ArtReview, Issue 49, April 2011.
Participant Inc, New York
23 January – 27 February
By David Everitt Howe
Glen Fogel has proved particularly adept at interpolating personal narrative into the messy politics of media culture. For his 2009 installation Art from Kansas City, he appropriated male escort Mike Jones’s memoir of his relationship with evangelical icon Ted Haggard. Blacking out the majority of the text, Fogel inserted his name in lieu of the author’s, and left uncensored sentences containing the word ‘Art’ – Haggard’s pseudonym – turning it into a tidy, efficient pun parodying an artist’s inherently compromised political position. Such slippages of the self took another turn with Glen from Colorado (2009). Featuring the name ‘Glen’ spelled out Dan Flavin-like in bare white fluorescent lights, the work pulsed as text-to-speech software read out, in an alien computer voice, the contents of personal letters written to Fogel.
Similar convolutions return with his first solo exhibition in New York, With Me… You, at Participant Inc, where the artist’s private correspondence makes another notable appearance. Written to him variously by friends and more-than-friends, the intimate letters are blown up as very large trompe l’oeil paintings, as if they were literally smoothed out… wrinkles, red stains and all. They read like a soap opera script, or perhaps something scribbled by hand in high school.From Jamie, August 20 (2010) exclaims, ‘Glen Fogel, what magic and enchantment that name is to me’. While from a slightly different angle, From Jess, September 30, 1994 (2010) reads, ‘You were just a heartless, selfish, immature wannabe’. And as if in some sort of awkward adolescent three-way, each letter’s author refers to the others by name. Or at least, some kind of name; in another nice trick, Fogel supplants real names with fake doubles, to protect identities. Propriety is again obfuscated by its cliquey, coded other. Delightful as these are to read, though, the letters gain little when roped into a painterly discourse – unless, in their almost Duchampian absurdity, they’re meant to challenge that dusty myth of the artist-as-genius.
Perhaps more nuanced, and less self-conscious, is Fogel’s spectacular five-channel video installation With Me… You (2011), which features five slowly rotating wedding rings projected side-by-side. Nearly as tall as the ceiling and occupying almost all the wall space, the work’s epic scale is both stunning and a bit frightening. Evoking the Home Shopping Network’s rotating ring displays, the objects are washed now and then in pleasing monochromatic tones. Glistening as they turn, the rings shine in that familiar TV way: exaggerated, with hyperreal twinkles. Though they look brand new, they all come from Fogel’s immediate family members: he spent several months gathering them from his sisters, mother and grandmother. Belonging to a sort of irreplaceable family history, value is thus displaced from something priced to something defiantly priceless. Nearly interchangeable as objects, the rings hover, like much of his work, between proper names – that is, between sign and symbol, object and metaphor – never fully possessed.