Artforum / January 2011
GEOMETRIC ABSTRACTION WILL SAVE AMERICA, reads the eponymous
text of one of Chris Caccamise’s 2010 constructions, fourteen of which were on display in the artist’s fifth New York solo exhibition. A bold claim indeed. But while Uncle Sam’s travails may have led some to trumpet yet again the death of irony, such reports are, as ever, greatly exaggerated. Neither an abstract revival nor Caccamise’s works themselves—in spite of their abundant charm—seems likely to make much impression on the country at large. Caccamise’s show has the visual appeal of a well-designed toy and the verbal cleverness of a hipster T-shirt, and it presses all the right historical-critical buttons, but it is also just a bit too amiable.
Caccamise has made all the works here in the same way, assembling
three-dimensional letterforms and supporting structures from smooth Bristol paper, painting them in glossy enamel (and sometimes matte Flashe) paint, and wall-mounting them at eye level. Picture an architect’s model of the Hollywood sign or a miniature version of Robert Indiana’s Love, 1970. Most are brightly colored, often with edges in contrasting hues or shades, though a couple stick to simple black-and-white, and one (Neon Lights After Artschwager) is tinted only on its verso, the fluorescent colors reflecting onto the surrounding wall. And while all the works are clearly “things made by one person by hand” (the line crops up in
Roberta Smith, named for the New York Times critic), they still evoke Jack
Pierson’s recombined fragments of reclaimed commercial signage.
Caccamise’s project also evokes Pierson’s in terms other than the purely
technical; the tone of his texts—epigrammatic, romantic, and artfully self-aware in their deployment of idiom and cliché—frequently resembles that of the older artist’s. God Only Knows—in which the titular phrase is spelled out in orange, yellow, blue, and purple capitals arranged on a silver armature so that they project from the wall at various distances—is perhaps the clearest example of this. But the likes of Communication Breakdown—in which the two words divided from one another across a gallery corner—and the deliberately ungrammatical I Only Have Eye for You (for Justin Lieberman) hinge on a similar mixture of wit
Caccamise purports to mine a wide range of sources for his texts, so even if we accept the necessity of self-reflexive commentary, it remains difficult to understand the utility of recycling an overfamiliar Situationist slogan for the umpteenth time—even if the once-rousing phrase UNDER THE PAVING STONES, THE BEACH appears, in the artist’s work, to break apart in different ways when viewed from different angles. Smoke and Flames (rendered, in illustrative shades of gray and red, as SMOKE+FLAMES) is more satisfying, somehow, if only because the reference is less culturally specific (and even if it feels more than a little self-conscious in its bid for poetic distillation).
Caccamise’s show finally prompted nothing but such conflicted reactions. His work has an undeniable immediacy, but sometimes comes across as rather too eager to be liked. Its school-project materials and technique make it accessible, but its more gratuitous insidebaseball subtitular name-checks (I Am History [After Peter Halley], and the like) pull counterproductively in the opposite direction. And
its allusions to universality (THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES; THE EMOTIONS YOU ARE FEELING RIGHT NOW), whether tongue-in-cheek or straightforward in intent, manage to be both memorably sloganlike and just a little bland.
Image: Chris Caccamise, Geometric Abstraction Will Save America, 2010.