The Collector’s Take on Ownership: Brad Troemel at Zach Feuer
Brad Troemel: On View: Selections from the Troemel Collection at Zach Feuer
February 21 to March 28, 2015
548 West 22nd St. (between 10th and 11th avenues)
New York, 212 989 7700
Chelsea galleries show a range of innovative contemporary artists, but I question whether their motivations are quantitative or qualitative. Do they showcase work based on the art’s provocation, ideas, and craft or simply on hype? My curiosity brought me to see the work of the viral Internet artist Brad Troemel, at Zach Feuer Gallery. Troemel’s online popularity and the attention garnered by his collaborative Tumblr blog, Jogging, led me to expect new forms of digital media in discourse with web culture. However, his cultural references and use of materials produced only ambivalence. In his show, “On View: Selections from the Troemel Collection,” he explores ideas of ownership, appropriation, and inherent value through the eyes of his persona, “the collector.” It is through the curation and consolidation of commonplace objects that Troemel exposes the insipid nature of the creation and trade of contemporary art.
In one series here, Troemel presents appropriated paintings by celebrities, each adorned with a set of collectible coins and vacuum-sealed onto a brightly colored panel. Tiger Lilies, a 1946 lithograph by Gloria Vanderbilt, is re-purposed due to her status as an artist, socialite, and blue jeans designer. In taking ownership of the celebrity-turned-artists’ paintings, he describes a complex relationship between fame, authenticity and value. Additionally, he questions the integrity of these famous artists and points a finger at the art market‘s infatuated intercourse with fame, as recently demonstrated by Jeff Koons’s collaboration with Lady Gaga, James Franco and Jay-Z at Pace, and Björk’s current exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
I find, though, that Troemel’s series of paintings don’t expand upon one another, instead they re-emphasize a singular, over-determined concept. Rather than existing as stand-alone artworks, the entire series becomes a redundancy. They all follow the same visual formula, without any complication. The celebrity-turned-artists’ images could readily be substituted while still maintaining an analogous reading. The images he has selected seem to be arbitrary, and instead of addressing the specific inclusions, Troemel broadly digs at the psychology of capitalism, fame and appropriation.
What I find more productive than Troemel’s exploration of ownership and the gaze of the collector is the work’s pressing social undertones. Although these ideas are nothing new, I find his materialization of them to be effective. The show reexamines early 21st century memorabilia — such as the furry robotic dolls called Furbies and Chuck-E-Cheez tokens — presenting us with a dark reality cloaked in a friendly, nostalgic façade. Through his collection of cultural objects he negotiates the murky waters of surveillance, privacy, and ownership. For example, Troemel’s minimal, lucid, yet demanding wall installation features a myriad of neon-colored rock-climbing mounts and vintage Furbies, covering the gallery wall from floor to ceiling. The space’s periphery becomes animated through the Furbies’ watchful gaze. Interestingly, the installation takes on a pessimistic tone despite its vivid brightness. This piece instantly attracts, due to its color and scale, while simultaneously repelling all sense of audience collaboration. Troemel subverts the nature of this inherently conquerable rock-climbing obstacle by occupying all the holds with Furbies, thus eliminating the prospect of surmounting his metaphorical installation. The wall becomes an oppressive monument, a Big Brother presence that speaks to the unease induced by surveillance. The Furbies’ observant gaze, juxtaposed with the gallery’s own surveillance camera, help focus these themes of supervision, security, and privacy. The two create an engaging visual and conceptual power dynamic that speaks to many of the immediate realities faced by contemporary Internet culture.
Within the entire show, this piece, visually and phenomenologically, was the most articulate. Its focus and repetition of few elements within one piece was far more engaging than the repeated motif found in the painting-and-coin assemblages. In contrast to his other works, where readings became opaque, there wasn’t a disparity between elements that competed for my attention.
Regardless, the exhibition wavered in terms of coherence. Troemel’s investment in his role as collector conveyed some truths about art being a marketable commodity. However, he did not sufficiently reveal the qualities that his press release claims make are into a “highly potent bundle of commodities.” The collectibles held the potential to be read as “diversified portfolios” (also from the press release), but never expands on the metaphor beyond a rhetorical device. As a viewer, I felt my attention being unreciprocated by the inconsistency between the artworks. A substantial edit and centralization of materials would be conducive to conveying Troemel’s ideas.