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SoHo hum.

The $50,000 prize money is nothing to sneeze at, and the six finalists - Bul Lee (Korea), Douglas Gordon (Scotland), William Kentridge (South Africa), Huang Yong Ping (China), Pipilotti Rist (Switzerland), and Lorna Simpson (US) - whose work goes up at Guggenheim SoHo on June 24 in anticipation of a July decision, are serious, provocative artists. So how come nobody gives a patootie about the Hugo Boss Prize, the biennial award underwritten by the German haberdasher and administered by the Guggenheim Museum? The Turner Prize - about $30,000, handed out annually since 1984 to a UK artist - generates much more suspense and debate on the streets of both Sohos.

The Turner's parochialism is actually its strength. Foreigners are curious about whom the British will pick to represent them on the international stage. Juicier still, the Turner usually goes to an artist (Damien Hirst, Gillian Wearing) who pushes the limits of what art ought to be - in a country notoriously hostile to such work. The inevitable media hubbub adds the Turner some spice.

The Hugo Boss Prize is an international affair, which means the entry field is too wide and the interest level too diffuse. Only a tiny clique of art-nerd cognoscenti on expense accounts has actually seen all the work. This year's seven-person jury is a melange of curators, including the Guggenheim's John Hanhardt and Robert Rosenblum, an international biennial organizer, a collector, a critic, and the Guggenheim's director, Thomas Krens. But even these art-world jet-setters conducted their preliminaries via "slides, videos and other documentation."

There are other reasons for the indifference. The fact that the prize is named after a trendy clothing manufacturer - and not a great artist - is one. Furthermore, the honor is awarded on the wiggle-roomy basis of "either a major aesthetic achievement or a significant development in contemporary art." One is not sure whether the artists are competing with their own best pieces or if Hugo Boss is conferring a lucrative version of those "lifetime achievement" awards that showbiz uses to trot out sentimental favorites and to make sure that nobody noteworthy is totally overlooked.

More troubling is how anybody can measure performance art (Lee) against photo-text art (Simpson) against animated drawings (Kentridge) against installation art (Huang Yong Ping) against conceptualism (Gordon). Should we assume, uh, other criteria? Two years ago, the (American) white male Matthew Barney won the first Hugo Boss Prize. That would seem to lengthen the odds against Kentridge and Gordon (who is further handicapped by having already won a Turner). Simpson would make it two Yanks in a row. Bul would make it a performance-artist repeat. And Rist would reaffirm nasty ol' Eurocentrism.

So - not that we suspect that the fiasco around the cancellation of the contemporary section of the Guggenheim's "China: 5,000 Years" exhibition or the museum's desire to undertake projects in the world's most populous country will have anything to do with the outcome - but we've got Huang Yong Ping in the office pool. If anyone cares.


45th Biennial Exhibition: The Corcoran Collects CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART

Instead of the usual focus on recent trends, this biennial attempts a critical examination of the impact previous installments, devoted solely to painting, have had on the Corcoran's collecting and presentation of contemporary art since the series began in 1907. Organized by the institution's own Linda Simmons (for the period 1907-67) and Terrie Sultan (1969-present), the exhibition will include over 130 of the more than 200 works acquired directly from biennials, by artists ranging from Thomas Eakins and Mary Cassatt to Joan Mitchell, Robert Mangold, Lydia Dona, and Jessica Stockholder. It's possible, says Sultan, that this retrospective will spark a new approach to successive editions of the biennial. July 17-Sept. 28.


The Collections of Barbara Bloom WEXNER CENTER FOR THE ARTS

We never will read our obituaries (even assuming we earn one), but artists have a substitute: the big retrospective, in principle triumphant, in practice often uncomfortably mortuary in its obitlike summary of a life. Barbara Bloom stresses the latter quality by staging a retrospective shaped like an estate sale. Inspired, says curator Donna De Salvo, by the auction of Jackie Kennedy's effects, the artist will show objects from throughout her career (including some new work), likely adding a wrinkle to her specialty sense of the fused presence and absence of the past. Bloom, incidentally, beat James Cameron to the topic of the Titanic (the show is slated to include her 1991 set of the ship's plates); let's call her queen of the world. May 9-Aug. 8.


Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham, Meredith Monk, Bill T. Jones WALKER ART CENTER

The Walker Art Center, known for its adventurous visual and performing arts programming, is mounting a hybrid show that addresses both passions. "Art Performs Life," curated by Siri Engberg, Philippe Vergne, and Kellie Jones, is an exhibition of artifacts culled from performances by Merce Cunningham, Meredith Monk, and Bill T. Jones. Cunningham's and Jones' long history of working with artists on everything from scripting to sets and costumes (for Cunningham, the list includes Rauschenberg, Warhol, and Johns; for Jones, Keith Haring, Robert Longo, and Jenny Holzer) will be reflected in their respective sections. A catalogue featuring interviews with the artists is being published on the occasion of the show. June 28-Sept. 20.



A man of large, block letters - and a maven of various textual-turn and neo-abstract collusions as much indebted to Franz Kline as Ed Ruscha - Christopher Wool gets his first major one-person show in the United States, an encompassing rundown of fifty-odd pieces, some dating from as early as 1986. MoCA curator Ann Goldstein has enlisted the artist to devise an in situ exhibition plan to present his engaging, often daunting, sometimes inscrutable work, including '80s-vintage pattern paintings and stenciled- and stamped-texts pieces, plus silk-screened and spray-painted works from the '90s. The show's catalogue features essays by Goldstein, art historian Thomas Crow, and Carnegie curator Madeleine Grynsztejn. July 19-Oct. 19; travels to Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Nov. 21-Jan. 31, 1999.


