• Josh Kline for Circular File, Flattery Bath 2 (2012). Still from HD video. Courtesy the artist and 47 Canal.
    Josh Kline for Circular File, Flattery Bath 2 (2012). Still from HD video. Courtesy the artist and 47 Canal.

Welcome to the UnSpa at The Standard, High Line

Artist Josh Kline reflects on the tropes of consumerism whilst his subjects bath in their choice of San Pellegrino, Poland Spring or Smart Water
Jan 16 2013

Artist Josh Kline recently created a new body of work for the group exhibition “New Pictures of Common Objects” on view at MoMA PS1 until Jan. 27th. Kline’s work focuses on branding and consumerism and for some crazy reason he elected to set his “Flattery Bath 2” at The Standard, High Line. What is a flattery bath exactly and where can we get one? Christopher Y. Lew, assistant curator at MoMA PS1, gets us the lowdown.

Christopher Lew: Flattery Bath 2 is a new work that is part of a video series that play on the experience to going to a spa. Can you speak about the series and the new video?

Josh Kline: Flattery Bath 2 comes out of a project called the Unspa that my art collective Circular File began in 2008. We were watching a lot of Adam Curtis documentaries (especially Century of the Self) and became fascinated by the relationship between lifestyle capitalism and the wellness/health/spa sector of the economy. Unspa was a vehicle that allowed us to explore and experiment with using public relations techniques as our medium. The spa would become a kind of lab in which the subjects would be pampered while going through experimental public relations procedures. All procedures were meant to be captured on video.

One of the procedures that I developed for Unspa is the Flattery Bath, in which subjects get to take a bath while receiving improvised flattery and compliments. The procedure is a performance about professional networking or service interactions in which the bath attendants (flatterers) have to maintain an interest in the subjects and whatever they say. It’s based on the kind of interactions that happen at restaurants, job interviews, and at art fairs: personalized & tailored verbal promotion. Feel good sales pitches.

Looking quite relaxed in a bath of Poland Spring

Flattery Bath 2 offered guests the choice of bathing in tap water, San Pellegrino, Smart Water, or Poland Spring while being flattered in a suite at the Standard Hotel with a spectacular view of the Hudson River and the High Line.

What drew you to The Standard and that particular room?

A major theme in my work is contemporary computer-aided and computer-influenced design–what I see as a new kind of modernist aesthetic–which draws from classical modernism and is processed through the computer and through the ideas that come from living and working with digital technology. It’s a kind of digital revival of classical mid-century modern design. It’s also highly focused on the body and ergonomics. This aesthetic is in the process (i.e. trending) of defining the visual identity of our time: glass-curtain-walled generative architecture, ergonomic sportswear and running shoes, smart phone cases, etc. All these things help create this feeling of “today.” As time moves forward, this feeling will help to separate 2012 from 2002 or 2022.

Over the last decade, Chelsea and the West Side have become home to one of the highest concentrations of this kind of architecture in New York. The Standard (and the High Line, which it straddles) are two of the most iconic architectural landmarks in this new early 21st Century landscape.

Installation view of works by Josh Kline for New Pictures of Common Objects at MoMA PS1, 2012. Photo: Matthew Septimus

The Standard creates high-transparency spaces. The suite in which I shot Flattery Bath 2 is open plan–with no walls separating the bath/shower area and wrap around floor-to-ceiling windows. From the tub and the shower you have views of the bed, the seating area, the Westside Highway, New Jersey, and the High Line. From the High Line, visitors to the park have views of the shower, the bathtub, etc. The room is the perfect hyper-contemporary setting for a project about collapsing the public, private, professional, and social realms.

The video is part of a larger installation you created at MoMA PS1. How does it connect to your other sculptures and other works in the gallery?

My installation is about creative workers and personal branding. In today’s extreme competition economy, the desire for individualism and personal identity has taken a backseat to the urgent necessity of developing a personal brand. My installation is aimed at this moment and its inhabitants. The large-scale branded Patagonia wall tapestry that covers one wall of the gallery attempts to personalize generative architecture, transforming it into something soft and desirable. A series of 3-D printed sculptures seek to unite the bodies of creative workers with their tastes or occupations. With the help of Direct Dimensions, a Maryland-based 3-D scanning company, I scanned the hands of New Yorkers who make a living through their personal tastes and the feet of shoe designers. The hands were scanned holding bottled beverages and the feet were scanned wearing shoes that the designers had designed. The scans of the hands were then printed out as hollow plastic sculptures and filled with the liquid that was in the bottles (Pellegrino, Poland Spring, Vitamin Water, yerba mate, Coke Zero, tap water); the feet were printed in a flesh-colored synthetic plaster. These hands and feet are installed on commercial display shelving with LED lighting. Flattery Bath 2 is installed alongside these works. In addition to attempting professional-level flattery, the flatterers in the video also interviewed the subjects about their lives and lifestyles as creative workers in New York.

The sculptures and video tap into different parts of the lifestyle economy’s commercial cycle. The video stands in for in-person or online sales, commercials, infomercials, televised product placement, social media advertising, and also focus group-style consumer research. The sculptures aspire to be a commercial installation offering products, services, freelancers, cultural capital, and the feeling of the present.

When making work you often keep in mind the city where it will be presented. What aspects of New York do you address in the new installation?

The most effective advertising and PR targets its audience. New Yorkers live and breathe branding. The city is a nest where brands and advertising can safely raise their young in a nurturing environment. Some new trends and strategies successfully fly away from the nest. Others plummet to their doom on the city’s numbered streets. Through my installation, I want to concentrate into the confines of one gallery the world the creative labor force is creating.

Haven’t been to PS1 lately. Here’s your excuse. You have two weekends left!