Part of the Baby-Boomer, TV generation who would go on to address the “image world” they were born into, Jon Kessler is best known for kinetic sculptural works that deconstruct and reconstruct a myriad of culturally recognizable objects and imagery. Kessler first came to prominence in the mid-1980s, exhibiting widely in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He participated in many of the important exhibitions at the time, including The Museum of Modern Art’s “International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture” in 1984; the 1985 Whitney Biennial; and “Endgame” at the ICA in Boston, in 1986. Also in 1984, one of the artist’s early works was shown in a Project Room here at P.S.1.
In 2004, Kessler presented Global Village Idiot, a suite of mechanical sculptures, at Deitch Projects in New York. This suite of eight works mirrored a post-9/11 sensibility, fashioning a dystopic reality in which life was inextricably linked to a sense of anxiety, fragility, and terror.
The Palace at 4 A.M. is the largest and most complex of Kessler’s endeavors and comprises a vast expansion on Global Village Idiot. Referencing the 1932 Alberto Giacometti sculpture of the same name, the installation’s title means to evoke, in the artist’s words, “the insanity that happens at that hour when no one is watching.” Sources of inspiration and information vary tremendously—including Kabuki, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and reality television shows such as “The Swan”—but Kessler’s work ultimately speaks to the history of representations of warfare as well as to that of global image production.
The P.S.1 installation encompasses a network of kinetic sculptures, each of which incorporate surveillance cameras acting in tandem with their movements to create video imagery occurring in real time. In the main gallery is a veritable barrage of visual stimuli. Actions and images created live in peripheral galleries, as well as in the main space, are simultaneously displayed on monitors and screens in this central “nerve.” Transmitted information is constantly assembled and reassembled, resulting in scenes that appear unfamiliar, disorienting, and sometimes threatening.
One of the tenets of Kessler’s practice is his uncompromising “exposure” of the apparatuses used to produce his imagery. The wires, gears, cameras, and motors that “fuel” his devices are always visible and in large part constitute the bodies of the works themselves, exploding accepted notions of inner and outer, of what is seen and what is unseen. Though the physical structure of sprawling installation is seemingly demystified, we nevertheless remain compelled to question the enigma of the image.
The Palace at 4 A.M. is a large, multi-part sculpture which traces and records this time in our society from the vantage point of a great visual artist. I am proud to have been a part of its exposure to the members of the society it so beautifully and tragically documents.
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center