Doors of Deflection, on Sam Pulitzer at Francesca Pia, Zürich

— Daniel Horn

Sam Pulitzer, “Shadow of the Problem as Such”
Galerie Francesca Pia, Zürich, November 25, 2017–January 19, 2018


Was Sam Pulitzer’s Swiss exhibition premiere, “Shadow of the Problem as Such,” what to Hegel was the starry Berlin night sky—that is, neither especially illuminating nor redemptive[1]? On the bright side, one might retort that the shaky purpose of dilettantism—at least as far as art in general and this exhibition specifically are concerned—can happily be traced to the Latin delectare: to delight! Too much tension, too much beer / What the hell am I doing here (2017) was one of the catchier titles—lifted, as it was, from a song by the punk band Blitz—of Pulitzer’s latest drop of captious and colorful drawings, of which there seemed to be copious amounts in this exhibition (twenty to be precise, all from 2017, which now come supplemented by titles that no longer merely repeat but dialogue with the respective pictorial caption, at times bilingually so). Some of these carry-on sized artworks have probably already become seasonal must-haves; others less so, the fate of every new collection. My money is on the Hegel-Blitz triple-combo work mentioned above: too tight and delectable is this semiotic sandwich here for not wanting to bite or fall into the trap—the pastime—of interpretation (my “job,” on this occasion). Indeed, the imaged razor blade piece, its pedantic star/pupil rendering notwithstanding, is somehow punk (or connotes punk, to revisit Roland Barthes’s three-way process of mythification, or maybe even according to Malcolm McLaren; dead, white, male, and arguably obsolete references all). For continental philosophy (Deleuze!) buffs among collectors, curators, art advisors, and everyone else, the blade piece may represent some sly synthesis or dialectical edge delivering, if not Hegel’s poorly viewed “beautiful soul” from the 99-percent-suckerplanet, then at least the kind of distinct acuity or agency people invested in contemporary art (financially, socially, institutionally, academically) habitually award it. “Every established order tends to produce the naturalization of its own arbitrariness,” as Bourdieu put it[2]. Which sort of segues into the conceptual indemnity of Pulitzer’s works, if—and maybe to shine some light on the “Shadow of the Problem as Such”—there are veritable problems being actually alluded to here to begin with (grievance and globalization, surging economic polarity, the violence of the everyday, mnemonic meltdown and systemic schizophrenia, or just performance anxiety and wistfulness for starters).

Pulitzer presents a timely, visually juvenile-to-infantilized concoction where (dis)information (and/or fast-poetry, and/or reified procrastination) can be virtually  stitched together, one sharp-eyed bookmarked page or Google fluke at a time. While the illustration styles he has chosen varies, contingent on the thematically entropic source folder, there is a penchant for a cute realism flirting with a second-to-third-world mural aesthetic that, needless to add, in this instance is not out of material want or cultural lag. The artist as copywriter and art director, whether to mock and challenge authority, to de-skill authenticity, or to abuse auraticization and creativity, is a long-honed guise that has been adopted since the beginning of the twentieth-century, and Pulitzer zips through it all with industrious ease in his apple-pie orderly confections. Chance permutations, negational cut-and-paste nonsense, appropriation techniques, and Conceptualist image-text brainteasers (problems) all come free and at no extra cost with (t)his box of crayons. Which casts exactly what or whose shadow on any backdrop, systemic conditions, or white-cube opening now?

Viewers were confronted with intriguing “portals” separating the hygienic and overprotected dainty drawings, each composed of barely legible lines of texts, the kind of quasi-spatial maneuver that Pulitzer has made his trademark to formalize his output’s extramural reflexiveness and contingency. Personally, from a purely formal angle to begin with, I could have done with only those text works, but that’s a matter of taste, if not of sales. The drawings cry out to be compiled into a nice book, but maybe that would be too quaint and introverted, not to mention dumb, from a business point of view. Actually, they should be blown up and hung inside subway cars or fast-food restaurants or any other semipublic spaces where alienated or just tired individuals take a break to drift off and zone out (corny, but at least situated somewhere else, circulating). The dense and polyphonic content of the texts, however, is evidently not intended for instant consumption and reflection (like proverbs, say, that one finds painted above doorways in a rustic home, or the interventions of a Lawrence Weiner) as this would ask for a discomforting contortion of the viewer’s spine, along with superhuman vision. Rather, text is given a concrete-poetry finish to not only simulate depth but stimulate positioning of one kind or another relative to the work: the space, your fellow spectators, the system, possibilities and limitations, the whole and its parts.

Top: Too much tension, too much beer / What the hell am I doing here, 2017, color pencil and adhesive vinyl on paper, framed, 12.6 x 18.7 x 1.4 in

  1. [1] “Die Sterne, hum! Hum! Die Sterne sind nur ein leuchtender Aussatz am Himmel,” Hegel as quoted by Heinrich Heine and used by Sam Pulitzer in Too much tension, too much beer / What the hell am I doing here (2017). Translation : “The stars, hum! Hum! The stars are nothing but a gleaming leprosy in the sky.”
  2. [2] Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
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