"Ghosts in the Machine"

New Museum of Contemporary Art , Lower East Side Friday August 3 2012 11:00 - 18:00
  • 4 out of 5 stars
 (©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA)
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©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA
Stan VanDerBeek,  Movie-Drome
 (©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA)
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©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA
Stan VanDerBeek,  Movie-Drome
 (©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA)
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©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA
Stan VanDerBeek,  Movie-Drome
 (©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA)
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©  Estate  of  Peter  Moore/VAGA
Stan VanDerBeek,  Movie-Drome
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Private  Collection)
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Private  Collection
Julian Stanczak, Repulsive Attraction
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Courtesy the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery)
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Courtesy the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery
Seth Price, Film/Right
 (© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Richard Hamilton, “Man, Machine and Motion”
 (© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Richard Hamilton, “Man, Machine and Motion”
 (© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Richard Hamilton, “Man, Machine and Motion”
 (© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Richard Hamilton, “Man, Machine and Motion”
 (© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Richard Hamilton, “Man, Machine and Motion”
 (© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Richard Hamilton, “Man, Machine and Motion”
 (© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Richard Hamilton, “Man, Machine and Motion”
 (Collection Uta and Thilo von Deb)
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Collection Uta and Thilo von Deb
Fritz Kahn, Poster as enclosure to Das Leben Des Menschen (Volume  III)
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Courtesy the artist)
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Courtesy the artist
Harley  Cokeliss, Crash!
 (Sta?del Museum)
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Sta?del Museum
Thomas Bayrle, Madonna Mercedes
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Courtesy the artist and Aanant &)
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Courtesy the artist and Aanant &
Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography Composition 17
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Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Collection Kunstmuseum Basel)
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Collection Kunstmuseum Basel
Henrik Olesen, The Body is a Machine
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Moderna Museet)
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Moderna Museet
Ulla Wiggen, Trask (portrait of computer parts)
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Emma Kunz Museum)
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Emma Kunz Museum
Emma Kunz, Work No. 094
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Sammlung Prinzhorn)
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Sammlung Prinzhorn
Jakob Mohr, Beweisse (Proofs)
 (John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection)
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John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection
Emery Blagdon, The Healing Machine
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Contemporanea)
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Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Contemporanea
Gianni Colombo, Spazio Elastico (Elastic Space)
 (© Hans Haacke 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS))
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© Hans Haacke 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Hans Haacke, Blue Sail
 (Courtesy Sperone Westwater)
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Courtesy Sperone Westwater
Otto Piene, Hängende Lichtkugel
 (Benoit Pailley)
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Benoit Pailley
Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Courtesy Sperone Westwater)
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Courtesy Sperone Westwater
Otto Piene, Light Ballet on Wheels
 (Collection Ingeborg Lu?scher and Una Szeemann)
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Collection Ingeborg Lu?scher and Una Szeemann
Reconstruction of the machine from Franz Kafka's "The Penal Colony"
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Installation view of "Ghosts In The Machine" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art
 (Courtesy the artist and Galerie Herve? Bize)
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Courtesy the artist and Galerie Herve? Bize
Franc?ois Morellet, Random distribution of 320,000 squares using the Pi numberdecimals, 50% odd digit blue, 50% even digit red
 (Courtesy the artist and Galerie )
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Courtesy the artist and Galerie
Franc?ois Morellet, Random distribution of 320,000 squares using the Pi numberdecimals, 50% odd digit blue, 50% even digit red
 (Courtesy the artist and Friedric)
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Courtesy the artist and Friedric
Phillipe Parreno, The Writer
 (Collection David Zwirner)
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Collection David Zwirner

Konrad Klapheck, Reife (Maturity)

“Ghosts in the Machine,” an ambitious and fascinating compendium of artistic meditations on the thorny relationship between humans and machines, could have been a whiz-bang futuristic affair, all digitalia and virtuality. Instead, curators Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari chose to emphasize the historical over the contemporary and to highlight some of the more obscure and eccentric experiments that cropped up en route to our touch-screen present. Gioni refers to the nonchronological display as a consciously tangential wunderkammer and as a “minor history” in which highways and landmarks are bypassed in favor of overlooked or half-forgotten side routes. And while the result has one or two murky interludes—and necessitates a good deal of wall-label reading—many of these objects, images and texts are enlivened by absorbing backstories.

