A still from Tony Cokes' "1!" (2004) digital video (Scott Pagano / Courtesy…)
Tony Cokes’ short videos, currently on view at REDCAT, expose the hypocrisy of consumer culture, the navel-gazing of the art world and the malfeasance of American politics.
But they are a hard sell, often composed of little more than screen after screen of text set to music, and if you’re lucky, some heavily processed images.
It’s as if Cokes hit on a formula in the late 1980s and never looked back, filling his works with lengthy lists of facts, quotes and musings.
The REDCAT exhibition includes 45 works from the last decade or so, divided into eight themed groups. Each group plays for one week of the exhibition. (All of the videos are available online at tonycokes.redcat.org.)
Viewers who only visit the gallery likely will fail to grasp the breadth of Cokes’ erudition. However, it only takes a few minutes in the dark, cavernous gallery to get a clear sense of his remarkably consistent aesthetic.
Cokes’ idiosyncratic dedication to video as a text-delivery system can be monotonous and overly earnest, and even when it works, it’s a slow burn. The point seems to be not total comprehension but cognitive overload.
As you attempt to read a text, you are also trying to decipher the lyrics of a Morrissey song or understand that a sequence includes only the pauses in one of George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses.
That’s all well and good, but Cokes’ chosen topics are so vital, one wonders if there isn’t some more engaging way to get the message across. Once in a while a nugget of insight will climb out of the fog, but you’re often left wondering if it was worth it.
Gallery at REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A., (213) 237-2800, through Nov. 11. Closed Mondays. www.redcat.org