Brown Arts

Karl Haendel | Theme Time - Presidents Day (2013)

Karl Haendel Theme Time - Presidents Day
Photo courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Karl Haendel

Theme Time – Presidents Day, 2013

  • Pencil on paper with shaped frame
  • 69 x 105 x 2 in
  • Installed in Friedman Hall, 1st floor (rotates on view with artworks by Dave Cole, Nina Katchadourian, and Ruth Root)

Karl Haendel’s 2013 diptych Theme Time - Presidents Day initially appeared within the artist’s wall installation at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Part of a suite of large-scale works on paper in eclectic, artist-produced frames, his photo-realist drawings emerge from an archive-based practice. Haendel has amassed thousands of 35mm slides—the format he uses to project directly onto paper while drawing—layering these found and self-produced images in meticulously drafted combinations. Deeply conversant with the legacy of appropriation, Haendel complicates this relationship by incorporating his own photography. While many of the images in his work are sourced from print and digital media, roughly half are photographs Haendel has taken himself, and nearly all are further manipulated by the artist.

The unusual crops and cuts that appear in Theme Time - Presidents Day reflect this form of mediation, one that spans much of Haendel’s work. Though intentionally erasing certain visual information, he coyly retains the plastic bottle in the hands of “Abraham Lincoln.” The historical accuracy of the photograph—already dubious given Lincoln’s casual, nearly uncanny posture—is rendered false, an example of the many slippages in visual language that operate within Haendel’s work.

The title of the piece, and the inspiration for his entire Whitney installation, is taken from Bob Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio Hour,” a weekly satellite program that ran from 2006-2015. Haendel has said of Dylan’s show, “He was sort of breaking apart American music into these parts, to kind of categorize it, understand it, make connections. It’s kind of what I do with images, or objects and images. I thought I’d make some drawings of his categories.” The “President's Day” episode first aired on February 13, 2008, and featured an array of presidential-themed songs, as well as additional tunes Dylan wasn’t able to include in previous episodes, creating what he described on-air as a “President’s Day Sale” of music. “Theme Time Radio Hour” was known for short, cryptic opening monologues, often read by the actor Ellen Barkin. For “President’s Day,” she begins: “It’s night time in the big city, the server is down, the parakeet is restless…” This kind of free—often playful—association has been central to Haendel’s practice for nearly two decades, and his attraction to the esoteric Dylan production as source material aligns with this history. 

Karl Haendel (b. 1976 New York, lives Los Angeles) graduated from Brown University in 1998, an alumni of the Art History and Art/Semiotics undergraduate programs. He attended both the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (1999) and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2000), before receiving an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2003. Haendel was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, New York and the 12th Biennale de Lyon, Lyon, France (2013), as well as numerous solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally.