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Arcangel mixes current music, culture and cutting edge in 'Masters'

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
'Cory Arcangel: Masters' at Carnegie Museum of Art
Tom Little
'Cory Arcangel: Masters' at Carnegie Museum of Art Tom Little
'Cory Arcangel: Masters' at Carnegie Museum of Art
Tom Little
'Cory Arcangel: Masters' at Carnegie Museum of Art Tom Little
'Cory Arcangel: Masters' at Carnegie Museum of Art
Tom Little
'Cory Arcangel: Masters' at Carnegie Museum of Art Tom Little

Intended as a small retrospective, “Cory Arcangel: Masters,” on display in Carnegie Museum of Art's Forum Gallery, brings one of New York's most cutting-edge artist's work into focus.

Best known for his video-game manipulations, the Brooklyn-based artist has been prolific over the past 10 years, and the exhibit showcases much of that output in the form of five time-based videos. One is a modified video game, one a modified flatscreen television, another a wallpaper installation and archival materials.

The time-based videos are the big draw. Displayed on five large flatscreen televisions, arranged atop each of their own packaging, they range widely in date and subject.

For example, the piece called “Untitled Translation Exercise” was made in 2006. Basically the modified version of the movie “Dazed and Confused,” it has been overdubbed back into English by an outsource firm in Bangalore, India. That means all the actors now have an Indian accent.

The result is as jarring as it is humorous, and very much a clue to the sense of irony and wit the artist revels and excels in.

The piece “Sans Simon” from 2004 is another perfect example. “When I first became interested in Simon and Garfunkel,” Arcangel says, “I was taken by the divide between my general cultural knowledge of them — that they were emblematic of the peace-and-love side of the '60s — and the reality — that there was significant personal tension between the two.”

To capitalize on this, Arcangel filmed a VCR tape of a Simon and Garfunkel concert playing on a television, and every time Simon appears on the screen, Arcangel places his hand over Simon's image.

“The video is about this distance, but, more broadly, about relationships in general,” Arcangel says.

Later works reveal that Arcangel's sources of inspiration have widened quite a bit over the years. First, with obsolete video games — as evidenced by the piece “Super Mario Clouds” from 2002 that features the clouds only from the Super Mario video game scrolling on one of the flatscreens — then on to YouTube clips, Hollywood films and techno and rave music.

Even the wallpaper covering the walls of the gallery — which was designed by Arcangel and taken from a default pattern from the obsolete MacPaint drawing software's “infinite fill” option — proves that the artist has no bounds when it comes to mining popular techno-savvy culture.

At first glance, it might seem that Arcangel's “Drei Klavierstucke op. 11” from 2009, a compilation of YouTube and Internet clips of cats walking or pounding on piano keyboards, was inspired by the infamous Keyboard Cat of YouTube fame. But, as Arcangel says, “Keyboard Cat was not yet a meme when I started work on the video in early 2009, so it did not inspire my video. I was inspired, though, by the common joke that atonal music ‘sounds like a cat on a piano,' as well as other great cat videos and websites that were online then.”

The show is not all made up of previous works. The exhibit includes the debut of a new work featuring Arcangel's recently released collection of catalogued trance and techno LPs titled “The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound.” It's the only piece sited beyond the Forum Gallery, being located in the Carnegie Library adjacent to the Museum of Art. An installation, it takes the form of a listening station and library-standard database. “(It) was finished just in time for the show,” Arcangel says.

Even though it is his latest work, it exists as something of a memory database for the 34-year-old artist, who says he grew up listening to the kind of music included, which ranges from The Prodigy's “Firestarter” to Darude's “Sandstorm.” Waxing poetic in the show's small catalog, Arcangel writes: “I might not be suitable for the front lines anymore, but, as countless middle-aged men before me have proven, that will not prevent me from obsessing over the music I loved at 17.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media.

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