Jordan Wolfson b. 1980
Animation Masks (2012)
Duration: 12 min
The New York Times
By ROBERTA SMITH
Alex Zachary Peter Currie
16 East 77th Street, Manhattan
Through Feb. 18, 2012
“Animation, masks,” the 12-minute 29-second film that is the entirety of Jordan Wolfson’s New York gallery debut, has the hallmarks of a classic. It rejuvenates appropriation art through the incisive use of digital animation, achieving an intensity that rivets the ear and the eye while perturbing the mind.
Fluidly combining animation, photographs, clip-art and extraordinary color, this piece is like an exquisitely made Fabergé egg that explodes in your face. It contrasts various modes of representation, degrees of resolution and forms of aural communication (lovers’ pillow talk, poetry and song); implicates history and art history; and invokes several ethnic stereotypes.
Its only character is a jarringly stereotypical Shylockian Jew, with hooked nose, yarmulke, frizzed hair and beard and misshapen teeth, who is rendered in sleek high-definition animation (but only from the waist up). Sometimes benign, sometimes demonic, this gnomic cross between a Hasidic Woody Allen and a Semitic Yosemite Sam lip-syncs the sexy, whispered dialogue of a pair of young lovers that evokes the indie-film subcategory known as mumblecore, while executing repeated rap-music hand gestures.
Next, in a jump in D.I.Y. history, the voices of different people reciting Richard Brautigan’s 27-word, alone-and-happy “Love Poem” flow from his lips, its implications fluctuating with each speaker.
Meanwhile, images of largely white affluence abound. The Shylock character flips through recent issues of Vogue, whose crisp fashion spreads contrast with the grainy scenes that come and go behind him. Suggesting the rear-screen-projection and collage techniques of artists like Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons, these backdrops alternate lavish shelter-magazine interiors with decrepit loft building exteriors, à la Gordon Matta-Clark, conjuring SoHo’s mutation from artists’ haven to realtor heaven and, more generally, the rise of American materialism. Occasionally a succession of bright clip-art images flit across the character’s face, forming gorgeous masks that momentarily exoticize him.
Finally, he peers out over his magazine to the mellifluous strains of the great French crooner Charles Trenet singing his hit “La Mer.” His eyes turn soft, his mouth and beard are obscured. Suddenly he, too, has mutated, looking almost as sexy as the lovers sounded.
Mr. Wolfson, who specializes in film, installation and performance, is no stranger to mixing high and low culture, entertainment and social commentary. But he’s never pulled it off with such intellectual density or visual power, much less so perfect a balance of seduction and subversion. As the various parts of his explosive little film fly past, they are open to different interpretations but remain consistently sharp-edged and dangerous.