If a computer could dream, its REM sleep images would look like Joseph Nechvatal’s digitalized, robotic arm painted canvases. The huge paintings glow with the eerie phosphorescence of enormous video screens and show mysterious, but ultimately meaningless fragments of layered mass-media imagery. It’s a gambit meant to dethrone the primacy of information for an information society, and in many ways it works. In “Deposit,” naggingly familiar schematic renderings are superimposed on moon rocks, astronauts and sculpture but the meaning is nebulous. In “Plethora,” the black-and-white fuzzy figures and root-like ganglia suggest a monitor into a living brain where fleeting images float, detached from linear thought. We sense a connection between the visual bits but it remains elusive.
For an art based on a disenchantment with technological progress, Nechvatal’s use of computer-directed robotic arms to actually paint his canvases from composite slides raises some interesting questions. Can an art that deals with the technology’s drain of reality from the human experience use it and its secondhand imagery without being accused of adding to the condition? This is an issue raised by the technical anonymity of Nechvatal’s art that has intriguing personal and social ramifications. These paintings, which suggest oversized video projections, do reflect the media glut within the contemporary mind, but their detachment also triggers questions. By being what they are they question the purpose of art and its responsibility to stimulate, more than simulate, society. (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 1454 5th St., to April 8.)