Even when the featured work is relatively well-known, the show’s thematic structure prompts a reconsideration of its origins and influence. Op and kinetic art, frequently dismissed as examples of gimmicky eye candy long past their respective sell-by dates, are positioned here as significant moments in the making of a new aesthetic designed to confront the warring implications of technology for the body. Jeff Koons’s high-’80s vacuum cleaners, still spotless in their acrylic vitrines, are tellingly juxtaposed with reconstructions of Duchamp’s Large Glass and a horrifying torture machine from Kafka’s novel In the Penal Colony. Even Rube Goldberg’s playful cartoons of absurdly convoluted gadgets take on a fresh seriousness here, seeming to portend a future in which even the most mundane activities enmesh us in nightmarish complication.

If, as suggested by Marshall McLuhan (whose 1951 book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man is included in the show), every technological advancement is an extension of the senses, sex is at the heart of any man-machine alignment. Patron saint of this idea in its most disturbing implications is author J.G. Ballard, whose 1973 novel Crash is arguably the purest expression of his peculiar vision. A rigorous deconstruction of the hitherto unacknowledged erotics of the automobile accident, Crash was filmed in 1996 by (of course) David Cronenberg. The Crash! screened in “Ghosts” is a shorter, less glamorous version made by Harley Cokeliss two years before the book’s publication, but it has the same grim intensity, and features Ballard himself as protagonist and narrator.

But “Ghosts” isn’t all sex and death. One of the show’s most extraordinary passages explores various approaches to the idea of the machine as healer. Centered on William Reich’s notorious orgone energy accumulator, a kind of homemade TARDIS designed to amplify the user’s vitality, it also showcases the rarely seen likes of Swiss artist Emma Kunz (1892–1963) and American Emery Blagdon (1907–1986). While lovely, Kunz’s kaleidoscopic abstract drawings were conceived of as practical tools for use in mediumistic healing rituals derived from the study of radiesthesia—the divining of energy fields. The form of these intricate mind maps was also determined in a quasi-mechanical fashion via the use of a pendulum. Each intricate pattern was completed in a single marathon session, the artist transforming herself into a flesh-and-blood automaton.

Blagdon also claimed therapeutic powers for his art, but confined his research largely to the garden shed, archetypal domain of the amateur engineer. After spending some 15 years roaming the country, the artist returned home to roost in 1935 following news of his mother’s terminal cancer. He soon began to pack an outbuilding with delicate wire sculptures, adding, in the ’60s, power lines rerouted from the house that solidified the impression of a laboratory gone dangerously awry. Yet despite his best efforts, Blagdon eventually succumbed to cancer himself, his project unfinished. The mobiles that dangle from the ceiling of the New Museum derive a poignancy from their maker’s outsiderish trajectory but, like Kunz’s drawings, exhibit an undeniable visual (and in Blagdon’s case, perhaps also literal) magnetism.

The abundance of such stories in “Ghosts” makes this an exhibition that fizzes with oddity and surprise. It’s also a bonanza for geeks both art-historical and scientific. There’s a full-scale re-creation of Pop Art inventor Richard Hamilton’s strikingly contemporary-looking 1955 exhibition “Man, Machine and Motion” (is Kraftwerk still in town?) and a replica of the Voder, one of the original vocoder voice processors designed by engineer Homer W. Dudley at the radically innovative Bell Labs in 1939. There is a clutch of ethereal early work by Hans Haacke (operating in a very different mode from the stridently political artist we know today) and an eye-burning sequence of early computer animations by Pierre Hébert, Lillian F. Schwartz and others. But the show’s greatest achievement, aside from its sheer variety, is that such works don’t feel overambitious or even especially dated, but legitimately and boldly experimental.

Venue name: New Museum of Contemporary Art
Contact:
Address: 235 Bowery
New York
10002
Cross street: at Prince St
Opening hours: Wed, Fri–Sun 11am–6pm; Thu 11am–9pm
Transport: Subway: J, Z to Bowery; 6 to Spring St
Price: $14, seniors $12, students $10, under 18 free