Time Capsules 1986-1990.
CONSULTANTS: Carios Basualdo, Daniel Birnbaum, Diedrich Diederichesen, Richard Flood, Pamela Kort, Marco Meneguzzo, Scott Rothkopt
In this second installment of "Time Capsules," David Rimanelli picks up where his March look at the first half of the decade left off, tracking the high (and low) points of 1986-90.
Joseph Beuys, the artist/shaman/ charlatan--take your pick--dies at age 64.
Sturtevant's "comeback" show opens at White Columns, New York; Eugene Schwartz, the renowned collector of contemporary art, serves as curator. An appropriationist avant la lettre, Sturtevant began making copies after Stella, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and Warhol in the mid-'60s; Warhol even lent her his screens. She finds a devoted advocate in critic/curator Christian Leigh.
Karen Finley's Yams Up My Granny's Ass opens at the Kitchen, New York. in what is perhaps her most notorious routine, Finley assumes the character of a drug addict who tortures and sexually abuses his grandmother on Thanksgiving. She then smears canned cooked yams over her buttocks.
Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurs.
United States bombs Libya.
Thierry de Duve, "The Readymade and the Tube of Paint," Artforum: De Duve challenges that trite opposition between painting and the Duchampian legacy. "It may seem that the fact that painters do not grind their own pigments anymore is a mere consequence of the availability of industrially processed tubes of paint. Yet this fact is crucial in understanding the cultural changes that disrupted the tradition of painting..."
Zone 1/2 appears. The following year, the first Zone Books (ed. Jonathan Crary, Michel Feher, Hal Foster, and Sanford Kwinter) titles appear: Foucault/Blanchot and Pierre Clastres's Society Against the State. The books, designed by Bruce Mau, are alluring physical objects, sensuous yet pointy-headed.
Reina Sofia opens in Madrid. The House of Bourbon continues its centuries-old tradition of artistic patronage, as Queen Sofia dedicates Spain's preeminent museum of modern art.
First Sonsbeek since 1971, curated by Saskia Bos, opens in Arnhem, Holland. Sculptures by 50 artists scattered around Park Sonsbeek. Many "outdoor" works are in fact sheltered within glass pavilions. Bos: "More than ever, today's artworks are artificial products that are not suited to a natural environment, let alone being involved with it."
"Chambres d'amis," curated by Jan Hoet, opens in Ghent. The show includes installations and exhibitions in private homes by contemporary artists (from Carla Accardi to Gilberto Zorio).
Ernst Nolte's "The Past That Will Not Pass: A Speech That Could Be Written but Not Delivered" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) ignites the "Historikerstreit" in Germany. Large public debate among historians spreads to include theorists, philosophers, and writers pitting the notion of the singularity of German guilt against the rightist idea that the 20th century witnessed a "global civil war" of comparable totalitarianisms.
Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges dies at age 86.
Mary Boone weds Cologne dealer Michael Werner. Romance cements the Cologne--New York axis, as Boone mounts numerous shows of Werner-associated artists (e.g., Lupertz, Baselitz, Polke).
"Endgame: Reference and Simulation in Recent Painting and Sculpture," curated by Elisabeth Sussman, David Joselit, and Bob Riley, opens at ICA Boston. The October crowd meets neo-geo. Works by Sherrie Levine, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Philip Taaffe, Robert Gober, et al. Notable in that the catalogue essays by Yve-Alain Bois and Hal Foster largely pan the work exhibited.
Museum Ludwig, founded by chocolate magnate and supercollector Peter Ludwig, opens in Cologne, fortifying the city's flourishing gallery scene with a major institution devoted to postwar art.
Keith Haring paints a mural on the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie. "it's a humanistic gesture," Haring says, "a political and subversive act--an attempt to psychologically destroy the wail by painting it."
The neo-geo Fab Four--Jeff Koons, Peter Halley, Meyer Vaisman, and Ashley Bickerton--open at Sonnabend. The exhibition becomes one of the most widely discussed and hyped shows of the decade. Commodity critique in gleaming finish-fetish art objects. Kay Larson (New York magazine), among others, is unamused, decrying the show as "Cynical, consumerist art. the perfect mirror of its coked-up, sensation-seeking society." Pictured: Ashley Bickerton, Wall Wall #6, 1986, mixed media, 36 x 96 x 14".