Walker Evans: New York J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM

Walker Evans ranks with Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand as a key figure in creating our modern conception of photography - which may explain why he's enjoying simultaneous high-quality museum shows. On the heels of the High Museum's traveling exhibition, the Getty's show concentrates on the photographer's work from the late '20s and early '30s, including views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan skyscrapers, and Times square signs. Chosen by Judith Keller of the Getty, some of the 100- plus pictures offer a glimpse of Evans' mature, FSA-era documentary style; other, more experimental shots put flesh on what can sometimes seem a bony, obdurate body of work. Especially vivid are his unabashedly voyeuristic images of pedestrians and passersby. July 28-Oct. 11.


The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life CENTRE CANADIEN D'ARCHITECTURE

Don't be thrown by the banalite of the title; the aim is unmistakably to defamiliarize the American lawn. Organized by a team of scholars and architects (Beatriz Colomina, Elizabeth Diller, Alessandra Ponte, Ricardo Scofidio, Georges Teyssot, and Mark Wigley, with Mark Wasiuta of the CCA), "The American Lawn" considers the production, cultivation, and cultural significance of grass - there are more than 40,000 square miles of the stuff in North America. The Diller+Scofidio-designed show presents artifacts ranging from historic gardening tools to aerial, stereoscopic, and infrared photos of lawns and showcases with grass species and synthetic turf samples. June 16-Nov. 8; travels to Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, Apr. 4-June 7, 1999.


Bienal Barro de America VARIOUS VENUES

The Bienal Barro de America has traditionally been held in a single location in Caracas and featured work in the medium of mud or clay. This year's edition represents a dramatic change, both in exhibition space and ambition. Chief curators Roberto Guevara and Fabio Magalhaes have organized the show, titled "The Earth as Language," around three sections, "Daily Life," "Future and Memory," and "Contemporary Encounters," and satellite shows will be held at such distant locations as Maracaibo (Venezuela), and Sao Paulo. In addition to a strong selection of contemporary artists (including Victor Grippo, Richard Long, Meyer Vaisman, and Doris Salcedo), this year's installment includes a historical show of work by Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer. May-Aug.


La Ville, le Jardin, la Memoire VILLA MEDICI

The Villa Medici, home of the French Academy and its famed artists' residency program, has long enjoyed a cloistered existence within Rome. This summer a host of artists (the list includes Michelangelo Pistoletto, Annette Messager, Lucius Burckhardt, Janet Cardiff, Bruna Esposito, and Eva Marisaldi) will open up the imposing sixteenth-century building and its exquisite gardens to the metropolis beyond in a series of installations. Curators Laurence Bosse, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist are organizing the show, which is the first installment of a project scheduled to take place over the coming three summers examining the relation between Rome and this little city within a city. May 28-Aug. 30.



Now that the '70s have been parsed from every imaginable angle, is it time for the big '80s revival? From Maria Corral, director of Barcelona's Fondacio "La Caixa" collection, comes this internationally inflected, thirty-seven-artist summary of the Go-Go Decade's "pluralistic mosaic of expressions." Americans from Jenny Holzer to Bill Viola are on the docket, Rosemarie Trockel's ideological fillips will balance Georg Baselitz's and Anselm Kiefer's painterly Sturm und Drang, and sculpture will be largely given over to the British representatives (e.g., Tony Cragg and Richard Deacon). The Iberian contigent will include Juliao Sarmento, Pedro Cabrita Reis, and Jose Pedro Croft. New Museum senior curator Dan Cameron has authored a text for the catalogue. May 13-Aug. 31.



In an attempt to avoid the totalizing view that comes with a retrospective, Christian Boltanski has opted instead for a show that sticks to the last ten years of his work - a period that's seen him reach the pinnacle of the French art scene. Curator Beatrice Parent is orchestrating this shadowy, hushed display through the installation of eight large works comprising photos, old clothing, and abandoned objects - at once discreet and monumental - that revolve around the torments of memory. Like all of Boltanski's work, the whole is taken in bit by bit, bathed in a dimly lit atmosphere that is at once agonizing, intimate, and sacred. May 14-Oct. 4.

Max Ernst: Sculptures, Houses, and Landscapes CENTRE GEORGES POMPIDOU

Everyone's pretty familiar with Max Ernst by now, right? Curators Werner Spies and Fabrice Hergott hope to offer a new perspective by playing down Ernst the painter in favor of Ernst the sculptor in a show organized around the artist's numerous residencies (and the impact of changing surroundings on his sculptural forms). What unifies the work is Ernst's good humor in pieces made during sojourns at the poet Paul Eluard's in Eaubonne, at Giacometti's home in Maloja, at his own home in Saint-Martin d'Ardeche, or even during stays on Long Island or amid the sandstone canyons of Sedona, Arizona. In the end, it seems taking time off in the country doesn't hurt the art at all. May 6-July 27; travels to Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Sept. 5-Nov. 28.


It's a common complaint today that media bombardment has stripped the image of all meaning. For some of the youngest participants in this first edition of the Biennale de l'Image (curator Regis Durand, director of the Centre Nationale de Photographie, has selected an international group of artists largely under thirty-five), image saturation is apparently a given; whether working in video, on computers, or with a camera, they take the image as medium rather than message - a decision as second nature to them as acrylic was for Color Field painters. A new type of art may emerge from this strategy, one marked by the dialectic between opacity and transparency - not to mention the intimacy always associated with picture-taking. May 12-July 12.
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Title Annotation:indifference toward Hugo Boss Prize for artists
Author:Plagens, Peter
Publication:Artforum International
Date:May 1, 1998
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