The New Order of Mike Zahn

Originally Posted on September 27, 2017 by kulturebite

“Please don’t let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I’ll walk alone
I’ll find my soul as I go home
Oh, you’ve got green eyes
Oh, you’ve got blue eyes”
New Order

If an occult non-site has opened up beyond the sterile aesthetic strategy of appropriation art, Mike Zahn inhabits it as the sole occupant. Although appropriation art as practiced by Sturtevant, Levin, Bidlo and a few others offered us nothing assomething, in reality that something became nothing more than the institutional posturing of big ticket highly finished manufactured goods. Because these artists attempted to go beyond artistic originality itself to some uncharted area, they could never hold the concept of originality important, let alone sacred. It just wasn’t an issue. They always seemed to suggest in their work that unsatisfying and convoluted theoretical assumption that by not having an original artistic practice they were practicing originality. As it turns out, that uncharted area appropriation art discovered was never satisfactory. It was just another area now totally excepted by the very economy and exchange systems of the art world they all seemed to be implicitly critical of initially. It’s just strange to be left with the possibility that artists could archive or even surpass the notoriety of the very artists he or she was appropriating. This means going forward, there will be plenty of wall texts and additional information sheets encased in plastic explaining to viewers in contemporary art museums around the globe that the toilet as conceptual art they are looking at is not the toilet as conceptual art by the French artist Marcel Duchamp.

Mike Zahn’s recent exhibition entitled Adapter_Adapted & etc. now on view at Greenspon present seven recent works that reopen many of the above mentioned  propositions once in total vogue in the theoretical mainstream of art discourse. But this time thankfully it will be different. Where once repeated museum viewing, gallery visiting, glossy art books and trade magazines produced an abundance of source material for artists to copy, pilfer and steal, a new technological world view is totally upon us.

It is therefore still quite astonishing to walk into this gallery and find what seem to be two perfectly executed & identical Peter Halley paintings titled Adapter_Adapted  adjacent to two perfectly executed & identical “paint by number” paintings of Kittens.

One should know that for 10 years, Mike Zahn was Halley’s studio assistant. He has the complete technical understanding and facility to produce “Peter Halley” paintings. One could probably say Zahn himself actually painted the original Peter Halley painting this diptych is based on. Because he probably did. But this is not just post-appropriation, it is a doubling strategy and a superb example of aesthetic mimetic behavior. Humorously, his paint by numbers Kitty Cat paintings Oh It’s the Last Time/Oh It’s the Last Time which is based on the title of a New Order song references the subtle difference proposed by the song itself. That difference, “Oh, you’ve got green eyes, Oh, you’ve got blue eyes” Fuckin’ awesome.

Like Elaine Sturtevant’s early 80’s exhibition at White Columns on Spring St., Sherrie Levine’s Broad Stripes exhibition at Jay Gorney or the Bidlo Picasso exhibition at the Leo Castelli lower gallery (all exhibition I visited ) Zahn’s exhibition is in the same rarefied  league. His exhibition is a complex but subtle presentation of references referencing themselves well into infinity. From the large hot pink painting named after Walter Benjamin’s The Doctrine of the Similar text, to the doubling, tripleing and even quadrupling of the letter “A” found through out the gallery installation. I found it once & once again on a non-functioning neon light and adhesive vinyl wall work entitled BAGS. Again & again on small provisionally made workman’s wood ladder and yes, even again on small painting resting on a washcloth leaning against the wall. The entire exhibition is a discovery field.

If mimetic play opens up the possibility of occult readings, Zahn has re-energized the tattered and twisted sacred pathos which those early appropriation artists choose to ignore or were just too cool for school to acknowledge. And like all appearances of the sacred or the occult, this recent work functions as a contemporary simulacra for the realm of the ecstatic.

His 11 panel acrylic on canvas installation entitled The Faculty of Memesis is a selection of painted squares based on the available colors of the iPhone each surrounded by a white border.


It all seems to imply a Necronomicon paradox, ‘it’s not escapism if there’s no escape.’


                                                                                                               Mark Dagley 9/27/2017

One Comment

  • Darrell Groves

    Thank you for featuring Mike Zahn. His work validated what I attempted to teach him and his fellow classmates. Mike is deserving of your recognition of his works. He is an artist who has articulated and perused his vision, and you and the art world have taken notice.

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