A Likely Story was a group exhibition of photography and sculpture by five emerging artists: Gretchen Bender, David Cabrera, Ronald Jones, Jeff Koons, and David Robinson. The show pointed to a new era of programming after the departure of Artists Space director Helene Winer, whose greatest legacy lay in the Pictures exhibition of 1977 (although, notably, both Gretchen Bender and Ronald Jones would later show at Metro Pictures, the gallery Winer subsequently co-founded.) Indeed, artistic progress – and the inevitable contradictions and anxieties engendered by it – figured as the basis for Smith’s show. In a statement on the show, Smith wrote, “The concept behind the exhibition suggests that any revolutionary expression inevitably becomes institutionalized. The art in the show is the conscious fluctuation between detecting fallacies inherent in the reality of objects and ideas, and abandoning this investigation to the aestheticization of doubt.”
The “institutionalization” exposed by A Likely Story was the critical and often cynical attitude toward images which had become the hallmark of Pictures. The artists here worked to muddy those waters by employing some of the same strategies characteristic of that generation, but with ambiguous intent. For example, Gretchen Bender showed a series of close-up photographs of art reproductions and advertising images in conjunction with a group of large black sculptures. In doing so, she gestured critically toward the vulnerability of art to market forces, but at the same time she aestheticizes those forces. Similarly, Jeff Koons’ sculptures comprising brand-new Hoover vacuum cleaners encased in plexiglass draw the viewer’s attention to an object with far-reaching social and cultural connotations (especially in terms of labor, class, and gender), while inspiring strange devotion as they evoke an almost Platonic understanding of a banal piece of home machinery.