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Issue 120 January-February 2009 RSS

Rob Pruitt

Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York, USA

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Rob Pruitt, 'iPruitt' (2008), installation view

Rob Pruitt’s latest exhibition, ‘iPruitt’, was a summation of the artist’s own recent past, comprising three major components: a monumental assemblage of photographs, taken with his iPhone, and a two-part sculpture installation made up of leaves and tombstones. The work began in August 2007, when Pruitt, a self-proclaimed technophobe, purchased an iPhone. This seductive, sleek gadget changed everything for him: using it as a camera, he found a way ‘to make art on autopilot’. Among the virtues he extolled in his apostolic introduction to the project were an intoxicating sense of freedom and an overwhelming feeling of possibility. The show captures this exuberance in its physical, over-the-top manifestation. Pruitt employed the full span of both interior and exterior gallery walls as a surface on which to install, chronologically, a visual journal beginning in the late summer of 2007 and running until the exhibition’s opening in September 2008. Printed at 61x46 cm (vertical) and 61x81 cm (horizontal), the pictures were hung in a grid pattern that covered every available surface, brick-like, and conveyed a steady stream of information through approximately 2,600 prints.

Within this collection Pruitt focused on a few salient themes, notably iconography, community, commerce, politics, nature and sex. This topicality intimated a significant editing process, but remarkably, nearly 85 percent of the pictures he shot were utilized for the show (the complete year’s work of 3,050 photographs is arranged by month on the exhibition’s companion website, http://www.ipruitt.net). Through the images we journey with Pruitt from Graceland to Disneyland, stopping along the way to visit friends, see exhibitions and contemplate the natural world. As a result, while many of the images are banal or irrelevant for viewers unfamiliar with Pruitt’s immediate circle, all reflect the classic Pop sensibility for which he is known. His steady blur of high-class with lowbrow, and public with private, is summed up in the few photographs that he chose to frame: Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World (1866); a stranger’s blue jean crotch captured, presumably incognito, on an airport shuttle bus (also the poster for the exhibition); a triptych of his partner, the artist Jonathan Horowitz, sleeping; two smashed Halloween pumpkins; and graffiti on a concrete wall, reading ‘Paris Hilton was here’.

The dense accumulation and straightforward method of installation (tacked inside, wheat-pasted outside) further signified that Pruitt’s show was more focused on exploring the act of image-making than on the formal characteristics (composition, clarity) of individual photographs. As such, Pruitt’s pictures are not so much art works as a collective statement about assigning value (both personally and culturally) and a musing about memory. Moreover, just as the selections reflect the current historical moment, so Pruitt’s embrace of the Macintosh brand puts an indelible time stamp on his work. Inevitable obsolescence is part and parcel of technological progress, and at this level ‘iPruitt’ was elegiac.

A nostalgic reading was also encouraged by the sculptures on view. Piles of leaves fashioned from pages of recent newspapers as well as art, popular and pornographic periodicals covered the floor. Craft technique appears frequently in Pruitt’s work, as with the glitter employed in his panda bear paintings, and here the cut-paper forms (New Fall Colors, 2008) invited flights of youthful fancy. Recalling so many elementary school classrooms, visitors had the autumnal pleasure of kicking through handmade foliage as it swirled through the gallery, uplifted by several industrial blowers.

Set amid the flora were tombstones dedicated to recently deceased celebrities and artists, which, though objectively sombre, were not sorrowful memorials. For Anna Nicole Smith, Pruitt conceived a mirror grave crowned in light bulbs. Jason Rhodes’ headstone was rendered in plywood and neon, while Yves Saint-Laurent’s was shrouded in black. In the viewing-room, Pruitt placed an urn for his father’s ashes. Like the iPhotos on the walls, there were scant divisions between intensely personal subjects and topics of global chatter. 

Such cheekiness was reminiscent of Pruitt’s project ‘101 ART IDEAS YOU CAN DO YOURSELF’ (1999), which presented a comedic alternative to the serious tenor of most text-based Conceptual art. For instance, Idea No. 38: ‘Keep a blank tape in your VCR and press record whenever you see something that interests you’, an ideological precursor to ‘iPruitt’ (along with Andy Warhol and his Sony tape-recorder, an influence the artist openly acknowledges). Pruitt’s decision, however, to inject notes of gravitas into the final installation is an apt reflection of the contemporary zeitgeist that his photos so succinctly summarize: that fame, opportunity and prosperity are ever on the brink of a fall.

Katie Sonnenborn

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First published in
Issue 120, January-February 2009

by Katie Sonnenborn

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