Last Friday I headed uptown to catch the opening of “A Failed Entertainment: Selections from the Filmography of James O. Incandenza,” a collection of works inspired by a character’s fictitious ouevre in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In the novel, Wallace fills an extensive footnote with a complete record of the “après-garde” director’s work, including short summaries of each film. Columbia’s LeRoy Nieman Center for Print Studies commissioned several artists to interpret these films however they wish. I was excited about the project, a kind of Borgesian reification or artistic Möbius strip: artwork inspired by a sly tangent in another artwork, unified across media.
Unfortunately, the exhibit was very poorly staged. You enter a bare room with one wall-size projection skipping through the video art at random, like afternoon television with an impatient teen at the remote control. As soon as I sussed out which piece corresponded to which film from Wallace’s footnote – there were no onscreen titles – we were on to the next one. It was maddening, as if the gallerist had learned all the wrong lessons from the novel.
Of course, there is a perfectly logical venue for the artwork, and it isn’t in a whitewashed room on 116th st. Why doesn’t the gallery post the videos online and invite discussion from readers and art lovers?