Spy magazine, launches.
"Art and Its Double: A New York Perspective," curated by Dan Cameron, opens at the Fundacio Caixa de Pensions, Barcelona. A broad, 15-artist survey treating "Pictures," neo-geo, and appropriationist painting as interrelated phenomena, at a decidedly establishment venue. Like Pop, Minimalism, and conceptualism before, much of this art finds its most enthusiastic audience (and collectors) in Europe.
Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency exhibited at the Burden Gallery, New York, and simultaneously published as book by Aperture. This evolving slide show debuted in 1979 at the Mudd club and subsequently made the rounds at various other hour-of-the-wolf venues. Goldin's ecstatic/depressive paean to downtown sex, drugs, and dirty feet becomes available to a wide audience of avid consumers. Pictured: Nan Goldin, French Chris on the convertible, NYC, 1979, color slide. From The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.
Leaked report of arms sales instigates Iran-Contra scandal.
ALSO OF NOTE
* Eric Fischl, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Pictured: Eric Fischl, Birthday Boy, 1983, oil on canvas, 84 x 108".
* Rodney Graham, Galerie Johnen + Schottle, cologne (first solo show since 1979)
* Roni Horn, Galerie Maeght Lelong, New York (New York solo gallery debut)
* Fabrice Hybert, Maison de l'Avocat, Nantes (solo debut)
* Larry Johnson, 303 Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Michael Krebber, Fettstrasse 7a, Hamburg (solo debut)
* Raymond Pettibon, Semaphore Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Rick Prol, B-Side Gallery and Nada Gallery, New York
* David Robbins, Nature Morte, New York (solo debut) Pictured: David Robbins and Richard Prince, The Fifth Beatle, 1986, black-and-white photograph, 16 x 20".
* David Salle, ICA, Philadelphia; traveled to Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, MOCA, Los Angeles, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, and MCA, chicago
* Lorna Simpson, Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Meyer Valsman, White Columns, New York (solo debut), Jay Gorney Modern Art, New York, and Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles Pictured: Meyer Valsman, 1986. Installation view, Jay Gorney Modern Art, New York.
* Wallace & Donohue, Postmasters, New York (solo debut)
* "The Anticipated Ruln" (cur. Howard Halle; Gretchen Bender, Peter Nagy, Steven Parrino, et al.), The Kitchen, New York
* Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gunther Forg, Reinhard Mucha, Luhring, Augustine & Hodes, New York
* "Damaged Goods: Desire and the Economy of the Object" (cur. Brian Wallis; Judith Barry, Andrea Fraser, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, et al.), New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
* "The Mirror and the Lamp" (cur. Michael Newman and Mark Francis; Richard Artschwager, Christian Boltanski, Tony Cragg, Gerhard Richter, David Salle, Cindy Sherman, et al.), ICA, London, and the Fruitmarket, Edinburgh
* IX Salao Nacional de Artes Plasticas (featured artists: Lygia Clark and Hello Oiticica), Paco Imperial, Rio de Janeiro
* "Spilt Vision" (cur. Robert Mapplethorpe and Laurie Simmons; Alan Belcher, Robert Longo, Allan McCollum, et al.), Artists Space, New York
* "When Attitudes Become Form" (cur. Bob Nickas; Richard Artschwager, Jennifer Bolande, Steven Parrino, Allen Ruppersburg, Philip Taaffe, Imants Tillers, Julia Wachtel, et al.), Bess Cutler Gallery, New York Pictured: "When Attitudes Become Form," 1986. Installation view, Bess Cutler Gallery, New York.
* Arthur C. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art
* Paul de Man, The Resistance to Theory [title essay, Yale French Studies 63 (1982)]
* Henry Louis Gates Jr., ed., "Race," Writing, and Difference
* Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism
* Tama Janowltz, Slaves of New York
* W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology Image, Text, ideology
* A.L Rees and Frances Borzello, eds., The New Art History
* Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision
* Art Splegeiman, Maus: A Survivor's Tale
* Absolute Beginners, dir. Julien Temple
* Down by Law, dir. Jim Jarmusch
* Matador, dir. Pedro Almodovar
* She's Gotta Have It, dir. Spike Lee
* Sid & Nancy, dir. Alex Cox
* Chicago House phenomenon first appears in music press
* The Mekons, The Edge of the World
* Run-D.M.C., Raising Hell
In his last opening, Andy Warhol debuts the Last Supper pictures at Alexander bias Gallery, Milan, across the street from the original at Santa Maria delle Grazie.
