Guy Richards Smit. (Top Ten).
1 MICHAEL SMITH AND JOSHUA WHITE With The QuinQuag Arts and Wellness Centre, installed at Christine Burgin Gallery, Smith and White presented a hilarious and heartbreaking take on one of the more pathos-filled human dramas: the dreamer running headlong into the wall of dispassionate bureaucracy. In a video that makes up part of the installation, Smith, playing an earnest entrepreneur, lays out his half-baked plans to revive a defunct Catskills artists' colony. On one wall we find kitschy ceramic tiles decorated by former colonists for sale in a fund-raising scheme; nearby, a mangy-looking investor tree. In short, things don't look good for QuinQuag. When I saw Smith's 1984 video Go For It, Mike in grad school it changed my approach to art completely. I'm not alone: Artists who appreciate the tragic goofiness in mundanity (think John Pilson, Beth Campbell, Olav Westphalen) owe Smith and White an obvious debt. We are their children. Really, I mean it.
2 HERMAN BROOD Shpritsz, one of the best rock records of the '70s, made me a young fan of this inexplicably obscure Dutch showman. Brood's jubilant sleaziness (honky-tonk-style Fender Rhodes riffs delivered in pink Spandex five-pocket jeans) provided the inspiration for Maxi Geil! & PlayColt; we're currently recording his masterpiece "Saturday Night" (not incidentally, the only song we cover), but we'll never get to play it for him: Come summer of 2001 Brood jumped off the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton; a note in his pocket read, "It's not fun anymore." Oh, Herman.
3 PETER WATKINS Watkins's films grow more horrifyingly relevant by the day. With The War Game, a 1965 documentary-style drama, the director imagines England subjected to a nuclear strike. Culloden (1964) reenacts an eighteenth-century battle--the last ever fought on British soil--using modern-day war journalism's chaotic handheld zooms and pans. Punishment Park (1971) should be required viewing for us all: Its insight into the psychology of power and brutality is particularly timely given the Bush administration's war for the sake of thinly disguised, raw self-interest. Now's the time for a Watkins retrospective. Don't watch the films back-to-back though. That's just depressing.
4 CHRISTIAN JANKOWSKI The most recent Whitney Biennial would have been a total washout were it not for Jankowski's video The Holy Artwork, 2001, in which a charismatic preacher applies to contemporary art the classic Augustinian notion of God as the perfect designer! aesthetician. Point of Sale, 2002, is another adventure in clashing ideological systems. The three-channel video conflates the responses of gallerist Michele Maccarone and those of her neighbor, an electronics salesman, to questions posed by a management consultant regarding their business plans. Brutally honest, daring, and hilarious, Jankowski's work is so keen he makes me feel clumsy.
5 ROYAL MUSEUM FOR CENTRAL AFRICA In 1897, King Leopold II installed an exhibition about his recently colonized Congo Free State in a lavish palace on the outskirts of Brussels. A year later he bequeathed it to the Belgian people as the Colonial Museum. On the granting of Congo's independence in 1960, the museum's name changed, but inside everything remained the same. Exhibits celebrating how the Belgians "stopped slavery" in the Congo, golden statues representing Europeans delivering "civilization" and "justice," poorly lit dioramas brimming with dumpy animals collapsing under the weight of the straw they were stuffed with back in simpler times: It all brings to mind the museum scene in Chris Marker's La Jetee. Last year the museum announced plans for a major makeover, but visit now, before its vile and unreconstructed nature is subsumed. The whole museum should be in a museum.
6 CHRISTOPHER CHIAPPA, "IT'S WORSE THAN YOU THINK" Chiappa's third solo show, at Fredericks Freiser Gallery, was easily his best. His self-portraits--one a gorgeously carved hunting decoy (Sitting Duck, 2002) and another a collage of hundreds of little cutout pictures of assholes (Big Asshole, 2001)--are desolately narcissistic, pathologically glib, and plenty mean-spirited. Chiappa's work proves that street sarcasm is not only just as valid and multifaceted as academic irony ever was--it can also be much more meaningful.
7 MARTIN MARGIELA Fashion is cool and sexy, but it's not art. If you're "expressing yourself" with your clothes you've got problems. Or at least that's what I always thought, until I recently discovered (while shooting the high-fashion shopping-spree sequence for Nausea 2), the timeless and utilitarian clothes of the mysterious Belgian genius Martin Margiela. A collar from one army jacket, the pockets from another, the cuffs from another, and everything upside down, inside out, and backward. Okay, okay, fashion can be art, alright? Jesus.
8 DAVID SCHER If Italo Calvino could draw, the results might look like the masterful works in Scher's hundreds of sketchbooks. Gallows humor rules the land of the sad and oblivious characters that populate his paintings and ink drawings, on view recently at Leo Koenig. A fly swatting another fly's ass and the blind fucking the blind: It's the whimsy that makes biting satire work. Note to self.
9 WWW.HOMESTARRUNNER.COM Ever since I dumped my cable so I could afford DSL I've been keeping myself entertained here, following the cartoon lives of stuffy-nosed Homestar Runner, his limbless girlfriend, Marzipan, and his archenemy Strong Bad. Smart, funny, and full of non sequiturs, this could be the next South Park.
10 AUSTERLITZ W.G. Sebald's last novel reads like a bicycle ride on a drizzly gray Dutch day--all dreamy sadness and wandering rhythms. Its roundabout way of confronting history via proud architecture and guilty landscapes inspired me to get lost in the Palace of Justice in Brussels, just like its hero. All the strange secrets of the past, humanity's meanness, loneliness, survival: basic subjects, maybe, but surely the building blocks of any great art.
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|Date:||May 1, 2003|
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