In March 2012, two monumental kinetic sculptures, each about 7.5m tall, transformed a disused public space in Midtown Manhattan into an art piece by Josephine Meckseper. Though mirroring the forms and materials of the mid-century oil industry, the artist locates her work firmly inside the contemporary debate about American business, wealth and consumerism.
What inspired this project?
The Manhattan Oil Project is inspired by mid-20th-century oil pumps the artist discovered in Electra, a boarded-up town once famous for being the pump jack capital of Texas. Each sculpture is fully motorized to simulate the motions of a working oil pump. Placed in a vacant lot next to Times Square, the black and red steel structures slowly creak in the ceaseless oscillations of phantom oil excavation. The pump jacks recall the ruins of ghost towns, forgotten monuments of America’s decaying industrial past.
This pairing of the pump jacks and the Times Square location merges a classic symbol of American oil production and wealth with the center of New York City commercial culture. The pumps are intended as ignition points for critical discussion engaged directly with modern life, as opposed to operating in the realm of disengaged abstract geometries. They evoke speculation about a functional reality and the notion of use-value.
In Meckseper’s words
I hope to draw parallels between the American industrial system, transitioning from a past of heavy industry, factories, and teamsters and the disembodied present of electronic mass-media, surface advertising, and consumerism – so clearly embodied in Times Square, explained Meckseper, The critical placement of the pumps is a conceptual gesture that raises questions about business and capital; land use and resources; wealth and decay; decadence and dependence.
What is Josephine Meckseper known for?
Josephine Meckseper (b. 1964) has developed a practice that melds the aesthetic language of modernism with a profound critique of consumerism. Through her shop windows, vitrines, installations, photographs, films and magazine projects she draws a direct correlation to the way consumer culture defines and circumvents subjectivity and sublimates the key instruments of individual political agency.
Her works have been included in international biennials such as the Whitney Biennial, the Second Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art and Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon. She has also had solo exhibitions at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst (Zürich, Switzerland), Ausstellungshalle zeitgenössische Kunst (Münster, Germany) and a retrospective at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. Her work was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New Photography and at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.