Spanish artist Santiago Sierra specializes in work that embodies the plight of the disenfranchised. His 2010 exhibition at Team, “Los Penetrados,” featured photographs and video of people hired to couple in soul-numbing, mechanistic, racially charged anal sex. His work hasn’t been seen much in the U.S., one guesses, because trenchant explorations of class disparities make Americans uncomfortable if they’re not couched in liberal pieties.
His latest exhibition forgoes sharp critique for something harder to pin down. A two-hour black-and-white video impressionistically follows a sculpture Sierra constructed—two monumental letters, spelling NO—as it travels by truck across Europe and North America. A nihilistic update of Robert Indiana’s platitudinous LOVE, the work constitutes an absurdist Pop object. Its deadpan statement of universal refusal ought to derive its kick from the locales in which it finds itself.
Yet NO tours one interchangeable industrial exurb after another—perhaps that’s the point—with a few dramatic moments thrown in as it drives by Times Square, the Capitol in Washington and Crown Prince Felipe of Spain, the only person in the entire piece who isn’t pixelated like a protected witness. Additional cinematic artifice—audio played backward; footage mirrored, upside down, or in slo-mo—further obscures the scenes depicted, casting the video less as a documentary than as an exercise in artiness. Sierra’s intention may be blanket negation, but the only thing he really appears to counter here is the potent incisiveness of his earlier work. The artist seems to be in denial.
—Joseph R. Wolin