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Mitchell Syrop / MATRIX 113

October 21, 1987 - January 15, 1988

Installation view

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Mitchell Syrop pairs microscopic photographs of organic structures such as germs and cells, called micrographs, with familiar slogans drawn from the culture at large-"private sector," "open marriage," "insider trading." Conditioned to the notion that a caption, a linguistic sign, sheds light on the accompanying image, the viewer tries at first to attach meaning to each titled photo and even, with a little imagination, may meet with some success. It becomes evident, however, that Syrop is up to something else; both the twenty-four images and their accompanying text that are included in this exhibition are ambiguous and, in fact, interchangeable. Those familiar with structuralist philosophy know that a linguistic sign is arbitrary; there is no natural, only a conventional, link between it and the thing that is signifies.

Syrop is not merely illustrating structuralist principles in his work; nor is he critiquing the manipulative practices of Madison Avenue. In fact, he suggests that advertising, particularly public relations, which is designed to sell ideas or images rather than products, may be a real-life analogue to Conceptual Art. By making his images and words interchangeable, however, and letting viewers create their own interpretations, Syrop-unlike Madison Avenue-hopes to put viewers in positions of control. Syrop also relinquishes power over his own work as he invites multiple and individual interpretations.

Syrop cut his artistic teeth on the teachings of such first-generation Conceptualists as Douglas Huebler, Michael Asher (MATRIX 67) and John Baldessari (MATRIX 94), all of whom are on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts, where Syrop did his graduate work. The original Conceptualists were dismayed by the increasing commodification of the art object that began in earnest in the 1960s (although Duchamp expresses the same disgust half a century earlier); younger Conceptualists, however, like Syrop, Barbara Kruger (MATRIX 100), and Jenny Holzer, use mass marketing techniques as an intrinsic part of their work. Holzer's medium is the commercial electronic sign, and Kruger sells matchbooks and postcards that reproduce her graphic messages. Syrop, going one step further, set up his 1984 Kuhlenschmidt/Simon Gallery exhibition as a pseudo-museum giftshop, thereby implicating himself, the artist, in the marketing and distribution of his own product. For this MATRIX exhibition, Syrop has produced for sale in the Museum bookstore common household sponges and black balloons that each bear one of the twenty-four generic phrases that appear in his micrographs. Syrop delights in the confusion while slyly hinting that they may be just two sides of the same coin.

Syrop was born in 1953 in Yonkers, a suburb of New York City. After receiving a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, Syrop moved to Los Angeles and studied at California Institute of the Arts where he received an M.F.A. in 1978. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles and is represented by the Kuhlenschmidt/Simon Gallery.

Constance Lewallen

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from Mrs. Paul L. Wattis, the LEF Foundation, and the Alameda County Art Commission's County Supervisors' Art Support Program.