American Abyss by Carlo McCormick


“A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.”
Mark Twain

Away from the claustrophobic market clutter of the myriad art fairs this week is a more democratic and affordable site of continuous cultural chaos called Times Square. And into this OCD spectacle comes a great cultural outsider, Alexandre Arrechea, with a monumental work of blink-and-you-miss-it temporality, sublime ridiculousness and subtle social poetics.

Dubbed Black Sun, Arrechea’s brief vid makes sporadic appearances on the fiscal face of the 120-foot-tall NASDAQ LCD sign at 4 Times Square, only through tomorrow, courtesy of a group called the Times Square Art Alliance, which would seem to embody the hybrid nature of this town’s cultural, tourist, corporate, real estate and investment money-engines.
If you can somehow catch Black Sun over its short run you will have a memory that will surely outlast the collective furor of all the Armory, Fountain, Pulse, Red Dot, Scope, Volta and museum blockbuster hubbubs combined. You will have witnessed, rubbing your eyes in disbelief, a bit of magic from a master alchemist, delivered within the materialist-driven confines of the contemporary art market.
The intrepid viewer who would take up this challenge and venture out in search of Black Sun, stumbling into the overbearing topography of signs and cacophony of come-ons that is Times Square, can expect no indication of where and what to look for. So here are a few words of advance indication, for the worthy adventurer into the abyss of the American dream.
Arrechea gained a place on the international art stage in the 1990s as one of the founding members of the Havana-based collective Los Carpinteros. Having left the group and subsequently immigrated to Barcelona a little more than a half dozen years ago, Arrechea has continued to hone the discrete political critique first forged by Los Carpinteros in the epic crucible of denial and repression that is post-revolutionary Cuba. His radically interdisciplinary work, with its stunning formalism, delicious simplicity and provocative whimsy, has kept him busy on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery is currently presenting a deviant architectural project Arrechea made in collaboration with Mexican artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda, while Ice Box in Philadelphia is displaying his work as part of the Philagrafika festival. In New York, Arrechea works with art dealer Alberto Magnan, whose new Magnan Metz Gallery opened last month at 521 West 26th Street in Chelsea. On Mar. 11, 2010, Arrechea opens a show titled “The Rules of Play” at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Gutstein Gallery in Savannah.
Everything Arrechea does is so visually quirky and conceptually provocative that it all merits description. For our purposes, however, consider what he has done with Black Sun. A super-short video animation of a wrecking ball arcing through space and bouncing off an invisible surface, it functions on the surface of NASDAQ as the ultimate emblem of destruction that in the end realizes little more than its own impotence.
He’s explained this conceit alternately as the knocking on a door with no answers and as a looser metaphor for the failure of power, but whatever associations you might make in the context of NASDAQ or Times Square — the catastrophic collapse of our economy comes to mind, as do the ravages of greedy real estate development — I’m sure the artist would concur. Arrechea, above all else, understands the relativity of meaning in this world.

Carlo McCormick is senior editor at Paper Magazine.