"Paul Pfeiffer" at the MIT List Visual Arts Center
6 February – 6 April 2003
Nearly covering an entire wall of the back gallery at the MIT List Visual Arts Center is Paul Pfeiffer’s Morning After the Deluge, 2002. A video projection of a glowing, immobile sun hovers dead center, while the horizon, thick and hazy, drifts downwards from top to bottom edge in a continuous, slow loop. Although the loop structures many of Pfeiffer’s better-known works – including The Pure Products Go Crazy, 1998, and Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon), 1999, for which he won the first Bucksbaum Award at the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial in 2000 – it is only now that it is made to explicitly reference video, the medium with which the artist is most often associated.
Indeed, Morning After the Deluge locates Pfeiffer’s oeuvre within a tradition that can trace its roots to the 1970s, in the attempts of structuralist filmmakers to locate the specificity of a medium that, in its aggregation of recording studio, transmission signal, and monitor, seemed to lack any sort of describable specificity. One is reminded of Michael Snow’s Wavelength, a continuous zoom towards a small photograph in the artist’s loft lasting 45 minutes, or Joan Jonas’ Vertical Roll, in which an image on a monitor keeps slipping upwards, as if the tracking had not been properly set. With eloquence and economy, Morning After the Deluge combines Snow’s temporal dilation with Jonas’ analytic dissection of film into sequence of separate frames. Not only is the movement of the horizon line extremely slow, but it presents itself as precisely a kind of filmic “roll” downwards.
Morning After the Deluge depicts sunrise and sunset simultaneously, conjoined at a single horizon. Combining opposing temporal moments (morning and evening), it also fuses two distinct spatial locales: East and West coasts. The piece’s rigorous structure is consistent with the visual universe of Pfeiffer’s other works: the circumscribed field of the basketball court (Race Riot, 2001) or boxing ring (Corner Piece, 2003), governed by clear rules and populated by characters on opposing teams. In this sense, despite the frequent references popular culture, Pfeiffer’s works possess an internal logic, are indeed self-sufficient and modernist. In Live Evil, 2003, a riveting image of Michael Jackson dancing is split in half with one side mirroring the other, echoing the titular palindrome (l-i-v-e-v-i-l).
Perhaps the most significant contribution of this exhibition, jointly curated by Jane Farver of the MIT List Visual Arts Center and Dominic Molon of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, is its indication of Pfeiffer’s expansion beyond this closed, modernist universe. With varying degrees of success, Pfeiffer experiments with a gamut of display strategies: black-rimmed vitrines, silver-coated television monitors, projections. Clearly not as well thought out as the videos themselves, these strategies nonetheless intimate a rich future. Dutch Interior, 2001, is a complex installation consisting of a dollhouse behind a wall, a projection onto that wall of its interior, and an inconspicuous peephole through which one can visually access the actual dollhouse interior. Along with Morning After the Deluge, it suggests the intelligence and structure that a talented artist can bring to bear on not only video but installation art as well.