"Resistance (Anti-Baudrillard)" opens at White Columns, curated by Group Material. Works by Honore Daumier, Odilon Redon, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, Gretchen Bender, Barbara Kruger, Gerhard Merz, et al. The complaint is ostensibly not directed at Baudrillard himself but rather at the uses and abuses of his theories in the art world. Judith Barry: "Is the art world the most effective place for political action? Historically it hasn't been." Peter Halley: "I think it is actually.... If you want to effect some sort of change ... I think it's as good a place as any to begin."
"Silence = Death" stickers begin showing up around New York. Refers at once to the stigma surrounding AIDS and to the conspicuous silence of national leaders--Reagan didn't mention the word until 1987. Designed by Ken Woddard, the stickers proliferate ominously. Almost simultaneously, ACT UP-AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power--forms. First action: Mar. 24 rally in front of Trinity Church, Wall St.
John Dogg opens at American Fine Arts, Co. and 303. The artist's name is widely regarded as a pseudonym for the collaborative efforts of Richard Prince and AFA director Colin de Land. (Other suspects: Collins and Milazzo, Gary Indiana, 303 Gallery director Lisa Speliman.) A show of tires configured as various deadpan artworks, all of them making (parodic?) reference to now fashionable appropriation art and commodity critique.
Barbara Kruger becomes the first female artist in Mary Boone's stable; Sherrie Levine joins in September 1987. Their "defections" to Boone addle sensibilities preferring clear-cut distinctions between "political" art practices and filthy lucre.
"CalArts: Skeptical Belief(s)," curated by Suzanne Ghez, opens at the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago. Fifty-three artists--Barbara Bloom, Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Larry Johnson, Mike Kelley, Stephen Prina, Mark Stahl, James Welling, Christopher Williams, et al.--educated under the Conceptual-art dispensations of Michael Asher, John Baldessari, and Douglas Huebler. Pictured: "CalArts: Skeptical Belief(s)," 1987, Installation view, Renaissance society, Chicago. Photo: Tom van Eynde.
Documenta 8, curated by Manfred Schneckenburger, opens in Kassel. Unlike Rudi Fuchs's inchoate '82 show, the overriding theme is "art of social concern" rather than neoex ego. Installations and video very prevalent, by Jenny Hoizer, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Merz, Hans Haacke, Group Material, Marcel Odenbach, et al. Peter Fischli and David Weiss's Filmzyklus uber Kettenreaktionen is a big hit. "Skuiptur. Projekte in Munster," curated by Kasper Konig and Klaus Bussmann, opens. Ten years after Bussmann's first Munster show, this next installment includes works by 53 artists, among them Michael Asher, Giovanni Anselmo, Daniel Buren, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Fischli & Weiss, and Katharina Fritsch. Jeff Koons offers a solid stainless-steel copy of the city's Oer Kiepenkerl. The statue survived heavy Allied bombing, only to be destroyed by a tank. During the '50s, Munster, still largely in ruins, erected a bronze copy of the original. Koons kitsch meets Bavarian kitsch. Pictured: Katharina Fritsch, Madonna Figure, 1987. In stallation view, Salzstrasse, Munster.
"Infotainment (18 Artists from New York)," a traveling group show of mostly Nature Morte and International With Monument artists, closes in Amsterdam after a two-year tour, catalogue essays by David Robbins, George W.S. Trow, and Thomas Lawson. Media-savvy art with an autocritical yet insistently Pop vibe. Robbins: "To the children of Barthes and coca-cola, television affords the opportunity to monitor civilization from our bedrooms." Pictured: Gretchen Bender, Untitled (Revolution) (detail), 1985, laminated filmstrip, steel, and fluorescent lights, 72 x 72". From the series 'Total Recall."
