Addie Wagenknecht’s Fraying of America

While Jasper Johns’ now iconic “Three Flags” (1958) hangs in a gallery at the Whitney Museum for that artist’s retrospective, artist Addie Wagenknecht has created her own three flags across town at Bitforms gallery. Using an array of intravenous bags dripping red and blue pigment on sheets of paper atop white plinths, Wagenknecht is mining the language of American modern and contemporary art, while offering a visual representation of its fragmentation.

Wagenknecht, who is no stranger to those who love art that’s critical of digital utopianism, mines the language of Minimalism, Pop Art, and other movements long associated with the United States, that have, since their debut, quickly become the lingua franca of US-led neoliberalism around the world. Minimalism has become the international aesthetic of fancy homes and luxury brands, while Pop is a favorite with corporations because of its mealy mouthed critique of commercialism. Here both these references are subsumed by a larger contraption that feels nefarious, suggesting that something may be being nursed from illness or restored to a previous state.

A side view of one of the three podium’s in every day the same again that

In this exhibition, titled every day the same again, the artist utilizes three white podiums arranged like a Minimalist installation from the 1960s and ‘70s (think Robert Morris or Donald Judd). But rather than preserving this stark aesthetic, the installation appears to be returning color back into what could be read as color-drained forms. The drip-drawn flags are composed of messy pools of accumulating color. So, while the reference to the flag becomes clearer as time goes on, there’s a point where they become largely indecipherable and resemble a dyed shroud or the outcome of some type of (oil?) spill. The tri-partite division of the installation into three podiums may suggest the three branches of the US government, or evoke divine connotations (the Trinity in some Christian cosmologies, while many sunnah acts are advised to be done in threes in Islam). 

Ultimately, the almost spartan installation evokes many things through its tweak of simple forms, but it evades any clear reading. Even the sides of the podiums stained by the drips of color evoke another type of art, Color Field painting to be specific. But every facet of the show steers you in another direction, suggesting a fraying of the dominant conceptual framework that was once in place that these movements were built atop.

Installation view

Accompanying the exhibition are a series of NFTs made by the artist — it is 2021 after all — and they reinforce the notion of something being shattered, since they resemble shattered fragments of something much larger, which we never see. The short series of NFT’d videos riff on her 2017 web-based work, “Believe Me,” which is in the collection of the Whitney Museum and was inspired by US President Donald Trump’s most repeated words of that year. I’m not sure why, but they immediately evoked for me the graffiti’d fragments of the Berlin Wall that seemed to flood the markets and public spaces of the West in the 1990s.

Wagenknecht, who was born in Portland, Oregon, and currently spends most of her time in Austria, where she works in the digital space (think crypto, blockchain, etc.), has a front row seat to the crypto craze that has consumed the art scene and beyond. Thinking about this show, I kept returning to her characterization of the show as being seen through a “cracked screen.” That image is fitting, but I would add that the question of who cracked it remains the mystery here. America as an idea is not under siege from others, Wagenknecht’s installation suggests, but is being consumed by something sinister that evade easy definition.

Addie Wagenknecht’s every day the same again continues until November 13, 2021 at Bitforms gallery (131 Allen Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan)

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