A sign on the front door of the gallery warns visitors of “scalding” sculptures inside. It refers to a frying pan sitting on a hot plate, catching drips from a leaky air conditioner above it, and jars of water holding immersion heaters, but it may as well be cautioning audiences about Mika Rottenberg’s entire exhibition, which overflows with ideas and plot twists and is as entertaining as it is incisive. Its centerpiece is a cramped room housing a 28-minute video piece that focuses on a Harlem bingo hall in which a lady calls out numbers and players gaze over their boards, stamping away. A hole opens in the floor beside the announcer, and she starts dropping colored clothespins, one by one, into a ramshackle Rube Goldberg-like machine. They fall through trapdoors, are launched through holes in the walls and are pushed through crevices by a pole that wobbles suspiciously, as if someone is handling it from just outside the frame.
Each clothespin just barely makes it to the next step in its journey. Ms. Rottenberg’s crisp editing renders the action as pathos-filled slapstick. You root for the pins, even through they have a disturbing final destination: a room where a man is stoically attaching them to his head. After filling his face, he starts spinning quickly and—poof!—vanishes, and the pins somehow end up falling from the sky elsewhere in the world. Other subplots—one involving a sleeping woman with magical powers who awakes when drops of water fall on her—thread in and out of the narrative. Everything seems mysteriously connected.
Outside the little viewing room, elements of the video are arranged around the gallery: The lottery machine is affixed to a spinning wall, and a trompe l’oeil decal on the floor looks like a hole sliding open. The exhibition obliquely hints at the many vast, incomprehensible systems—multinational production networks, lightning-fast automated trading programs, global warming—that churn away invisibly all around us, afflicting bodies and psyches. Rendering those forces as subtle, witty surrealism, Ms. Rottenberg has made a picture of the present moment that is at once miraculous and chilling.
(Through June 14, 2014)