Geoffrey and I suspected we were in for some kind of rare treat when we arrived at David Zwirner and found ourselves waiting in a short line just inside of the gallery foyer. We were informed that artist Jordan Wolfson had made the gallery promise not to let more than 20 people into his exhibit at one time. “Well, OK,” we thought. Why not build a little suspense before we entered the exhibit, the contents of which was not visible from where we were standing.
As we waited behind a virtual velvet rope, perhaps for ten to fifteen minutes, who knows, we could hear a cacophony of metal clanking against cement — not unlike sounds you might hear when you walk onto a busy a factory floor — interspersed with blaring snippets of pop music. We had no idea what we would see when we were finally granted access to the room.
This is what we saw, which explained where the clanking metal sounds were coming from.
Colored Sculpture, as this mechanical puppet is called, has the red hair, freckles, and boyish look of such literary and pop cultural characters as Huckleberry Finn, Howdy Doody, and Alfred E. Neuman, which is more than a little disturbing for many reasons; but mostly because he appears to be a child.
His once pristine paint job and highly polished appearance now bearing the visible signs of wear and tear, the red-haired puppet is suspended with heavy chains from a large mechanized gantry, which is programmed to choreograph its movements.
The sheer physicality of the installation, which fills the entire gallery space and includes the work being hoisted and thrown forcefully to the ground, viscerally blurs the distinction between figuration and abstraction, while furthering the formal and narrative possibilities of sculpture.
And it gets even creepier: the sculpture’s eyes employ facial recognition technology to track spectators’ gazes and movements, thereby adding another layer of interactive corporeality to the work. Using fiber optics, its eyes also intermittently display a range of imagery and video footage, including the artist’s own animations and filmed footage, and other found visual material, all of which seem to mine the subconscious preoccupations and desires of our society and consumer culture.
When the sculpture looks at you, or appears to look at and engage with you, you can’t help but feel that you are watching a living entity being tortured. And if Wolfson intended for that encounter to fuck with your head, he succeeded beautifully.
Jordan Wolfson’s Solo Exhibition, Featuring Colored Sculpture, will be up Through June 25, 2016 at David Zwirner Gallery, Located at 525 West 19th Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.