Late Nights at the Whitney
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John Kelsey is an art critic, gallery director, and member of the artists’ collective Bernadette Corporation; here, he makes a rare appearance with an artwork under his own name. Kelsey has repurposed found language for these “poems,” drawing attention to changes emerging from the digital information networks that have replaced traditional printed materials as the primary form of communication. All of the text here has been culled from spam emails received by the artist. “The lists of names indicate the emails’ senders, the titles are drawn from the subject lines, and the “stanzas” consist of the seemingly random, cut and pasted content of the messages. The eagle insignia was designed for the Whitney Museum in 1930–31 by Karl R. Free (1903–1947) and appeared on stationery, exhibition catalogue covers, and library book plates until the 1950s.
Fragmented and intentionally misspelled to evade junk-mail filters, the kind of writing Kelsey highlights here is nonetheless easily interpreted and understood by its recipients. Kelsey suggests a connection between the hyperproductivity of digital communication and the ailments (depression and impotence) for which this junk mail offers cures. As he has said, “Literature is gone, junked, (ex) communicated, but it’s also everywhere. It merges with programs where its DNA is altered and put back to work, returning as abstract, authorless poetry.”
John Kelsey's work is on view in the Museum's third floor galleries.