Paul de Man's articles for Le Soircome to light. The revelation that the dean of American deconstructivist criticism, who had died four years earlier, had written articles tainted by anti-Semitism for a right-wing Belgian newspaper during the war years provokes responses of disbelief and outrage. Aside from the legitimate questions raised by de Man's wartime journalism, scholars with a grudge against the tremendous success of deconstruction attempt to discredit the entire movement as inherently "fascistic."
Third Text begins publication. Edited by Rasheed Araeen, the journal focuses on visual arts, attempting to disrupt the idees recues of imperialism, colonialism, and 'Third World' culture.
Paradise Garage closes. The King St. club reigned for years as the epicenter of the burgeoning house scene. Frequented primarily by gay blacks and Hispanics, it had at least one famous white regular: Keith Haring.
Elizabeth Hess's "Successl A Boone for Feminists?," Village Voice: Is the ascension of Levine and Kruger to Boone's previously all-male stable good or bad for women artists and feminism? "Artists with disdain for success rarely have any," Hess opines. Unless perhaps you're recently dead, e.g., van Gogh.
Dow crashes. Initial wave of fear that the flush art market will suffer a junk bond--style collapse subsides as money pours into art rather than the unstable stock market. The next two years witness the most profligate expenditures at auction to date.
Peter Hujar dies at age 53. Although he produced only one book of photographs, Portraits in Life and Death (1976), Hujar's work exerted tremendous influence on younger photographers of "alternative lifestyles" and the demimonde. Pictured: Peter Hujar, self-Portralt, 1980, black-and-white photograph, 14 7/8 x 14 3/7".
"Fictions," curated by Douglas Blau, opens at Kent Fine Art and Curt Marcus Gallery, New York. Paintings, drawings, and photographs roaming the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Romantic landscapes, images of scientific instruments and dissections, paintings by Mark Tansey, Mark Innerst, and David Deutsch, and Cindy Sherman's picture of the wannabe Hollywood starlet mingle elegantly on the walls. Blau describes the associative exhibition as an "archeological excavation." Pictured: David Deutach, Untitled, 1981, ink on paper mounted on canvas, 24 x 48".
At the invitation of New Museum curator William Olander, Gran Fury installs Let the Record Show ... in the museum's Broadway storefront, indicting various right-wing figures for their indifference to the crisis or the satisfaction they take in it. SILENCE = DEATH glows in neon over the whole.
Anselm Kiefer retrospective, curated by Mark Rosenthal, opens at the Art Institute of Chicago (the exhibition travels to Philadelphia before closing at MOMA). As the decade wears on, Kiefer emerges as the big winner among German neo-expressionists.
ALSO OF NOTE
* Jeanne Dunning, Feature, Inc., Chicago (solo debut)
* Timothy Greenfleid-Sanders, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York ("The Ninth Street Show," portraits of surviving participants of Castelli's 1951 exhibition)
* Andreas Gursky, Galerie Johnen + Schottle, Cologne (solo debut)
* Thomas Hirschhorn, Kaos-Galerie, Cologne (solo debut)
* Alfredo Jaar, Logo for America, One Times Square, New York
* Mike Kelley, Metro Pictures (exhibition) and Artists Space (performance), New York ("Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's Profile") Pictured: Mike Kelley, "Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's Profile," 1987. Installation view, Metro Pictures, New York.
* Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne, Galerie Peter Pakesch, Vienna, and Metro Pictures, New York ("Peter") Pictured: Martin Kippenberger, "Peter," 1987. Installation view, Galerie Max Hetzler, cologne.
