When Ryan Trecartin first came to the attention of the art world he was just 25 and the youngest artist included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Though few people spent much time watching his 42-minute video, A Family Finds Entertainment (2004), relegated to a monitor near the elevators, it became a YouTube sensation. The video seemed to fit much better amid the raw, confessional, exhibitionist fare of the Internet’s social networking universe and popular culture at large. And, reciprocally, this is the territory Trecartin mines: his characters and scenarios are assaultive manifestations of the overwrought emotional exchanges of teens and tweens or reality television. Family—as a perverse, repressive force against which adolescent identities are forged—is a frequent theme.
Trecartin’s work today operates as both a viral, Web-based phenomenon and museum material: recent videos can be viewed on the Web and in his current show at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. Presenting seven videos in a sprawling installation, this is Trecartin’s largest exhibition to date. (Next year he will have solo exhibitions at MoMA PS1 in New York and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.) At MOCA, three videos comprising the “Trill-ogy Comp” series (2009) are projected sequentially on the first floor, while four videos constituting Trecartin’s most recent series, “Re’Search Wait’S” (2009-10), screen simultaneously in connected galleries on the second floor. Here Trecartin has constructed an installation surrounding each projection, using materials that reference his makeshift film sets and heighten the surreal experience of viewing his disjointed videos. While watching the “Trill-ogy Comp” segments, viewers hang out amid new patio furniture and other Home Depot-style goods, along with enigmatic debris such as chains and broken ceiling fans marooned in piles of sawdust. The furnishings that appoint the four galleries of the “Re’Search Wait’S” videos reference environments related to the projections: an airplane, a boardroom, a living room and a bedroom.
Trecartin adopts the rapid cuts and multiple perspectives of action movies, but his approach pushes these tactics to an extreme. His videos are often elaborate montages, overlaid with text and appropriated images, merging the visual language of Hollywood, soap operas, infomercials and amateur YouTube videos. Trecartin’s fractured sequencing allows for minimal narrative, though characters’ personas, intentions and interpersonal tensions are central. The cast invariably includes Trecartin himself (usually playing an effeminate male character, in one case bearing scars from a sex change operation), and a frequent collaborator is artist Lizzie Fitch. Garishly made-up and costumed characters maniacally express their anxieties while tightly framed against chaotic, brightly colored sets. The videos are painterly in their vivid color and, to this viewer, conjure the dark pageantry of James Ensor or the lurid world of Ed Paschke. Trecartin’s works can be overwhelming, especially in a large-scale exhibition that adds up to almost four hours of running time. Yet, while some viewers may still prefer to watch 10-minute segments on YouTube, the energy and intensity on display at MOCA offer a rare museum experience.
Photo: (left) Installation view of Trecartin’s Temp Stop (Re’Search Wait’S), 2009-10, video, 11 minutes; at MOCA. (right) The Re’Search (Re’Search Wait’S), 2009-10, video, approx. 40 minutes.