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Into the deep of concept

July 17, 2009|Holly Myers

The Dutch-born conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared in 1975 while attempting to cross the Atlantic in a small sailboat for a work titled "In Search of the Miraculous," left a slender, quixotic oeuvre -- films and photographs, primarily -- that's grown only more resonant with the passing of time. It's brought him to an almost cultish degree of reverence today, particularly in the eyes of other artists.

Homages abound. A cursory Web search yields no fewer than 15, assembled on a site devoted to Ader's work. Most involve young artists reenacting one or another of his candid, intensely physical actions -- falling from the roof of a house, dangling from a tree branch, crying in front of a camera -- as if engaging in some cathartic rite of art historical passage.

"Rarely Seen Bas Jan Ader Film," by New York-based artist David Horvitz -- the centerpiece of his exhibition of the same name at 2nd Cannons Publications -- is one of these homages: a five-second video featuring a grainy black-and-white film clip of a man riding a bicycle into the ocean -- an allusion to Ader's famous film "Fall II," in which he rides a bicycle into an Amsterdam canal, as well as to the nature of his presumed death.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, July 18, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Art exhibition: A review of David Horvitz's art exhibition at 2nd Cannons Publications in the Around the Galleries column in Friday's Calendar misspelled the name of the band Xiu Xiu, which the artist is known for photographing, as Xui Xui.

Horvitz's aim in the piece goes beyond catharsis, however, to address broader questions of authorship and influence, as well as to pose a subtle but pointed critique of the economic ideologies governing visual art and electronic media. His methods are good-natured and playful but canny. The resulting project is a succinct conceptual puzzle that channels the spirit of his predecessor and his predecessor's then-peers, Bruce Nauman and Chris Burden.

Horvitz posted his video on YouTube in 2007 under the false aegis of Patrick Painter Gallery, which represents Ader's estate, characterizing it as a posthumously discovered work. The gallery objected, and the video was deleted. An "exchange of e-mails" transpired, according to the 2nd Cannons press release, but Horvitz apparently won: The video is up now, under a slightly different name, along with a handful of somewhat befuddled comments.

The exhibition presents the video in a hypnotic loop on a monitor on the floor of the gallery's closet-sized space, along with two additional components: a flip-book version of the video, published by 2nd Cannons, and a fold-out newsprint poster emblazoned on one side with an image of the sea taken from a beach in southern England -- the expected destination of Ader's ill-fated final journey -- and, on the other, a long, first-person passage of text describing a trip to Coney Island. (In this and in other recent works, Horvitz displays a fascination for the phenomenology of travel and geographical distance.)

In a clear nod to both the art market and the entertainment industry -- two industries struggling with varying degrees of success to uphold the terms of an object-based economy in the face of rapidly evolving circumstances -- he goes out of his way to make the video freely available: on You Tube, on his own website and on the gallery's website. The flip book is cheap ($10) and the fold out free.

A zip file, available for download on Horvitz's website, contains the video as well as the image of the sea, along with instructions for printing. "Both the video and the image can be used freely," he states. "You do not need my permission for duplicating, exhibiting, publishing, hosting, etc."

Horvitz underscores the ideological contrast by providing a link, in the show's press release, to a lengthy 2004 Art in America article detailing the status of Ader's estate in the years since his disappearance -- including a critical account of Patrick Painter's posthumous editioning of previously unprinted works. One wonders, indeed, whether Horvitz wasn't hoping for more of a fight from the gallery in the YouTube squabble. What remains nonetheless is a reverent emphasis on the almost mystical purity of Ader's practice.

Horvitz's indebtedness, in this and in other recent works, to the Conceptualists of Ader's generation is so great as to border, at times, on sheer imitation -- and it may be that this young artist, who has one foot in the indie rock world (directing music videos, touring with and photographing the band Xui Xui), has yet to find his own footing.

There's heart to the work, however, and a kind of shrewd integrity that leaves little doubt that he will.

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2nd Cannons Publications, 510 Bernard St., Los Angeles, (323) 267-0650, through Aug. 8. Fridays and Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

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Splendid images from then, now

"The Splendour of Fear," at Michael Benevento Gallery, is a rarity among summer group shows: thoughtful, substantive and elegant, with a strong selection of individual works, any one of which more than justifies a visit.

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