* Christian MarClay, Clocktower, New York (solo debut)
* Tom Otterness, Brooke Alexander Gallery, New York
* Julian Schnabel, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London: traveled to Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, SF MOMA, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
* Cindy Sherman, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
* Kiki Smith, Piezo Electric Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* "Abstract Expressionism: The Critical Developments" (cur. Michael Auping), Aibright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
* "Art Against AIDS," various venues, New York
* "Avant-Garde in the Eighties" (cur. Howard Fox), Los Angeles County Museum of Art
* "Berlinart 1961-1987" (cur. Kynaston McShine), Museum of Modern Art, New York
* "Brennpunkt Dusseldorf 1962-1987" (cur. Stefan von Wiese; Beuys, Hesse, Immendorff, Morris, Paik, Palermo, Polke, Richter, Ruthenbeck, Sieverding, et al.), Kunstmuseum Dusseldorf
* "Latin American Artists in New York Since 1970" (cur. Jacqueline Barnitz; 38-artist survey), Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin
* "L'epoque, la mode, la morale, la passion: Aspects de l'art d'aujourd'hul, 1977-1987" (cur. Bernard Ceysson, Alfred Paquement, Bernard Blistene, Catherine David, Christine Van Assche; commemorates Pompidou's 10th anniversary), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
* "Les courtiers du desir" (cur. Howard Halle and Walter Hopps), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
* "Modernidade: Art Bresllien du XXe Siecle" (cur. Aracy Amaral), Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo
* "Out of the Studio: Art with Community" (cur. Thomas Finkelpearl and Glenn Weiss: John Ahearn, David Hammons, Ruben Ortiz-Torres, Tim Rollins, Meirle Ukeles, et al.), P.S.1, New York
* "Perverted by Language" (cur. Bob Nickas; Jenny Holzer, Larry Johnson, Ronald Jones, Louise Lawler, Haim Steinbach, et al.), Hillwood Art Gallery, Long Island University, Greenvale, New York
* "Surveillance" (cur. Branda Miller and Deborah Irmas; Martha Rosler, Sam Samore, Julia Scher, et al.), L.A.C.E., Los Angeles Pictured: Julia Scher, Personal Reception Area (P.R.A.), 1987. Installation view, L.A.C.E., Los Angeles. Photo: Basis Kenton.
* Hans Beiting, The End of the History of Art? [Das Ende der Kunstgeschichte, 1983]
* Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
* Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender
* Gilles Deleuze and Fellx Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia [Capitalisme et schizophrenie tome 2: Mule plateaux, 1980]
* Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason [Kritik derzynischen Vernunft, 1983]
* Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities
* Films of the Brothers Quay, dir. Brothers Quay
* Full Metal Jacket, dir. Stanley Kubrick
* King Lear, dir. Jean-Luc Godard
* Robocop, dir. Paul Verhoeven
* Wall Street, dir. Oliver Stone
* Wings of Desire, dir. Wim Wenders
* Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction
* Michael Jackson, Bad
* Speed Metal/Thrash phenomenon
"Cultural Geometry," curated by Jeffrey Deitch, opens at the Deste Foundation, Athens. The show takes an internationalist view, integrating simulationist/neo-geo practices (understood primarily as an American phenomenon) with works by Europeans-John Armieder, Jan Vercruysse, Juan Munoz, etc. The catalogue, designed by Dan Friedman, is distinctive: Rather than the usual alteration of images and text, a kind of "visual essay" is constructed of the sort that is subsequently much imitated.
Supreme Court decides Elynt v. Palwell.
Ida Panicelli's first issue as Artforum editor: comprises projects by Enzo cucchi, Rebecca Horn, Robert Longo, Lothar Baumgarten, Jenny Holzer, Dara Bimbaum, and Jannis Kounellis, and texts by Jonathan Borofsky, Nancy Spero, Joseph Kosuth, Tony Cragg, vito Acconci, and Daniel Buren. Panicelli's four-year editorial tenure is prescient regarding the global and sociopolitical concerns of the '90s. She also reveals herself to be a steadfast supporter of the legacy of arte povera.
Gerhard Richter begins painting his "Baader-Meinhof" series, "October 18, 1977." Exhibited the following year at Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, and Portikus, Frankfurt (before traveling to London, St. Louis, and elsewhere), the paintings provoke intense debate in the German press.
Pictured: Gerhard Richter, Plattenspleler (Record player), 1988, oil on canvas, 24 5/8 x 32 3/4". From the series October 18, 1977.
Sandra Bernhard's one-woman show Without You I'm Nothing, cowritten by artist John Boskovich, runs for six months off-Broadway. Pictured: Sandra Bernhard and John Boskovich, Without You I'm Nothing, 1990, still from a color film in 35 mm, 89 minutes.
