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?
For their recent show at Postmasters, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy presented eight miniature landscapes, each displayed on a small wall-hung shelf and made of materials such as tar, sand, dirt and plastic toys (all works 2012). The dioramas depict anonymous non-places, identified by titles such as Along the Roadside, Behind the Hillside, Next to the Parking Lot. The exhibition title, “Twenty One Twelve,” dates the scenes 100 years in the future.
In most of the models, a photograph functions as a partial backdrop. Several of the pictures portray sites in Abu Dhabi, where the couple lived for a year while Kevin helped NYU launch an art program at its campus there. A 2011 exhibition at Postmasters served as a dispatch from the UAE capital. By contrast, this exhibition took a wider view, suggesting a narrative about the consequences of rapid development not only in Abu Dhabi but globally.
Small LCD screens embedded in the models often feature manipulated footage of the photographic backdrops or related scenes. For example, in Along the Roadside, a panoramic photo of a cement factory is placed behind what looks like a barren, polluted mound. Toward the front of the diorama, a screen appearing like an electronic billboard shows an image of the factory and a recurring explosion of light, alluding to the plant’s ruin and the subsequent devastation of the surrounding environment.
In the case of Behind the Hillside—which looks like a dump, heaped with toy detritus—the LCD seems to be just another discarded item, underscoring the waste produced by consumption. Delicate miniature cranes and pieces from an Erector Set are combined with a photo of a gated home in Near the New Villas. The frequent appearance of these little toys lends the models a sinister whimsy, representing construction and destruction as child’s play.
In the back room, two more dioramas were installed on tables. Two small video cameras were trained on each and captured the scenes as well as visitors’ hands or faces. A computer algorithm transformed the footage into kaleidoscopic patterns, which were projected onto nearby walls. What sounded like a theme song for a sci-fi thriller played on a loop. One of these table pieces, Priest of the Temple, includes a photo of Gordon Moore, the cofounder of Intel and namesake of Moore’s Law. In a 1965 paper, Moore stated that the number of transistors on a silicon computer chip would double every two years. But, in 2005, he updated this prediction, saying that such exponential growth would not last forever: “The nature of exponentials is that you push them out and eventually disaster happens,” he said. He claimed that, after approaching microscopic sizes, chips would have to be made larger at a higher cost.
Moore’s image loomed as a reminder of a technological barrier, and the works in the exhibition foretell other obstacles. A century in the future, the world may resemble the one we know, but the planet’s ability to absorb the burdens that humans place on it may well have surpassed its limit. Unlike computer chips, Earth cannot be redesigned and made bigger. The McCoys’ small models illustrated the magnitude of that reality.
Photo: Jennifer and Kevin McCoy: Between the Resorts, 2012, paper, balsa wood, plastic, LCD screen and mixed mediums, 11 by 16 by 20 inches; at Postmasters.