On ViewSperone Westwater
July 6 – August 3, 2020
Any broad reservations over mimetic art are long gone, and so too is the museum’s hold on images. Pictures now live in our phones, at our fingertips as we scroll through landscapes and portraits filtered through just the right dosage of highlights and shadows. They disappear in 24 hours or settle in grids, evaluated by red hearts and opinionated comments. Social media’s gradual replacement of in-person experiences—whether seeing art at museums or meeting strangers at bars—has been difficult to ignore for well over a decade. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the digital and the real intertwined with unparalleled codependency. Our feed’s reliance on the outside world, where candle-lit dinners and sun-burnt legs are sourced and captured in low resolution, has abruptly diminished. Out of necessity, we return to ourselves and our habitats for both introspection and everyday content.
Andrew Sendor’s InstaCOVID Drawings, which remained accessible through Sperone Westwater’s online viewing room through August 3, testified to the intrusion of the digital into physical reality as powerfully as Zoom happy hours, Clubquarantine parties, or camera hook-ups. The subjects of Sendor’s equally hallucinatory and hyperrealist graphite drawings, whether renderings of portrait sitters, landscapes, or animals, allude to traditional tropes of figurative drawing in both stoic postures and moments of emotional climax. However, there is a thin, eerie layer of detachment that covers Sendor’s drawings. It is this distance that reveals hints of his true source. The artist started drawing content from his Instagram feed on March 24, around the time fear about the near, and even distant, future reached its peak in New York. As our society faces the challenge of redefining rituals of social interaction and physical contact, Sendor’s intimate tabletop scale drawings convey a range of emotions, demurely reflecting the ongoing ebb-and-flow of our collective anxiety.
Sendor’s approach to his content recalls the way artists of the Pictures Generation handled photographic imagery in the late 1970s, divorcing the image from its immediate representational context in order to delve deeper into its true social raison d’être. Sendor draws the image as he sees it on his screen, rather than trying to reproduce the perceptions of the eye that snaps the photograph. In @albertochehebar: S o C i a L Di S t A n c E. March 18 (2020), a man hiking with his dog checks his phone in Los Angeles’s Berlin Forest. This is made clear not only by the Hollywood sign, partially visible in the background, but also Sendor’s inclusion of the original post’s geotag in addition to the account handle of the photographer. The artist is disinterested in romanticizing the image: a visual glitch slits through the man’s waist and the dog’s face. As viewers, we know Sendor is a fan of his source material, as he has “liked” it, including the familiar red heart at bottom left. The Direct Message icon sporadically repeats beneath the image, doing justice to its replication of a paper plane, but gliding freely away from the image.
The way Sendor titles his drawings emphasizes both their source material and the distance he maintains from the content, even when it comes from his own Instagram grid. A now-archived image from Sendor’s personal social media account is one of two images he juxtaposes in @anitazart April 24 with @andrewsendor April 1 (archived) (2020). A girl with blurred visage goes forth on a swing tied to an unusual beam hanger that resembles an abstract sculpture more than a kindergarten toy. A young boy—this image sourced from Sendor’s own archive—looks to the camera but stays aloof, focused on something outside a window where his head rests. As opposed to the swinging girl’s anonymity and peacefulness, the boy’s expression conveys his anxiety. The full heart under the girl is echoed twice towards the bottom of the paper on the page’s blank half, like a water droplet. Sendor avoids “liking” his own post.
For the first time, I’ve felt comfortable scrolling through Instagram while typing this review. This was, of course, for research purposes, as opposed to my usual social media thirst. I still managed to fall into a rabbit hole of mutual followers, similar faces, and deep-buried comments as I carried out my research. Visiting the accounts of Sendor’s subjects, I slowly realized they were mostly influential art world figures. The man overlooking LA skyline was a collector, and so was the photographer of the girl on a swing. Their socially-distanced and art-inspired “at home” lives were intertwined on Sendor’s feed with content from, for example, an account featuring gruesome hunting videos and one, since-deleted, dedicated to COVID-19 nurses. The swing was, in fact, a sculpture.