A decade ago, Cory Arcangel began making his name with modified video games. "Super Mario Clouds," for instance, was Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers, hacked to create a loop consisting solely of the game's crudely rendered sky.
Gallery owners, says Arcangel, usually said, "Ah, what is this?" Such work's status as art, he adds, "was a little bit unsure."
Today, Arcangel's got a resume full of museum and gallery shows. Last year, he became the youngest artist to get a full floor at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art.
But Arcangel, 33, still straddles the line separating fine art from, well, other stuff.
Among the works in the Carnegie Museum of Art's upcoming exhibit Cory Arcangel: Masters is "Drei Klavierstücke, op. 11." Arcangel edited a group of found YouTube videos of kittens walking on pianos to play a famous atonal composition by Arnold Schoenberg. The 2009 video "was meant to spread on the Internet because there's cats in it," says Arcangel by phone from his Brooklyn studio. "But it was meant to spread Schoenberg to people who'd never heard him."
And? "It got in a lot of cute-animal blogs," he says.
Arcangel notes that most of his work is actually rather web-unfriendly. Consider his website celebrating 1980s pop crooner Christopher Cross ... in Arabic. "I delight in the fact that it might get six hits a year," says Arcangel. "That's the opposite of somebody being like, 'Hey, check this out.'"
Other works in the Carnegie show, curated by the museum's Tina Kukielski, is "Untitled Translation Exercise" (2006). Arcangel shipped the film Dazed and Confused and its script to Bangalore, India, where phone-bank employees re-recorded all the dialogue in (accented) English.
In the adjacent Carnegie Library, he'll debut an installation piece: a listening station for the 850 vinyl LPs and EPs Arcangel purchased off a trance DJ. The records are catalogued like museum works. "We're presenting it as though it's a really important collection," he says. "Which who knows, one day it might be."
At the show's Nov. 2 opening reception, Arcangel himself performs "Selected Single Channel Videos," one in an ever-changing series of his commentaries on videos he'll screen — both his work and found material. "It's a big mash," he says. "I totally wing it."