My commute takes me past Paul Kasmin Gallery, at the corner of Twenty-seventh and Tenth, less than a block from The Paris Review’s offices. Every morning for the past month, I’ve paused there to stare at an installation through the window, a pair of illuminated silhouettes. I watch as one red neon man thwacks another with a red neon two-by-four. Every time, the second red neon man falls to the ground; every time, he rises again, on hands and feet, retracing the ungainly arc of his fall; and every time, the first red neon man thwacks him again.
Thwack, fall, rise, repeat. Like many forms of suffering, this one goes on ad nauseam—and like many forms of suffering, it burns itself into your retinas. I watch the cycle four or five times and then walk the two-thirds of a block to the office carrying an afterimage of neon trauma. I find this strangely buoyant.
Only today, after more than a month of doing this, did I decide to find out what exactly I’d been seeing. It’s Roxy Paine’s Incident / Resurrection (2013), which the artist’s Web site characterizes as “a visual loop of pure narrative movement”:
Inspired by a random act of violence the artist experienced in Brooklyn in 1987, the work transcribes a story about reason and the absence of reason. To Paine, when randomness like this occurs, it is a sudden interruption of the social order of things—a deeply troubling moment about human nature and the primal brain stem.
The sequence, riveting and disquieting, takes on weight with repeated viewing. People in accidents often speak of how everything in those moments seems to unfold beat by beat; Paine’s work has this staggering, stop-motion quality. The warm halo of the red tubes, the perpetually alert stance of the assailant, the victim’s momentary fringe of disheveled hair. How sad that the second silhouette must inevitably fall to that two-by-four, but how encouraging that he inevitably finds the wherewithal to pick himself up again. Sometimes it seems to me that he’s in perfect control of his fate, facing the pain with grace and forbearance—he’s practically dancing. Other times, he’s just a chump.
It’s no accident, I’m sure, that the work is visible from the street, from public space, where an unfortunate viewer may well incur “a random act of violence” not unlike the one represented here. And that’s part of the larger context of the exhibition, I’ve learned: Incident / Resurrection appears at Paul Kasmin as part of Phong Bui’s “Bloodflames Revisited,” designed in tribute to the seminal “Bloodflames” exhibition of 1947, directed by Alexander Iolas at Hugo Gallery:
“Bloodflames” presented works by Arshile Gorky, Matta, Isamu Noguchi, and Jean-Claude Reynal among others. [Frederick] Kiesler’s design called for an unconventional exhibition construction, wherein artworks were projected and tilted at various angles from the gallery walls, to allow uncommon perspectives of view. His bold architectural interventions dissolved the barrier between viewer and artwork.
“Bloodflames Revisited” appears through August 15; even if you don’t cross the gallery’s threshold, it’s worth visiting just to let Incident / Resurrection wash over you for a few minutes. Or a few hours, even.