In the constant battle for your visual attention, the screens of Times Square have few equals. Featuring ever-shifting vivid advertisements and streaming breaking news, they contribute to the creation of a frenetic environment—one where a naked cowboy or a demanding Elmo, seeking money in exchange for a photo, is somehow normal. The bright lights of Times Square might even be what give the transit hub and tourist trap its unique… character? (If you’re cringing right now, you’re not alone.) But floors above the hubbub, in the corner of a gallery tucked in an office building, a work of art is giving those screens a worthy competitor.
The piece in question, by Marguerite Humeau, is on view in the group show “STRAY” at Times Square Space, an exhibition area built into one of 1500 Broadway’s vacant offices. Titled Digital Desert II, the sculptural triptych stands like an altar with protective barbs at its top suggesting its defensive positioning. A pale, pixelated pattern swirls on its three semi-transparent screens, based on a camouflage print the U.S. military designed to cloak soldiers from the eyes of drones in the desert. But it can’t disguise the consumerist messages that filter through the piece, as massive advertisements just beyond the windows shine through it. The artwork elicits a feeling of both reverence and concern: is it possible today to be truly shielded from advertising?
Humeau, who’s based in London, didn’t originally conceive of Digital Desert II for this location. It’s part of “RIDDLES,” a series she began last year and showed at Brooklyn’s CLEARING gallery and Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich. She conducted extensive research on the history of the Sphinx and current security technologies, weaving a surprising narrative between the two that likens drones to “a sort of contemporary figure of the Sphinx.” The ancient mythological figure both protected and consumed people, suggesting the territory that surveillance occupies is just as treacherous: it’s equally liable to defend and attack.
To see Humeau’s Digital Desert II for yourself, alongside works by Kelly Akashi, Ivana Bašić, Hayden Dunham, and Pamela Rosenkranz, visit Times Square Space before “STRAY” closes this Wednesday, February 7. It’s open Friday and Saturday from 12 P.M. to 7 P.M. or by appointment (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).