May 6, 2003

Invisible man, floating cup

Paul Pfeiffer is touted as one of America's hottest emerging artists, so it is a particular credit for Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art that they hold the first major exhibition of his work.

Pfeiffer uses much of the special effects technology we find so frequently at the movies and applies it to other activities, principally sports. Perhaps his most famous series, which appears at this exhibition, involves his works on the NBA.

There are two pieces in the show that I found to be particularly impressive. The first revolves around the Stanley Cup, hockey's ultimate prize, and shows clips of victorious teams hoisting the massive trophy. Or rather, since Pfeiffer digitally erased the image of the player holding the Cup, the clip is only of the trophy, levitating to the cheers of the crowd. All this is framed in a Jeff Koons-like, chrome-plated television screen.

The second piece, presented through a miniature TV screen, is of a boxer receiving medical attention in his corner during a break between rounds. Again, the boxer has been erased so that all you see is the medic applying treatment to an invisible face.

With so many artists moving into video and digital technology these days, it is often difficult to see what, or where, the "art" is. Rather than just an impressive grasp of the technology and the ability to manipulate it, there needs to be some deeper insight expressed through the electronic medium. I couldn't help but compare Pfeiffer to someone like Bill Viola. You may disagree, but for me Viola seems to have far more artistic integrity--the art is something more than just its medium.

Pfeiffer has certainly created some interesting images (and their presentation is excellent), particularly the small ones on screens the size of those found on camcorders. At the same time, the word "gimmick" kept jumping to mind. I will wait to pass judgment on Pfeiffer until his next series, as he has the potential to do powerful work.