Strictly Critical: Roxy Paine Reveals How Airport Security Breeds a Culture of Fear

Exhibition plumbs the reality of our strange, new post-9/11 world.


Surrealism, which defies logic, is a way into the unconscious mind. Roxy Paine deploys it well, and our Strictly Critical duo visits Marianne Boesky to see the artist’s latest exhibit, which includes Checkpoint (2014).

Using maple, aluminum, fluorescent light bulbs, and acrylic prismatic light diffusers, Paine has transformed an airport security checkpoint’s 80-foot-room into an 18-foot diorama. The ways he pushes and pulls on space produces a work of art that defies logic and yet makes total sense.

Critic Blake Gopnik notes that Checkpoint (2014) “looks like a sculpture but reads like a painting—we are looking through a frame at a security checkpoint that uses the pictorial device of anamorphic perspective.”

Critic-in-arms Christian Viveros-Fauné notes that this is a sculpture that is trying to problematize the act of looking.

Part of what makes the sculpture interesting, Gopnik continues, is that a philosopher of vision would deem the artwork incoherent philosophically: “What does it mean to have a skewed perspectival sculpture—well, sculpture’s not perspectival. There’s nowhere you can go see it correctly.  [The piece] is a weird collision of sculpture and painting…It never comes together, even though it’s got every signifier, every sign that it’s supposed to come together.

Even when our two critics squeeze into a corner, they can’t get the “right” perspective.

Their verdict about this diorama concerning the so-called “war on terror”: “This sculpture does a really good job of describing our emotional, anxious state that we experience this when we encounter a security point”; and they add that the work accomplishes what realism is supposed to do, essentially—”it’s supposed to critique the real and leverage it.”

Since 1989, Paine’s work has been internationally exhibited and is included in collections such as San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art , the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

“Roxy Paine: Denuded Lens” runs through October 18 at Marianne Boesky Gallery.

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