Mike Zahn

Adapter_Adapted &etc.

September 26 – November 4, 2017

Greenspon Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Mike Zahn.

Mike Zahn’s layered tableau, Adapter_Adapted &etc., casts a unique ‘masterwork’ within systems regulated by authorship, authenticity, access, and appraisal. The exhibition presents an experiential picture-within-a-picture of the second order, and is informed by the displacement of agency within a synthetic environment.

Zahn’s large-format diptych on view, Adapter_Adapted, is a rendering and/or re-rendering of Peter Halley’s Adapter. Halley’s gleaming canvas of 1998 in metallic silver, bronze, gold, black, copper, stainless, and gunmetal gray was sold at auction through Phillips in 2009. Zahn, Halley’s former studio assistant, dragged a thumbnail of that work off the auction house website to his desktop, printed the JPEG on standard letter-size paper, and fabricated the image twice, each to approximate scale save the boxy volume of Adapter’s deep stretcher. The framing edge in Zahn’s version becomes a thin white border, somewhat like that seen on an old-fashioned photo, or a new-fangled Instagram post. Faithfully painted in acrylic on linen, Zahn’s adapted Adapter registers the tonal shifts indicative of digital translation and analog output. Like so many things that we behold from the electronic realm, such as thumbnails of art historical treasures, or lush orchestral music played through an iPhone speaker, the details are all slightly off. As we grow more comfortable with the conditional, provisional, and approximate versions of things, image corruption, loss of fidelity, and a diminished power become somewhat less bothersome when given the ability to see, hear, and know whatever it is we choose to Google.

As a book is adapted for the screen, so the screen adapts the world. Reflecting this, Zahn’s practice situates itself within a new genre where quotation has succeeded appropriation, and abstraction becomes mimesis. In Zahn’s universe, images are largely elided in favor of form and color, and this exhibition is primarily comprised of monumental to medium-format monochrome paintings in hues reminiscent of Post-It notes, mobile phones, Mac desktops, and peripheral devices. Each monochrome, quite like Adapter_Adapted, has a white border, with singularity mitigated by similarity. For Zahn, the act of rephrasing is more important than that of reproduction. At this moment when expression and activism are so tightly bound, his rejection of any subjective declarative content might be read as a deeply political refusal. What do you represent? There is no image here to be co-opted, or otherwise lifted by nefarious marketers intent upon expertly manipulating ‘authenticity’ as the ultimate branding tool.  

Hanging unassumingly amidst the richly tonal squares of Adapter_Adapted &etc. is a red vinyl adhesive cutout of an uppercase A, set in quotation marks, or rather as a quotation within a quotation, overlaid with a disconnected unlit neon sign that reads BAGS. Zahn has recently created a number of ‘A’ paintings, fashioning for himself a kind of aside that he can tweak within any given situation. In the context of an exhibition, this letterform invokes the oft air-quoted, “Art with a capital ‘A’’, an insinuation that throws the status of the artist’s entire body of work into question. Or perhaps it might be read as a text-based emoticon, with its plain appearance suggesting the arrangement of features on a face? Either way, it slides from association to association, there and back again, adapting to whatever circumstance might arise. 

Mike Zahn is represented in collections here and abroad. His work is currently included in the exhibition (@mined_oud) at the MADRE in NapoliIt was also recently seen in The Crayon Miscellany at OMI International in Hudson, and in Olivier Mosset: ++Leaving the Museum at the Kunsthalle Zurich at Museum Barengasse. Mike Zahn lives in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.