Jordan Wolfson

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Selected Press

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Newsmaker: Jordan Wolfson

Jordan Wolfson made waves with his debut exhibition at David Zwirner in New York in spring 2014. Alongside a series of abject ink-jet prints that looked as if they were plastered in bumper stickers purchased from an early 2000s Spencer Gifts and his 2012 video Raspberry Poser, in which animated renderings of a condom and the HIV virus dance through the streets of New York City while Beyoncé and Mazzy Star play at an intoxicating volume, he showed the animatronic sculpture (Female figure), a scuffed-up woman impaled on a stripper pole who speaks in Wolfson's voice and makes eye contact with viewers. It was a successful spectacle—in addition to accumulating seemingly innumerable buzzy headlines, one of three editions of (Female figure) sold to Eli and Edythe Broad—but not without pushback, Wolfson's work irking some for its perhaps aimless invocation of culturally loaded imagery: AIDS, sex work, and so on. The artist, now based in Los Angeles, will open his follow-up show at Zwirner on May 5. Modern Painters senior editor Thea Ballard spoke with Wolfson about his next animatronic venture, freedom, and the perils of thinking too hard.

Thea Ballard: Tell me about the piece you’re working on for this exhibition.

Jordan Wolfson: I began it about two years ago. The artwork is a figurative sculpture based on Huckleberry Finn, Alfred E. Neuman, and Howdy Doody. It's a cartoony life-size figure that’s almost like a piece of sports equipment. It has six points around the body, and it's rudimentarily animated from three of these points. It's similar to other characters I've used in my films, but it's ultimately a new character. It also has eyes, which are video screens with special glass lenses on top. It's able to make eye contact with viewers, like (Female figure). The character goes between anger and pain. Animated content plays in the video screens that serve as its eyes, along with live video footage I've shot. Formally, it's extremely glossy, reflective.

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The Man-Machine: Jordan Wolfson on His Giant New Robot, Hung by Chains at Zwirner

Last July I was at Jordan Wolfson's house in the Hollywood Hills, sharing a nice lunch with the artist outside by his pool, even though it was raining. Precipitation in Los Angeles is spoken of like a biblical plague when it's hypothetical, and maybe the driving gets a little dicier, but really, people just sort of shrug. The lawn guys constructing Wolfson's poolside garden worked during the drizzle.

Wolfson said he was working on a new show, and invited me to the studio, which is in Glendale, on the other side of Griffith Park, higher up where there's more space. I went a few days later. Wolfson's studio is at a Hollywood animatronics lab that specializes in creature effects and building out robotics models for movies. It's within a gigantic complex, a constellation of multiple jet-size hangars, and after finding the right one, I was brought down some mysterious hallways until opening the right door in the fun house, where Wolfson was talking with engineers who were testing structural solvency, and with tech guys troubleshooting plugging fiber optics capabilities into a giant head.

Then Wolfson showed me a model of a gallery, about the height of his forearm. The model had steel beams going horizontal with gurneys stuck to their undersides, through which cables zipped by. These cables were affixed to a figure that they would dangle, spin, jerk, and then drop hard on the floor, repeatedly. The figure, Wolfson told me, was supposed to represent Huck Finn.

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Representation, arousal, violence, theatricality—all are called into question by the artist’s works, created by choosing to always feel more.

Beatrix Ruf: Jordan, I was wondering if we could start with Infinite Melancholy (2003). When I first saw Colored sculpture (2016), I was reminded of all the works you have done with melancholy, sadness and anger, but also of the tools you used for creating a space where you deal with melancholic content.

Jordan Wolfson: I never set out to make melancholic, sad or violent artwork. I just found that there was a kind of euphoric physical expression one could have when looking at things that carried a certain kind of movement, a certain type of spectacle. For example, with Colored sculpture, the violence isn't simulated violence. It's real violence, and I think that has the potential to have a euphoric effect on the viewer. And in works like Infinite Melancholy, there's a similar type of dropping sensation, and also a formal or visual expansiveness that's happening, which also makes a kind of encounter with the viewer's body. I won't say the works aren't melancholic or sad, but I never think of them that way. I’ve never tried for that.

So melancholy not as a goal, but as part of a movement, almost as a theatrical element?

It's just the shape the work took as it came out of me. Maybe it's the shape of my paintbrush, or even myself at the time—and that shape changes; it becomes different because I'm different too. I think the emotional texture of my work now that I'm 36 is different than it was when I was 24.

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