Magnus Peterson Horner & McKinney - GandtX - Gandt - July 16 - September 14, 2020


It occurred to me recently that all good art being made right now is ironic. A lack of irony implies a seriousness that comes from a presumed position of objectivity, and "in these difficult times" the only people who are definitely wrong are the ones who think they're definitely right. If you're not careful and take yourself too seriously you might just end up like Adrian Piper. When belief becomes impossible, irony becomes necessary as a means of applying distance to preserve the possibility of belief within art, not counting cases of nihilistically cynical ironists like Malouf or Carpenter who can't do anything but sneer.

Anyway, GandtX features two giant paintings of characters from Fortnite, a painting of a kid in a pink suit, another of said kid's bedroom, and a computer game about poverty called SPENT made by an ad agency from 2011. The paintings are themed around the kid in a pink suit, a real kid that plays Fortnite and Horner babysits. Horner's tongue is so far into his cheek with this work that his jaw is almost dislocated, but there's nevertheless an evident playful glee that went into it. The large Fortnite paintings have exaggerated dimensions to give them the appearance of miniature canvases that have been cartoonishly inflated, and one of them has been decorated with a slime mold for no apparent reason other than that slime molds are cool. Magnus is very young, I think it's even his first gallery show, so I wonder if this is my first taste of full-on Zoomer irony in art. It's certainly the only art I've ever seen that seems to have an authentic relationship to Twitch streaming culture. SPENT is almost surreally bleak and works well recontexualized as an artwork. It feels uncomfortably pertinent in the current economy, and the calculated ad agency design is dehumanized to the extent that you don't feel like you're playing a sympathetic or educational game about poverty, the experience is just as brutal as the all-too-real meat grinder of neoliberalism. For instance, as a baked-in promotional method you can skip obstacles like getting evicted by your rent-gouging landlord by "asking friends for help," which results in (pretty disturbing) social media posts like this one. The exhibition apparently came out of mostly scrapped plans for group show about the intersection of art and tech, which, as anyone who's spent time in the Bay Area art world knows, is hilarious. The end result is a bit thrown together and incoherent, which in this day and age is a virtue, especially when the work is good. It's refreshing to see someone call a spade a spade and treat art like the insignificant and mostly stupid pastime we all know it is.

This offhand amalgam of goofiness and bleakness actually manages to be one of the more optimistic art shows I've seen in quite a while, because being honest isn't cynical. What's cynical and corrosive is the posturing of commerical galleries as politically radical centers for social change, pretending they and their artists aren't at the end of the day a bunch of hacks trying to make sales. The antinomy between the publicly stated leftism of the art world and the material reality of art's dependence on the obscenely rich is the poison that has rotted out the stomach of art and reduced it to its current state of abjection where the only options seem to be impotent assertions of political significance, reheated deconstructions of art from decades ago, or at best, knowing acknowledgment of our cultural void. Any art that decisively exits from the contradiction of art and money, no matter how sardonic, modestly executed, or just plain dumb it may be, necessarily contains within it something more vital and important than the best art I've ever seen in Chelsea. It's painful to face how deep the moral corruption of the art world goes, not to mention how stifling it is to then navigate what authentic options for creation one is left with, but at the same time, such a process is the only one that can possibly matter in the arts today.