Harmony Korine, The Peacemaker Blockbuster, 2018. 

Oil stick, oil-based paint marker, spray paint, and house paint on VHS cassettes and covers mounted on board
45 x 33 1/2 in. Courtesy of Gagosian. 

Harmony Korine Rages Against the Death of Analog by Sculpting with VHS

Viva la video!

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Sep 13 2018, 7:28pm

Harmony Korine, The Peacemaker Blockbuster, 2018. 

Oil stick, oil-based paint marker, spray paint, and house paint on VHS cassettes and covers mounted on board
45 x 33 1/2 in. Courtesy of Gagosian. 

I’m finally old enough to belong to a dying breed. Millennials are probably the last generation that will remember having to book it to the nearest Blockbuster to get flix sans net, but the Gen X icon, film director, and infamously recurring David Letterman guest (until he trespassed against Meryl Streep) Harmony Korine presents a tribute to ye olde chain video rental empire in his new show at Gagosian’s Upper East Side digs. As he notes in a statement embedded in the exhibition’s press release, he bought out all the video stock from a Blockbuster store in his adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee after they went out of business over ten years ago. The Trash Humpers auteur has now assembled a series of works, all made this year, with the boxy detritus of yesterday’s family fun time.

The VHS covers and the cassette tapes themselves are the main elements—rectangles arranged into gridded rows like a Rubik’s Cube of cinematic references—but they’re also painted over with primary colors or bear basic figures scribbled in oil stick (shoutout to Basquiat’s favored tool) or with paint markers. By juxtaposing all these modified, mini advertisements for movies, Korine ends up with something that ironically enough resembles edited film reels, with each tape as its own frame carrying on or interrupting the flow of the overall picture. Doubly ironic, given that the advent of home video kick-started by Beta and VHS was perhaps the first blow against the traditional film-going experience and apparatus. Then again, with so many copies of films out there trapped in a technology that’s been rendered obsolete by digital updates, it seems like the least one could do is use all that stuff at hand before it gets shoveled off for scraps. There’s a certain mercenary coldness to it all, but I salute the sense of thrift on display here!

Speaking of secondhand, I also spy a penchant for homage in this work. For instance, in Blue Anamorphic Blockbuster, one lone (but graffitied) VHS cover is isolated in a field of blue paint-coated tapes. Think Michel Majerus’s 1990s-style deadpan seriality (shoutout to Minimalism) making room for Pixar film icons. And collaging disused VHS artifacts together is also like adding up all the time eaten away by watching, recording the hours of an era that can’t be brought back. Mike Kelley’s major 1987 pièce de résistance More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin is a touchstone here too. Featuring a creepy mass of thrifted stuffed animals and afghans (purportedly crafted for love by amateurs, rather than for money by professional artists) adhered to canvas, Korine’s works seemingly holler back to Kelley’s gesture, but this time as representations of more hours swallowed up by entertainment than can ever be regained. But then, these works might also be meant as love letters to the movies, which can give you memories that sweetly pretend to be your very own.

Harmony Korine: Blockbuster is on view at Gagosian on 976 Madison Avenue through October 20, 2018.

Harmony Korine, Anamorphic Blue, 2018. Oil stick, oil-based paint marker, spray paint, and house paint on VHS cassettes and covers mounted on board
37 x 70 in. Courtesy of Gagosian.