Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Katya Mezhibovskaya: Access Excess

Chashama ABC Gallery
169 Avenue C
New York City

April 30- May 7, 2008

Katya Mezhibovskaya Access Excess 2008  printed and assembled cardstock packages and labels, dimensions variable  Courtesy of the Artist
Katya Mezhibovskaya, Access Excess 2008 printed and assembled cardstock packages and labels, dimensions variable Courtesy of the Artist

After decades of intensive commentary by academics, nothing new remains to be said, so it would seem, about Marcel Duchamp’s ready mades and Andy Warhol’s highly original adaptation of this style of visual thinking. We know a great deal about Duchamp’s and Warhol’s careers, and have many interpretations ofFountain and the other classic ready mades. Art historians have discussed precedents and pointed to the ways that Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg adapted Duchamp’s ways of thinking. Philosophers have argued about why the ready mades are works of art. And Arthur Danto has developed a far-reaching analysis, borrowing from Hegel’s fecund speculations, arguing that Brillo Boxdefines the end of art’s history.

Many teachers who narrate this history of contemporary art employ the grand survey Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism by four of our most prestigious colleagues, Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. I do, for whatever our personal opinion of October, our students need to be acquainted with their claims. Art Since 1900 gives essential roles to Duchamp and Warhol. That textbook contains numerous boxes devoted to the most prominent theorists. So, for example, you read a few paragraphs describing such diverse topics as Jean Baudrillard, Jürgen Habermas and the spectacularization of art. Since these subtle theories obviously cannot be explained that briefly, these boxes function as an invitation for the faculty to explicate these ways of thinking. Within the real world, state socialism is dead, but in the academic art historical universe leftist ways of thinking remain still dominant.

The smartest commentary I have seen on our situation is Katya Mezhibovskaya’s recent art. In this presentation of her senior thesis in graphic design at the School of Visual Arts, she packages the familiar Octobrist concepts in boxes which, shades of Brillo Box! are familiar from the supermarket. We have her cereal Mary Kelly, which is mother approved; her Post Modernism salt and her Feminismcarton of orange juice. Arrayed on rows as if in a grocery store are Walter Benjamin waffles, Clement Greenberg green beans and Minimalism cream cheese, which her label says is totally non-fattening. And, getting closer to Warhol, there is Michel Foucault: Discipline & Punish cleaning powder, Sophie Calle Voyeur butter and Readymade Found Objects, in boxes like those usually containing raisins.

Mezhibovskaya creates assisted readymades which, unlike those in museums, can easily be confused with banal everyday artifacts in the kitchen. Reach for your can of peanuts and you may get her Sigmund Freud; go for the cake mix and you may find your hand on Jacques Lacan: Mirror Stage; pull out your twinkies and you may find yourself holding her Male Gaze. In need of refreshment? Reach for the sugar for your tea which, if you are near her assisted ready mades may be herSimulacra by Jean Baudrillard. Effectively reversing Warhol’s move, which took a banal brillo box into the art world, she turns these trendy art theories into faux-commodities. Mezhibovskaya’s art is the most devastating commentary on Art Since 1900 and the most original supplement to Duchamp’s ready mades and Danto’s commentary on Brillo Box that I have had the pleasure to discover. But at this point the art critic should exit, for it’s time for art historians and philosophers to enter the discussion.