent like vague recollections, inhabiting concrete forms briefly until slipping off to another host, a billboard here, a magazine page there, creating momentary associations, and chance resonances. And what to make of the application of the term industry, with the heaviness of factories and smoke stacks encircling it, to the production of ephemeral pictures whose power is synonymous with their lightness? It could be said that it is the seemingly invisible and ephemeral aspects—the means of distribution, the contextual frame, the vicissitudes of taste, and an object's ability to "pass"—which serve as the most robust material of the contemporary work, an embrace of convention that produces an endless sequence of provisional "meanings". Perhaps the only solution available to us is to allow pictures to be concrete, to reclaim their moments of heaviness, instead of pretending that they are endlessly able to float listlessly in the breeze.

The exhibition is on view at Regen Projects through August 21, 2010.

Los Angeles | Twentieth Century | Picture Industry | Regen Projects |

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