Alex Da Corte Explains How His Surreal Restagings of ‘Mr. Rodgers’ and ‘Sesame Street’ Create a ‘Portrait of the Land I Live In’

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Alex Da Corte: 57 Varieties." © Art21, Inc. 2018.

“How do I know my life? My politics? My religion? How do I know my love?”

So asks contemporary artist Alex Da Corte in a new exclusive interview with Art21. The answer, he says, is mainly from watching TV.

At present, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-born artist is one of 32 artists and collectives participating in the 57th edition of the Carnegie International, the largest recurring survey in the United States, which opened in October. For the sprawling art event, Da Corte created 57 video vignettes that serve as homages to the media that has inspired his sense of cultural identity.

“I’ve recycled a bunch of old faces into some kind of fresh variety show,” he explains.

In the videos, Da Corte riffs off of TV programs like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, infusing their well-known narratives with fictional details he has dreamed up himself. One example is the empathy he feels for the “totally misunderstood” Wicked Witch of the West, whom he stands out as an interesting character over Wizard of Oz heroine Dorothy (“a boring white girl with some problems.”)

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Alex Da Corte: 57 Varieties.” © Art21, Inc. 2018.

The videos are housed in a neon environment, the outline of a house. This, he says, is a reference to the lights of his favorite diner in college, which shone like a beacon while he toiled away for hours in its booths. “I think it evokes a kind of dream space,” he told Art21, “It’s a bug zapping effect, where it sort of pulls people in.”

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Alex Da Corte: Rubber Pencil Devil” is at the 57th Carnegie International, currently on view through March 2019.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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