Time Out New York / Oct 2–8, 2008

Olav Westphalen

Unprepared visitors to Olav Westphalen’s current show may be forgiven for thinking twice about entering: From outside Maccarone’s glass doors, the figures of a cameraman and reporter, linked by an umbilical microphone lead, hint that foot traffic might not be welcome. It’s only inside that the pair are revealed as a sculpture—and a crude Styrofoam one at that. Untitled (statues), part of Westphalen’s series “Waiting for the Barbarians,” forms a neat introduction to the German provocateur’s meditation on the power and inanity of the media.

Accompanying the faux news crew is a set of large works on paper depicting, in shades of gray ink and acrylic, five fallen monuments. A dig at Ozymandian vanity, the pictures’ subjects range from fallen ancient Roman columns to a recently toppled statue of Columbus in Caracas. Yet it’s not only the individuals and regimes represented by specific hunks of marble at which Westphalen takes aim, but the absurdity of our faith in representation itself.

“One Day,” the other series on show, confirms the suspicion. Here, Westphalen copies out every photograph from an issue of the International Herald Tribune, again in washy ink and acrylic. These 64 drawings depict a range of events, places and people. A few are recognizable (a haunted Tony Blair); most look generic—an impression that Westphalen’s indifferent technique only exacerbates. What’s striking are the ways in which subject and medium grate against each other, generating a fascinating confusion around images of authority and the authority of the image.

Image: View of "Olav Westphalen," 2008