Sunday, February 03, 2008

Guy Ben-Ner, "Stealing Beauty", Postmasters Gallery, Jan 5 - Feb 16, 2008



























Political art can be a dangerous quagmire, often lending to sanctimony and didacticism, to a keen embrace of the obvious by artists (and curators) who should know better. Witness the anti-capital punishment exhibition, Under Pain of Death, currently at the Austrian Cultural Forum, which adheres to the expected and respectful by being impressed with the seriousness of the issue it addresses. But in carefully covering its bases (Warhol's Electric Chair, natch, and then another one constructed from Lego blocks) it fails to ignite any passion or real interest. It remains literal, antiseptic and inert, like a UN policy paper.


Guy Ben-Ner is too clever and creative to fall into this trap. First of all, he brings politics home, to a level we all understand: the family. Then he couches it in guerrilla theater. His very process -- using Ikea room models (in stores in Israel, Germany and the US) as a ready made for his loosely scripted sitcom, stealing footage before he is chased out -- tells us everything about his relation to free trade and international mega-corporations. He trenchantly subverts global capitalism without even needing to mention it by name, like a hacker cracking a website.

Similarly, when Jerry Saltz notes that the family behaves "as if they were displaced nomads, acting out a primal need and a territorial aggression, claiming these Ikeas as a kind of Promised Land", I enjoy his access of Ben-Ner's implicit critique of Zionism without either of them needing to reference the word. By embracing the status of refugee or immigrant, the family Ben-Ner places us in a subtle but uneasy confrontation with Middle East realities.

Ben-Ner's low tech, DIY strategy is irreverent and fun, but also establishes him as the anti-Crewdson. Call it "available-ism". Nothing is built, all is pirated. Steal a set, point and shoot, then edit the shots later, embracing breaks in continuity, mismatched angles and props, and other casual imperfections. What's great is how this shoestring aesthetic is perfectly attuned to Ben-Ner's interrogation of property, of family, and of late capitalist discontent.

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