Glen Fogel’s apocalyptic moment

Glen Fogel, installation shot of “My Apocalyptic Moment,” 2012. Image courtesy of PICA.

My Apocalyptic Moment, by New-York-based artist Glen Fogel, and currently on view at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, is a show about impact and identity, mediated by desire. Projections of wedding rings fill an empty loft; love letters are reproduced at five feet tall; a model’s collaged portrait hangs on a rooftop in the middle of the city. Fogel works at the scale of advertisements, of billboards and banners. However the content, and the source material, is the handheld and the personal.

“With Me… You” is a five-channel video installation that documents the wedding rings within Fogel’s family, beginning with his great grandmother’s ring and ending with his sister’s. Fogel filmed the rings in HD video, following the aesthetics of the Home Shopping Network; the rings were placed on a turntable and the footage put through a star filter, making them glisten and sparkle. It’s a twenty-minute loop, at the end of which the videos fade, and fluorescent lights come on (which are spaced evenly and consistently along the walls). Reviews of Fogel often comment on the “hypnotizing” nature of Fogel’s videos. More accurately, I think the videos are cold—they’re polished, streamlined, and absent of any marks that might suggest the handmade. The maker seems absent from the art; the work seems authorless.

Glen Fogel, “With Me… You,” 2011, 5-channel video installation, fluorescent lights, 20 minute 4 second loop. Dimensions variable. Image courtesy of PICA.

That is, until you pick up a humble piece of takeaway literature, placed at a table near the videos. It is a copy of a 2010 letter written from the artist to FedEx, and is the first detection of a self-possessed (and emotional) voice in the show. After Fogel filmed his mother’s ring, he opted to return it via mail. The ring was shipped from Brooklyn to Fogel’s mother, in Denver, and insured for $6000. The package arrived empty. “The ring is irreplaceable—the stones and band can be replaced, but the history cannot,” Fogel wrote. It seems noteworthy that this piece of paper, easily overlooked and essentially meant to be thrown away, gives so much insight into the installation; it operates as an asterisked footnote, at the bottom of the commercial appearance of the videos (indeed, a reminder to “read the fine print”). Without it, you wouldn’t be aware of the history of the rings, of their relationship to the artist, or the labor and trouble caused in making these slick videos.

Fogel also includes a series of photorealistic paintings, commissioned by himself and painted in China. They are giant reproductions of love letters, written to Fogel when he was in his teens, by three admirers. You’d expect the letters to be dishy, but they really aren’t. The language in them is fluff, like the melodramatic words that drift from an idle mind stuck in study hall, or a suicide note from a soap opera, i.e. non-specific: “Glen Fogel, what magic and enchantment that name is to me, now more than ever before…You have dropped me deeper into heartbreak than I have ever fallen before.”

Glen Fogel, “From Jamie (August 20, diptych),” 2011, oil on canvas, 62 x 37.75 inches. Image courtesy of Callicoon Fine Arts.

Reading the enlarged letters isn’t as interesting as considering why Fogel still has them in the first place, i.e., why we all, probably, still have letters like these (most likely in a box hidden in the back of a closet). If the letters are at all uncomfortable to read, it’s because of the scale, not the content. Everywhere else in contemporary life, imagery at this scale is always deceptive—they are advertisements, persuasion is their MO.

The most isolated piece in the show, “Call me and we can buy love together #101,” hangs on the roof. From afar it looks like the portrait of a pretty vampire. Get closer and you see that it’s actually a portrait of Ethiopian model Liya Kebede, only her eye is pasted inside her mouth, and her left eye is shrunken. It’s comical, slightly unnerving, and grotesque. On the one hand it’s reminiscent of graffiti (e.g. the classic Sharpie mustache); on the other hand, it’s reminiscent of John Baldessari’s Cubist disregard for facial forms, in which he takes a nose and flips it upside down. The work of Baldessari seems alive in the letter paintings as well—recalling both Baldessari’s text paintings and his commissioned, photorealistic paintings of pointing fingers.

Glen Fogel, “Call me and we can buy love together #101,” 2012, vinyl banner, 144x120 inches. Image courtesy of PICA.

In fact, all of the work in My Apocalyptic Moment gives the impression of finger-pointing—but of a finger detached from a personality. Glen Fogel uses a lot of biographical material, but somehow escapes any personal or psychic reveal; it’s like he picks up a mirror, holds it up to himself, but somehow avoids reflection. My Apocalyptic Moment left me thinking of the 2009 documentary titled We Live in Public, about the rise and fall of Internet pioneer Josh Harris. The film addresses our complacency and even compulsive desire to relinquish private information on the Internet and into the public (see: Twitter). Much like the film, My Apocalyptic Moment leaves you questioning how one crafts an identity in a world with so many voices.

My Apocalyptic Moment is on view at PICA through June 30.