Mark Leckey: ‘Gifted but Ultimately Trivial’—And a Prophet for Our Age?

THE DAILY PIC: Leckey's survey at PS1 – panned by one Artnet critic, for what makes it great for another.

MoMA PS1 - Mark Leckey 2016 - Photos by Pablo Enriquez

THE DAILY PIC (#1689): On Saturday, I finally got a chance to see “Mark Leckey: Containers and Their Drivers,” the British artist’s ambitious retrospective at MoMA PS1 in New York. As I was walking out, my phone buzzed and what should appear but an email blast with the review of that very show by my dear pal and talented Artnet colleague Christian Viveros-Fauné.

“A gifted but ultimately trivial sculptor, filmmaker, poster-maker, installation-designer, lecturer, musician and general jack-of-all-0-and-1-art-trades,” is how he summed up Leckey, diagnosing him as subject to “a Zac Efron-like fugue state where adolescent adult pursuits are given full wing to ignore their spectacularly co-opted and globally fetishized condition.” Presenting a “desultory accretion” of more-or-less-meaningful objects, Leckey, for Christian, arrives at a revelation that is “as simple as it is uncritical: in our era of data glut, everything is everything is everything.”

Christian is absolutely right in his account, and I left the exhibition with the same hollowed-out feeling that he clearly did.

Only thing is, to me that seemed a sign of the work’s excellence. My inability to parse meaning out of Leckey’s objects left me feeling like an anthropologist air-dropped into the middle of a foreign culture that feels internally coherent but utterly indecipherable—with the added existential wrinkle that in this case, it’s my own culture that I’ve landed in.

This, I think, is the state that the Internet has left all of us in, now that it has achieved utter ubiquity. We are each of us faced with the totality of our globalized culture, as we never were before, and the fact that, pulled out of the little corner that we used to understand, we can only end up adrift in a sea of drifting meanings that exceed anyone’s ability to process them.

As I wandered, dazed, through Leckey’s difficult and important show, I was left wondering if this might not be the real root of Trumpism: Not a true and specific hatred or fear of Islam or queers or male-peeing women, but a much more generic horror provoked by all the cultural foreignness that impinges on every one of us, even when we imagine that we are all snuggled up in our own little cultural homeland. Even far-off ISIS, with its terrors and depredations, may be the product of that same horror.

Christian says that Leckey’s resistance to meaning “is not just silly but culturally dangerous. Images influence people, objects are different, things mean something, and judgment is important—now more than ever.” That couldn’t be more true. But Leckey’s troubling show made me wonder whether judgment can be arrived at when there’s infinite evidence to take into account.

Today’s Daily Pic shows one of the exhibition’s several avatars of Felix the Cat, whom Christian describes as “a species of cool stand-in for the artist.” But I can’t help notice the flaccid helplessness that this overblown cool-cat is suffering from. (Photograph by Pablo Enriquez, courtesy the artist and MoMA PS1)

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