Date posted: June 21, 2011 Author: jolanta

    Narcissus gazes at his own image in the water and adores it. In his reflection, the man sees both a god and a marble representation of that god. Both worshipper and idol, Narcissus remains forever kneeling at the side of the pool as a figure for our need to see ourselves in our objects of worship.

    Gabriel Cohen and Jolie Signorile. Idol #4, 2010. Found doll’s head, nylon, peacock neck feathers. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Fredericks & Mae.



    Kate Meng Brassel

    Narcissus gazes at his own image in the water and adores it. In his reflection, the man sees both a god and a marble representation of that god. Both worshipper and idol, Narcissus remains forever kneeling at the side of the pool as a figure for our need to see ourselves in our objects of worship.

    Small figurines, female and fertile, irrevocably decontextualized. The so-called “Venus statues,” unearthed at sites from Europe to Oceania, have a prehistoric provenance that definitively blocks our access to these early artists’ intention. Intuitively, we feel that we know that these objects were created for worship. This very intuition—whether correct or not—is a crucial one. It recognizes our need to venerate something plastic and like ourselves; it recognizes our impulse to recreate ourselves in an enduring, non-mortal form. The idol provides a locus for the projection and exploration of our own attributes. We examine it, magnify it, leave and return to find it unchanged and unaffected, so unlike our own bodies.

    “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” (Genesis 1: 26-27) The Hebrews constructs a god who makes man in his own image to worship him, a construction that validates men’s own existence. Walking images of god multiply by the thousands to reflect and venerate their creator. Other idols are forbidden in this closed system of mirrors.

    American culture reiterates the worship of the self-image. This worship is reinvented through the intense importance of the individual in our society. The self-made individual, a man who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps has been our ideal since Lincoln emerged from his log cabin. The pioneer, the cowboy, the entrepreneur, the maverick ego that makes its mark without a map, Steve Jobs, Jay-Z: these have been the American ideals. The history of the American idol has been the increasing democratization of the capacity for individual exceptionalism in the popular imagination.

    David J. Merritt, Modern Idol, 2010. Unfired clay and bronze spray paint, 10 x 12 x 8 in. Courtesy of the artist/


    With the liberation of women into the public sphere, femininity, too, makes its self-made mark. The 1990s brought us the Divas, the Divine Women, who are significantly soloists singing their ballads, belting their interiority for mass audiences. The public responded by immediately recognizing its position in this worshipful configuration.

    The last ten years have been the decade of American Idol, a program with unprecedented viewership and pervasive resonance through television, music, and the cult of personality. American Idol capitalizes on three essential paradoxes: The performer strives to excel the mass, with the goal of being accepted by the mass and absorbed into mass culture. The audience watches the self-making of the exceptional individual while engaging in a homogenizing cultural phenomenon. The resultant Carrie Underwood myth purports to be a point of identification for viewers who never were farm girls and never will be pop stars. As Judge Simon has observed, “Fortunately or unfortunately, everyone is genuine, and they believe they can be the next American Idol.”

    An idol provides a self-resembling site for the projection of ideology. The artist accesses and reinvents systems of idolatry in ways that reveal the evolution and relevance of worship. At this moment, how does the artist in New York respond to the idea of the idol? In this informal investigation, two sometimes divergent, sometimes entwined currents emerge. We witness the impulse to secede from the mass-cultural idol industry: to both discover and construct a space that is epistemologically prior to our everyday, a space that is pre-language, pre-gender, pre-religion. We witness also the mastery and reinvention of contemporary idolatry: the harnessing of the force of mass iconography to show its own abstraction and parallel existence.

    Nick Paparone’s sculptures and video give us a structure and development for contemporary idolatry, in real time. Ian Warren’s performance pieces enact an abstraction of worship and masculinity; the artist both exposes and engages in the human instinct to be divine, from Babel to the U.S. of A. The structure and history of theater performance—since the origins of tragedy in ritual contexts—provides a locus for the rediscovery of communal worship in a post-religious culture. Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith’s performance of Epyllion integrated the audience, who responded both instinctively and formally to the ritual that was unfolding before them in dance, dirt, bread, chalk, and water. Puppets made from husks and clay materialized as objects of worship, focusing the audience-participants’ attention towards the elemental, supernatural, and pre-human. Sam Clagnaz shows us how to construct and also to become an idol enshrined in the stuff of our own experiences. Patricia Anne Mandel’s bronzes are loaded with the painful consequences of Hollywood-worship. David J. Merritt turns the idea of the bronze idol on its head, providing us with an ironic yet personal view of the mutability of our objects of worship. And, finally, Fredericks & Mae creates idols for your personal use that are ahistorically archaic and futuristic. You will imagine that you stumbled upon these transporting pieces in your alternate reality.

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