Brian Alfred: It’s Already the End of the World at Haunch of Venison
15 January – 20 February 2010
1230 Sixth Avenue,
20th Floor, between 48th and 49th streets
New York City 212 259 0000
A few years ago, a Chelsea gallery screened a video, too funny to be genuinely terrifying, which assembled countless Hollywood film scenes showing the end of the world. Tidal waves flooded cities, earthquakes shattered streets, and aliens attacked skyscrapers. In his fourteen new paintings, digitally animated video and installation Brian Alfred offers a very different take, a curiously unclouded, almost comforting vision. At the entrance, his collage Liftoff shows a rising rocket. Then he presents paintings of famous people, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese democracy movement ; Diego (Rivera); and (Robert) Oppenheimer, father of the H-bomb, to name three; images of political actions, Riot! and Night March; the video It’s Already the End of the World; and an installation, The World Upside Down, with many countries represented by their flags, displayed on three walls in an upside down map, set top to bottom from South to North.
Obviously plenty of allusions to present day disasters are at hand, but oddly enough the world depicted in Alfred’s pastel colors feels weightless, as still as the peaceful social life shown in Alex Katz’s decorative group portraits. Seeing our planet represented upside down in The World Upside Down is relaxing. The painting Attica and the collage Global Seed Bank present contested sites in the same visual style as his images of celebrities.
Using flat, simplified forms and detached, mellow colors, Alfred reveals in all of his images the sensibility of his dreamlike video, which is accompanied by multiple soundtracks. It’s Already the End of the World moves us effortlessly through security checkpoints. After scenes of airplanes taking off, the Pentagon and subways, when shown a woman clutching an automatic weapon, we quickly move to a close up look at her lovely red fingernails. Alfred has a very stylish take on the end of the world.
For a long time, American political art has focused on political protest. Moralizing artists tell us what is wrong. Alfred offers something totally different, revealing that novel sensibility generated by our new visual technologies. Born in 1974, he is totally at ease with these media. In the fabulous galleries of Haunch of Venison, atop Rockefeller Center, with city vistas in three sides, he presents the events and personalities that make the daily news, but with none of the messy bomb explosions or plane crashes which appear on television. Alfred’s world, though the site of many insuperable problems, is breathtakingly beautiful. In that way, he makes a subtle political statement.
Right now there co-exist two totally different Americas: that sadly dysfunctional country whose airports, cities and political culture decay; and the technocratic world of Amazon, Apple and Google, which offers progress and ever more astonishing marvels. But these two Americas are interconnected, for it is from the web that we learn what is going wrong. Communications function ever more swiftly, but mostly the news we get thanks to these new media is pretty depressing This deep felt tension between awareness of the startling promise of these technologies and the everyday problems of our seemingly terminally dysfunctional society is shown here.
In a curiously formal way, Alfred’s note perfect exhibition strips his media images of their usual affect to present the soothing vision of an extreme aesthete. By providing reviewers a DVD containing images and the music from the video in lieu of an old-fashioned hard copy catalogue, Haunch of Venison contributes significantly to the success of this handsome exhibition. You are already living in the future, this show seems to say. Enjoy it!