|Robert Boyd's Xanadu
is on display in Zilhka Gallery through March 4.
Pop Culture, Extremists and a Disco Beat at Zilkha Gallery
A new exhibit at the Ezra and Cecile Zilhka Gallery tweaks, condenses, and
re-frames contemporary events into montages of quick cuts, representing a
history of apocalyptic thought as a series of MTV-style music videos within
a setting reminiscent of a discotheque.
Robert Boyd's Xanadu is a synchronized four-channel video installation that
probes society's self-destructive impulse and parodies avenues of popular
culture such as documentaries, news media, cartoons, and pop music. Xanadu
takes its title from the 1980 American pop musical starring Olivia
“One of the extraordinary things about Xanadu, beyond its content, is the
way it engages the viewer physically and how that engagement actually
relates to and reinforces its meaning,” says Nina Felshin, curator of
exhibitions for the Center for the Arts. “In order to see all the
projections, the viewer is forced to move around. The soundtrack of upbeat
disco music not only provides a disjunctive counterpoint to the often
horrific images of destruction but it makes you want to move your body to
the beat of the music.”
Xanadu’s installation in Zilkha Gallery features a photograph of a disco
ball in flames, falling before a delicate pink background; three video
projections on three free-standing walls; a fourth on the far wall of
Zilkha’s contiguous North Gallery. Visitors become surrounded by stimuli.
Hundreds of hours of archival footage of doomsday cults, iconic political
figures, and global fundamentalist movements were mined for the exhibition.
Introducing the theme of the “Apocalypse,” Boyd’s video Heaven’s Little
Helper (2005) begins with an excerpt from Masada, a 1981 mini-series about
The Zealots, a sect of Jews who defended their right to be free from an
oppressive Roman regime but who finally succumbed through an act of mass
Fast-forwarding into “family” footage of seemingly wholesome hippies and
children dancing in natural settings, Boyd marks the end of sunny popular
culture in the U.S. with iconic images of the Manson Family. Continuing in
this vein, the video incorporates archival footage of some of the most
infamous doomsday-cult gurus and their devout disciples.
“While this is not the intention of the artist, I came away feeling that if
we don't do something, if we don't challenge what's being served up to us,
we will meet essentially the same fate as the victims represented in Boyd's
Xanadu,” Felshin says. “ There is a subtext to this work which, as an
activist I would characterize as a call to action or resistance.”
Robert Boyd is an interdisciplinary installation artist who lives and works
in Brooklyn, N.Y. Xanadu premiered at Participant, Inc., in New York in
2006, and has also been presented in Beijing and London. The artist suggests
that Xanadu is a conglomerate of our fears, paranoia, and prejudices—an
envisioned Apocalypse in the process of becoming reality.
Xanadu is on display through March 4 in the Ezra and Cecile
Zilkha Gallery, 283 Washington Terrace. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m.
Tuesday through Sunday and noon to 8 p.m. Friday. A New York Times review of
Xanadu is online at