By Emily Wilkerson, via pelicanbomb.com
Two Napoleon Bonapartes face each other. Stripped of their usual prestige, their milky white busts emerge from clear pink bases and lean in for a tender kiss. Self-loving, self-reflexive, or perhaps self-deprecating, Stephen Paul Day’s “Blame It On Vegas: Collecting Meta-Modern” offers many opportunities for similarly complicated readings. As both curator and artist, Day forms the exhibition’s thesis by creating and gathering an odd variety of objects from historically and geographically distant places. These objects share a palette of white, bronze, and pastels but the harmony ends there. Wavering between humor and novelty, with a hint of disgust, the viewer is taxed with making sense of Day’s assemblage of the “metamodern.”
Challenged to describe the state of society today, Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker defined metamodernism as an oscillation between “modern enthusiasm and postmodern irony.” They posit, in their 2010 essay “Notes on Metamodernism,” that society—no longer confined to modernism or postmodernism—has not entered a distinct new cultural state but rather swings like a pendulum, a “both-neither” dynamic between the two. Digging further into sociological transformations, the exhibition also nods to Learning from Las Vegas, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s 1972 text on the Las Vegas Strip. Observing the city’s banal parking lots and glittering signs, the two proposed a more responsive role of the architect, one that considers populism rather than heroicism.
Describing the exhibition as a wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, Day attempts to mine these theories and their implied spaces of fluctuation. Amy Mackie, in her short essay on the exhibition, draws parallels between Day’s curatorial strategy and those used at sites such as the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles and the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. These comparisons are most pronounced in Day’s Aura, 2013, which includes, among other objects, a copy of Mein Kampf alongside slave shackles, a zebra ankle, a plastic anatomical heart, and a crumbling architectural model with a Las Vegas sign peering out from the back. Placed equidistant within a glass-front case, each object is loaded with meaning, but the relationships seem arbitrary—at most an empty provocation.
Just across the gallery, a pair of humping rabbits on the floor, titled A Theory of Everything, 2013, is positioned nearby a bookshelf made of cast and printed epoxy and wood, appearing as if coated in wax to be preserved for the future. On this shelf, one finds titles like Arrogant Pricks, Utopia, Romantic Conceptualism or The Abuse of Butterflies, Metamodern Art, and again The Theory of Everything. If there is meaning to be found in this exhibition, it might be contained therein. Bearing in mind Day’s multiple references to Napoleon, Ahab, and Hitler in the exhibition, the source of much power in today’s culture is information, or rather quips—the name-dropping of Twitter, the links and witty one-liners of Facebook. The subjects in Day’s exhibition don’t fit together perfectly, nor are they meant to do so. They are pointedly superficial, merely the suggestion of depth contained in an atmosphere where tragedy, comedy, vulgarity, religion, nature, and architecture are brought together in a clean, white box. To use the words of Vermeulen and van den Akker, Day has created an aesthetically pleasing but truly “a-topic metaxis”—here, there, and nowhere all at once.