Josh Kline’s Survival Art for 21st-Century America

Josh Kline, who has had his breakout show at downtown Gallery 47 Canal since 2011, is an American Extreme artist. Although he promised new art with new technologies, from his 3D printing to “deepfake” software, his outlook for the 2010s was anything but optimistic. With celebrity interviews and sarcastic spoofs of his fashion campaigns, Klein has denounced his media age as a corporate quasi-personal vortex. Soon after, his views changed from negative to downright apocalyptic. Sculptures and installations of the Teletubbies in riot gear, human heads and hands bundled up in his shopping cart, sculptures and installations of Manhattan half-drowned in the rising sea.

Presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art “Josh Klein: The New American Century Project” A broadly hostile retrospective of a 43-year-old artist who knows exactly what he means. The show, which spans two floors, is a compilation of early parodies of the elixir juice cleanse. Digital videos of a reanimated Kurt Cobain and a crying Condoleezza Rice. Creepy sculpture of an unemployed man bagged for garbage collection. and a new installation and video imagining future climate change refugees and a US with suburbs fortified into war zones. For better or worse, Klein has no time for subtlety.

A major theme in Klein’s art is work. Its value, dignity, exploitation and automation. So, general cultural critic Jason Farago invited Emma Goldberg, a business reporter responsible for the future of work, to the museum to discuss the economics and aesthetics of this major new show. .

Jason Farago Over the past decade, Kline has built a reputation for producing relentlessly present tense art. He creates cutting-edge installations and videos with the latest technology. But now Klein is old enough to look back on half his career (and so am I, unfortunately). How did this show feel to someone so young?

Emma Goldberg There’s something about walking through a career retrospective that feels like it was made for this very moment in 2023. So many parts of the exhibition are meant to destabilize the relationship between work and time. It’s about organizing, changing jobs, and turning your ambition inside out.

This show brought me back to the early pandemic sense of time as volatile and even inexplicable. He blurs the relationship between present and future, reality and dystopia.

Also consider: Are we all so engrossed in our work that we’ve given up the agency of which version of the future we’re heading towards?

Farago This permeabilty of work and pleasure, or economic and biological life, dates back to his early works. A revitalizing Day-Glo colored liquid soaked in a French press or packed in an IV bag. They blend not only stimulants like Wellbutrin and Adderall, but also gasoline, printer ink, Purell, etc…

goldberg Intravenous infusion includes resting infusion and work infusion. One is Ambien and Kava tea, the other is Espresso and Ritalin. Klein asks us to face the way we live. Your body is a tool to recharge to work more efficiently, and a tool to rest more effectively to get back to work.

Farago Bodily fluids are gross, but displayed in the most sanitized way possible. The tincture shows his 21st-century obsession with health and performance, but ultimately suggests that biological life is becoming a pharmacological quagmire.

And this is Klein’s big theme. There is a gap, or perhaps a lag, between the way new technology reduces our personality to data and the irreducible facts about our bodies, our health, our diet and sleep needs.

That gap is demonstrated not only in these disgusting mixtures, but also in two early videos purporting to show the recently deceased Kurt Cobain and Whitney Houston. The actor’s face is overlaid with early open-source face-swapping software, a kind of Like Cobain and Houston. But it’s not. And when they speak, the digital mask shifts and stutters.

goldberg These videos from 2013 were a visceral reminder that ‘deepfake’ techniques have long been developed to enable the types of false alarms that people are now very alarmed about using AI. . What stops technology development and makes you question? For years there has been growing concern that artificial intelligence will automate blue-collar jobs. And the story of the last few months is that it’s not just truckers who have their jobs obsolete, but lawyers and copywriters as well.

For many, this is the moment when the panic switch flips. I think we need to ask ourselves: What jobs are people suddenly mobilizing to protect? What works are worth preserving?

Farago Like many of his contemporaries, Klein’s early career was reshaped by the 2008 financial crisis. His first work was traded with a lot of irony and irony, but his work on unemployment is surprisingly candid. In one series, he scanned the corpses of unemployed Americans, made lifelike plaster, wrapped them in plastic bags, and prepared them for transport to a landfill.

The latest in engraving technology, 3D inkjet printing and computer-controlled laser cutting, seamlessly transforms people into data and data into art. But the lives of these workers cannot be so easily uploaded to the cloud.

goldberg In his new work, Personal Responsibility, tents are set up with televisions that show a world where climate change completely unleashes people and destabilizes communities. You meet a man who lives in a deserted cul-de-sac in Arizona and walks miles to trader his jaws to get his allotted gallon of water.

Klein asks us to experiment with the gap between our reality and various renderings of the future to consider which is more likely.

Farago Therefore, it feels more scary.

