Pierre Bismuth's solo show in Amsterdam has a lengthy and quite self-explanatory title. Clearly, there is some irony to the artist's take on our tech-powered, creativity-infested age. We seem to be elated about mass-produced ideas, on a dumb - yet sophisticated - capitalistic high. We invest objects (and their creators, be them architects or artists) with powers that are supposed to heal our society. Or at least our individual, boring lives, anesthetized by an overstimulating flux of televised or crowd-sourced information.
An Ocean of Lemonade continues SMART's ambitious Statements series, initiated by the Chto Delat? and ...Etcetera art collectives. Definitely easier to digest than the first two shows, Bismuth's feels like an estranged walk through an advertising-ridden, but still culturally selective world. Like its direct predecessor :Hypercolon: (a group show centered on works by Nathaniel Mellors and Chris Bloor), the French artist's exhibition includes works by others, which inject a bit of variety and freshness to the whole and even provide some of the visit's highest points.
Pierre Bismuth, Occupancy by More Than 6,701,194,688 Persons is Dangerous and Unlawful, 2009; Photo by Nicola Bozzi
The first two rooms set the tone and create a solid base for the rest of the visit, opening with self-evident statements about the paroxysm of mass culture (Occupancy by More Than 6,701,194,688 Persons is Dangerous and Unlawful and Objects That Should Have Changed Your Life). The guest pieces dialogue quite efficiently with Bismuth's own; together with the artist's model of a Le Corbusier building, Cyprien Gaillard's modernism-infused landscape etchings (Belief in the Age of Disbelief) help create a nostalgia that introduces one of the main themes, further developed in the following room. There, behind the separation offered by Cory Arcangel's Warholian pile of plasma TV boxes (Volume Management), a real office space showcases Inspired by..., a collaboration project with architecture studio One Architecture. Under the neon lights of a rather uninspired motto “The future is coming soon,” the artist offers a cheap reproduction of a modernist architectural classic to anybody willing to own a residential jewel by a Modernist master.
Pierre Bismuth, Aleatechnologicotoric, 2011; Photo by Nicola Bozzi
If consumption and housing dominate the first half of the show, the second is focused on media culture: technology, corporate identity, fame, and information. In Bismuth's vision, the art world has also been co-opted by capitalism into a general commodification of culture. He shows it in The Bruce Nauman Project, a fictional marketing initiative that offers a service of standardization to any client wishing to be remembered as an influential artist after death. But the show's cultural critique doesn't only address “high” culture, it also targets the contemporary information craze, often embraced by free culture movements. Guest artist Ceel Mogami de Haas, with his highly wasteful printed edition of random Wikipedia articles (Critical Dictionary 2.0), provides a sardonic look on the compulsive production and sharing of knowledge. If the Swiss artist points out the massive quantity of information in contemporary society, in Aleatechnologicotoric (2011) Bismuth focuses on its meaninglessness. The installation, accompanied by a periodical piano performance, consists in a television newscast surrounded by an overwhelming amount of sheet music, compiled by converting news into notes.
Pierre Bismuth & One Architecture, Inspired By..., 2011; Photo by Nicola Bozzi
As I was saying, Pierre Bismuth's vision is a critical and ironical one. Mass-produced objects are placed out of their comfort zone, isolated and glorified, but at the same time derided – and in Matias Faldbakken's Locker Sculpture #4, in which the Norwegian artist squeezes eight lockers using an industrial belt, even destroyed. Critiquing consumerism and even the commodification of culture doesn't really break new ground, but - by working between pop and conceptualism - Bismuth presents beautiful objects, suggesting an interpretation without really getting in the way of the viewer. This results in a pleasant and well-balanced exhibition experience, which contrast a little bit with the first two Statement shows, which were more text-laden and reaching out to politics and activism. As a part of the same series, this might be the only critique to Bismuth's satire: except for Inspired by..., the show does not, in fact, try to bring the art out of the gallery, leaving the critique to an inside joke.
(top image: Pierre Bismuth, An Ocean of Lemonade, 2011, Courtesy SMART Project Space.)