The eerie prescience of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s recent show at Postmasters was brought home in the wake of the presidential election, as protesters converged night after night in front of New York’s Trump Tower. At the center of the exhibition was a twenty-eight-minute video (BROKER, 2016) filmed at a different Trump-branded “super-luxury high-rise” a few avenues east and set entirely within a seventy-seventh-floor model apartment, sections of which the McCoys re-created in miniature for the exhibition. Displayed alongside these works was a series of sculptures cast from broken pieces of high-end glassware, which the press release described as “artifacts from after the revolution,” referring, presumably, to a time in the future when the masses have stormed the properties of the wealthy.
The video, part luxury real-estate porn, part horror movie, features a high-end broker played by actress Gillian Chadsey. Stuck in an endless cycle of preparation for clients that never manifest, she moves about the space, tidying up and rehearsing the details of the lavish residence. Her unctuous descriptions of appliances and amenities—the “glazed herringbone parquet” floors, a Watermark faucet “inspired by a vintage coffee machine”—are comedic and revolting in their excess. We have entered the haute consumerist hell that Hal Foster calls “the world of total design.”
The undulating electronic sounds of composer Lori Scacco’s soundtrack contribute to the video’s unnerving placidity. At one point, the broker breaks into an amelodic musical number, hypnotically reciting various hackneyed marketing slogans as a dolly zoom—an effect made famous by Hitchcock’s films—amplifies our sense of vertigo. Throughout the video we get glimpses from the point of view of various hidden cameras, including one positioned inside the designer fridge.
Things begin to unravel as the broker, addressing the camera, performs her apartment walkthrough. To her great distress, she finds a number of artworks lurking in the space that suggest violent acts and the kind of messiness that the immaculate, sterile condo is designed to keep out. In the bathroom hides a painting (by Angela Dufresne) of a man with blood pouring from his head. In the laundry closet is a depiction (by Chadsey’s brother, Geoffrey Chadsey) of a face smeared with a pinkish substance. In an era in which benign so-called zombie abstraction has flourished, the apparent threat posed by these vaguely unsettling images leads us to ponder the relationship between art-making and the aesthetic sensibilities of the super-rich.
Throughout most of the video, the attention the broker pays to her own appearance and presentation mirrors her meticulous upkeep of the apartment. The infiltration of otherness into the homogenous space, however, provokes a transformation. In a segment reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, the roboticism of her speech and body movements becomes amplified; she collapses, regains herself, rips the sleeves from her jacket, and staggers about reciting platitudinous jargon: “The use of space empowers relentlessness. Each element propels you to your greatest moment.” Aside from affirming an unsettling complicity between the discourses of architecture and unbridled individualism, this segment suggests a greater toll enacted on us by the seductions of total design.
To the extent that the video alludes not only to the manipulations of luxury marketing but also to the crushing expectations placed on women to perform in their professional capacities, it anticipates the recent presidential race, where the most rehearsed of blazer-donning professionals, accustomed to perpetual surveillance and scrutiny, was finally undone amid a vertiginous echo chamber of empty slogans and aspirational sentiments. Now that we are all trapped in Trump’s tower, the question this unsettling exhibition seems to pose is: how long before someone breaks a window?