You see, he carries a relatively traditional message in all his engagements with modern technology. You are a human, not an app. Beneath this slick surface is the crunchy Mother Jones liberalism, but he delivers it with ruthless negativity.

goldberg I thought about the momentary joy I experienced on this show. The “Creative Labor” room with the drip was the most whimsical, but perhaps the most depressing as a writer… your work. Be like a fake Whitney Houston or a fake Kurt Cobain, scraping all the trauma for an overbearing interviewer. This job in which we invest a lot of social capital is, after all, the worst of all.

Farago It seems that the artist is also included in it. I don’t see how to avoid the conclusion that Klein is an artist who thinks about art. work Artist’s, at least — worthless.

goldberg The jobs that people value the most, or at least the highest paid, are the jobs that matter least. And also absolutely terrible! Sleep on Ambien, sleep on Ritalin, go interview…

Farago — As a “real” person —

goldberg …by someone who doesn’t respect you.

Farago I’m sure Klein would find this horrifying, but do you know who came to mind while watching the show? What? It’s Jeff Koons, who also uses obviousness, candor and a proud anti-critical stance in his service of ‘accessible’ art. They don’t have much else in common, but I think there’s a certain cruelty to both Klein and Koons in the way they sell one-dimensionality in their odes to the common man.

goldberg Well, much of Klein’s work is bluntly: what’s the point? What is the point of creative labor? What’s the point of labor without literally putting food in people’s mouths? AI can do whatever you’re doing tomorrow. If AI can generate truly beautiful things, then Klein’s job may be to generate truly human things. It may be a matter of course, but humans may be a matter of course.

Farago There are important works that Whitney does not have. It’s the video “Hope and Change” that caused a minor sensation at the 2015 New His Museum Triennale. Again, he used face replacement software to create fake celebrity videos. In this case, Barack Obama is delivering a new inaugural address that is essentially a Eugene V. Debs-style socialist manifesto.

Whitney leaves it out, but proudly presents alternative videos of other faces depicting George W. Bush and his Cabinet as tearfully apologizing war criminals. Maybe he did, I don’t know, but a visitor can easily look at his climate change dystopia and unemployment table and draw conclusions.

goldberg But don’t you feel a gap between “everyone should vote” and “whatever you do in life is pointless”? Walking down Whitney Street, the certainty of climate change and the wrath of Walmart, there’s one path that really makes me feel like an “MSNBC mom.” But there’s a more complex and Freudian alternative to how work in America has distorted our sense of time and even our own bodies.

Farago I think it’s true. Also, for artists I can knock for being so obvious, Klein had predicted various crises and breaking points years before they materialized, of which he One is a pandemic. Inside the coronavirus-shaped plastic orb is a cardboard bunker his box, filled with belongings he takes home from the office after being laid off. Also about his critique of hygiene, his concern with “necessary” labor, and the meaning of this interrupted time you were talking about earlier. Klein proves that what we call “unimaginable” crises are (1) actually very easy to imagine and (2) already underway.

goldberg This was the room where I suffered the most emotionally.When you peer into these virus-shaped glass baubles, you end up with real relationshipFor example, there was a mug that said, “Hugs and Kisses for Grandpa.”

But the room was also very unsettling. We are witnessing mass layoffs, but people are still alone in their apartments behind screens all the time. I’ve never met the people I used to work with, so I don’t have a desk to pack.

Farago One final point is about the show’s extreme national focus. It’s about the workplace in America’s national identity at the Whitney Museum of American Art. American art. When he makes videos or installations about Walmart, it’s about Walmart’s American employees, not his chains of Chinese or Mexican supplies. Even the ultimate planetary phenomenon, climate change, is treated here in national terms. America survive?

This is clear to me. For more than a decade, Klein has portrayed the United States as bankrupt, hopeless, and doomed. The American economy as a fraud, the American state as a ship heading for an iceberg.

And I would advise you not to dedicate your life to something unless you love it. We were talking about Freud earlier. Is there an unconscious love for American capitalism here? For the American Dream? In conclusion, does Josh Klein, under the animosity of this show, have a true love for America with all its ideals and abuses, in an almost… moving way?

goldberg perhaps. I think it reflects a lot of our relationship with labor. We love our jobs, but we hate our working conditions. That hatred drives us to organize to do better at the work we love.

Many utopian thoughts play out the dystopias of our current reality. This is Whitney, in this shimmering glass building next to the High Line, overlooking Barry’s Diller’s Island, one of his twists on seeing this exhibit. Think about the devastation of capitalism and see a wall of donors as you step out of the gift shop. And I think this show lives in that tension. The utopias he portrays are more colorful and interesting because we live in a twisted reality underneath.

Josh Klein: New American Century Project
Until August 13, Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, (212) 570-3600. whitney.org.

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