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Parreno's Marquees

I've been advised that Parreno's marquee pieces deserve further discussion. They are, certainly, the dominant visual element of the H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS installation at the Park Avenue Armory, marking the outline of Danny the Street and providing much of the illumination in the Drill Hall. The films and musical interludes might alternate, turning on and off in random sequence, but the marquees abide like sentinels or referees, providing strict framing of the playing field, defining the rules of the game.

Parreno has been making these light sculptures for close to a decade. One was mounted over the Fifth Avenue entrance of the Guggenheim Museum in 2008 for "theanyspacewhatever" exhibition. Beyond any metaphorical resonance, they seem to have a signature iconography in his work as abstracted signposts, announcing that we are in the presence of spectacle, of theater and performance and artifice. They signify "attraction" as a Platonic ideal, removed from the practical considerations of "Coming Attractions" in show biz advertising, where marquees function as billboards on cinemas, theaters and concert halls.

There is something nostalgic about their appearance, perhaps because they are composed of individual bulbs rather than an oceanic wash of high tech lighting. They allude to the rich vernacular of popular entertainment, the era of music halls, vaudeville and burlesque houses, or classic cinema, of which Parreno is purportedly a fan. In terms of art historical precedent, the boxy minimalism of the marquees suggests a conflation of Judd and Flavin. Their multi-bulb infiltration of the darkness recalls Christian Boltanski. Their grid-like framing of space reminds us of Erwin Redl's architectural interventions.

Like Annlee, the prototype of a cartoon character that Parreno and Pierre Huyghe purchased from a Japanese manga studio in 1999 and then repurposed as an art object, the marquees are a commercial usage divorced from their original context. They are, in fact, the inverse of Annlee, since she began as a tabula rasa, a digital file without even a name, and accrued content, nuance and meaning with each new art project. Whereas the marquees have been assiduously stripped of their usual commercial specificity, and doubly so: first the removal of text, then the absence of any structural underpinning. Parreno's marquees appear to float in the vast space of the Armory, a ghostly presence detached from the facade, the walls and other architectural elements. They are unmoored, set adrift, and this allows them to register as LCDs, paradigms, loose signs.

The 26 marquees in H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS are possibly the largest assembly, ever, of this aspect of Parreno's oeuvre, suggesting a gang, a squad, or perhaps -- in a nod to signs that have been set adrift -- a band of Rōnin, those unaffiliated samurai without a master to serve. They have left their feudal fiefs, the collections and galleries, the museums and kunsthallen, to gather in the baronial vastness of the Armory. As per the legend of the 47 Rōnin, are they assembled to demonstrate against cruel injustice, to honor the code of bushido with an orgy of blood and revenge and then a mass ritual of disembowelment? Or are they here, instead, to participate in an equally arcane ritual, although well known throughout the contemporary art world these past several decades: relational aesthetics?

(c) 2015 Steven Kaplan