New York

Jaime Davidovich: Adventures of the Avant-Garde at the Bronx Museum

Spread about a large rear gallery at the Bronx Museum, this exhibition surveys various bodies of work by the Argentine American artist Jaime Davidovich. At the entrance of the show, alongside the explanatory wall text, a small monitor atop a pedestal plays the video that lends the exhibition its title, Adventures of the Avant-Garde. In this 1981 short loop, Davidovich takes on a role that was familiar to him: the quasi-documentarian, the ad hoc journalist, the inquisitive artist with a camcorder. We see Davidovich, clad in a private investigator’s tan trench coat and holding a wired microphone, foray into the world, in search of the meaning of the aspirational term avant-garde. Taking his quest for knowledge to the streets of Iowa City (of all unlikely places), Davidovich speaks with an artist, a professor, a museum security guard, and people on the street. At the end of the roughly ten-minute video clip, Davidovich admits to being “more confused now than ever.”

Jaime Davidovich. Blue/Red/Yellow, 1974; three video installations; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Henrique Faria, New York.

Jaime Davidovich. Blue/Red/Yellow, 1974; three video installations; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Henrique Faria, New York.

Adventures of the Avant-Garde provides an apt title for this survey of Davidovich’s work. Taken primarily from the 1970s and ’80s, the works in the exhibition offer a portrait of the artist: an adventurer with an idiosyncratic vision, a quick sense of irony, and a populist approach to artistic practice. Davidovich is also remembered as Dr. Videovich, his mad-scientist, television-obsessed alter ego, who anchored the long-running public-access TV show The Live! Show. In terms of the art world, Davidovich was an early and eager adopter of the televisual, capturing The Live! Show weekly between 1977 and 1984 and helping to form both Cable SoHo and the Artists’ Television Network. Hosting his half-hour variety show while seated behind the red nameplate of Dr. Videovich—“a specialist curing TV addiction”—Davidovich hosted artists, performers, and comedians; sold television-related trinkets (“videokitsch”); took viewers’ phone calls; and discussed everything from art to contemporary politics, all through the same speculative, somewhat distorted point of view.

Jaime Davidovich. Dr. Videovich Photograph, 1982; C-print; 20 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Henrique Faria, New York.

Jaime Davidovich. Dr. Videovich Photograph, 1982; C-print; 20 x 16 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Henrique Faria, New York.

At the Bronx Museum, while some of Davidovich’s video works can be watched on a pair of couches placed in the gallery, the real contribution of the exhibition to this small slice of art history is found in the paper-, object-, and tape-based works that appear throughout the installation. These include Davidovich’s storyboard- and comic-book-inspired drawings of a character, TeeVee, a sweet but slightly acerbic cartoon television—one that talks back and watches the watchers. The exhibition also includes Davidovich’s cabinet of televisual curiosities, a collection of “videokitsch” housed in a bright yellow display case. Drawings for The Live! Show memorabilia (like T-shirts and mugs) and repetitious pencil sketches of silver-screened TVs fill one large wall, implying that Dr. Videovich’s television obsession may be shared by the artist himself.

Jaime Davidovich. New York Project Queens 65th Street Station, 1975; tape on photograph; 26 1/4 x 22 1/4 in. Private Collection.

Jaime Davidovich. New York Project Queens 65th Street Station, 1975; tape on photograph; 26 1/4 x 22 1/4 in. Private Collection.

What is it about TV, though, that Davidovich and his cohort of like-minded artists found so captivating, so full of promise? The impulse to document, broadcast, entertain, and engage across airwaves becomes crystalline in the second half of the exhibition, which focuses not on Davidovich’s contributions to artist-made TV but on his more understated insertions and interventions in the public space. Using various colors and sizes of adhesive tape (elsewhere, much has been made of the artist’s affinity for both adhesive and magnetic tape), Davidovich also created works that acted directly on the surfaces of public spaces, covering strategic sections of buildings, signs, stairs, or roads with pieces of tape, creating architectural doubles and interruptions. One of these works is installed on the rear wall of the gallery, glossy white tape stretching from floor to ceiling, with ripples and folds creating an uneven surface. Other projects are seen via their documentation, in sketches and photographs or on screens. Davidovich’s Blue, Red, and Yellow (1974) plays on three matching televisions: The artist’s hands are seen covering the black-and-white snow of these analog TVs with bands of blue, red, and yellow tape, creating a triptych of primary-color monochromes. In other works, segments of tape cover parts of a subway sign or a section of an interior baseboard; the colors, folds, and blips create breaks in the otherwise ordered pattern of visual information.

These experiments in tape shed light on Davidovich’s bolder (or at the very least, louder) televisual works included in Adventures of the Avant-Garde. The consistency across Davidovich’s various projects is an interest in extension, interruption, and integration into spaces of the everyday. These include the private living room—a space dictated, both now and in the heyday of the artist’s experiments in TV, by the hegemony of the screen—as well as public places. Davidovich seems equally eager to break into both spaces, through the sometimes absurd broadcast gestures of Dr. Videovich or the more subtle disruption proposed by the adhesive-tape projects. Davidovich’s avant-garde aim seems to be to enter, break apart, and question the passivity of our vision and the orthodoxy of our watching.

Jaime Davidovich: Adventures of the Avant-Garde is on view at the Bronx Museum through June 14, 2015.

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