Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Michael Mahalchick

Mahalchick made these awesome new pieces using Crest White Strips! I was reminded of seeing the Gehard Richter retrospective years ago at the Art Institute with my friend Stephanie, and how she was appalled by people checking themselves out in the shiny surfaces of his reflective, minimal paintings!  There is an idea in psychology that seeking out one's reflection in the mirror is actually an act of self-protection and self-affirmation, quelling deeper fears of mortality. I learned that as a young coed from my psychology professor, so it must be true!

According to DFW, there are two types of narcissists; first degree and second degree, and all people belong to either one group or the other. First degree narcissists check themselves out in the mirror unabashedly, completely impervious to who may or may not be watching them. Second degree narcissists steal furtive glimpses at themselves in the mirror when they think no one's watching. 

In all his work, Mahalchick seems to be raising a mirror to his audience. When I look at any of his collages I immediately consider Michael's connection to the ephemera he uses, my own relationship to the objects, as well as the broader socioeconomic implications of the work.  Mahalchick does not sugar coat anything, and in doing so, we become aware of the sickening and inescapable bombardment of commercialism that exists on all levels of our lives, and that is often just as prevalent in the art world. Do we really need more shiny, pretty, polished things to distract us from larger questions of existence? Many would argue yes!! In The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes about how when an artist becomes too slick, polished, and virtuosic in his or her craft, it is a form of lying; a way of concealing who one really is by hiding under the glossy veneer of technique. 
Mahalchick toys with our expectations. Here there are no comforting, decorative cues we are trained to expect in most art, other than a fragment from a stained glass lamp; a symbol of domestic warmth and comfort. Everything else, with the exception of the painted flag stencil, would be typically regarded as trash. In the banal reality of these items, we are forced to reevaluate our notions of value and meaning and how we project these beliefs onto inanimate objects. By placing these discarded articles onto the ubiquitous and clichéd, white canvas, Mahalchick is elevating the value of things that would be otherwise be deemed completely worthless. 

It is important for Mahalchick to maintain the integrity of the original object, which is why he never alters the objects that he uses. He also talked about his interest in the transformation of an ordinary thing into a work of art, which isn't an actual transformation although it gives the illusion of being one. These perceptions belong to the same value game; objects aren't transformed when placed in the arena of art, it's our conception of them that changes.

Like much of Mahalchick's work, this mise-en-scène addresses time fleeting with pathos and humor. Aside from playfully referencing Haim Steinbach and Koons, it also becomes a contemporary momento mori. The antiquated zip disk points to how provisional and ever changing knowledge and ideas are, but it also becomes a metaphor for our own shelf life and impermanence. The psychologist, Howard Gardner, wrote that Freud wasn't a megalomaniac because he was aware of his own mortality. I often think about that line. Any awareness of death has a way of robbing us of our hubris. Feigned humility is repulsive, but a genuine awareness of one's place in the world is the embodiment of resigning oneself to reality. The Buddha was definitely onto something with his belief in the joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.
An incredible piece, an older work of Michael's. The record behind it is The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers.

The best close-up I could take for you, gentle reader! I took about thirty photographs and no matter how much I reconfigured my elbows against my bosoms, the shots still came out blurry!!

Tempus Fugit! Enjoy yourself, it's much later than you think!!

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