"Altered States" opens at Kent Fine Art, curated by Rosetta Brooks, with concurrent issue of ZG magazine (interview with Paul virillo, writings by J.G. Ballard, vito Acconci, et al.). Techno-dystopia of the future/present.
Mike Kelley's "Three Projects: Half a Man, From My Institution to Yours, Pay for Your Pleasure" opens at the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago. The last consists of 42 banners bearing quotations by famous artists, writers, philosophers, etc., averring the creative genius's exemption from ordinary moral codes, culminating in a self-portrait by serial killer John Wayne Gacy as Pogo the Clown. Site-specific: When the work is shown at MOCA's "A Forest of Signs," Kelley includes a drawing by LA Freeway Killer William Bonin instead.
Jean-Michel Basqujat found dead, at age 27, from a heroin overdose in the Great Jones St. loft he had rented from Andy Warhol. Friends of the artist maintain he was exploited, that his escalating drug use was ignored by interested parties, and that Warhol's death the previous year had left him without anchor.
Pictured: Jean-Michel Basquiat's obituary, New York Times, August 15,1988.
Paul Thek dies at age 54.
"Impresario: Malcolm McLaren and the British New Wave," curated by Paul Taylor, opens at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Mixed-media installation designed by Judith Barry and Ken Saylor, featuring materials related to McLaren's various fashion endeavors (e.g., Sex, the boutique he ran with Vivienne Westwood) and his musical enterprises (the Sex Pistols, etc.).
Pictured: Malcolm McLaren, n.d.
ACT UP, joined by the national ACT NOW coalition, closes down the Federal Drug Administration headquarters in suburban Washington, DC. More than 1,000 activists stage demonstrations that result in some 180 arrests. A historic event garnering international press coverage, the action demonstrates the lethargy of the bureaucracy in charge of testing possible AIDS treatments.
Francois Mitterrand dedicates I.M. Pet's pyramids at the Louvre after four years of controversy.
George Bush elected 41st president.
Jeff Koons's "Banality" show opens at Sonnabend, New York. Sculptures in porcelain and polychromed wood, reveling in kitsch sources. Like Sonnabend's '86 neogeo group show, Koons's superdeluxe vulgarity incites lots of commentary, much disparaging. (Peter Schjeldahl: "To stroll through the Sonnabend Gallery today is to be gang-banged by a crew of inanimate demons." Sounds charming.) But the images are indelible, e.g., the white-and-gold Michael Jackson and Bubbles (Jackson's skin: white). Pictured: Jeff Koons, Wishing Well, 1988, gilded mirror, 87 x 56 x 8".
ALSO OF NOTE
* Ashley Bickerton, Sonnabend, New York (includes LED "price tag" works)
* John Boskovich, Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles (solo debut)
* Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rastovski Gallery, New York (solo debut) Pictured: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled, 1988, framed photostat, 11 x 14".
* Ilya Kabakov, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York (New York solo debut)
* Tadashi Kawamata, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York
* Liz Lamer, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles (solo debut)
* Sally Mann, Marcuse Pfeiffer Gallery, New York (New York solo debut)
Pictured: Sally Mann,
Jessie Bites, 1986, black-and-white photograph, 20 x 24".
* Cady Noland, White Columns, New York (solo debut)
* Jorge Pardo, Bliss Gallery, Pasadena, CA (solo debut)
* Laurie Parsons, Lorence-Monk Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Richard Phillips, Holly Solomon Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Marc Quinn, Jay Jopling/Otis Gallery, London (solo debut)
* Collier Schorr, Cable Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Rosemarle Trockel, Kunsthalle Basel and ICA, London
* Rachel Whiteread, Carlisle Gallery, London (solo debut)
* Nayland Blake, Liz Lamer, Richard Morrison, Charles Ray, 303 Gallery, New York
* "Brazil Projects" (cur. Alanna Heiss, Chris Dercon, et al.; Lygia Clark, Franz Krajcberg, Helio Olticica, et al.), P.S. 1, New York
* Democracy" (cur. Group Material: John Aheam, Beuys, Halley, Faith Ringgold, Warhol, et al.), Dia Art Foundation, New York
Pictured: Group Material, "Education and Democracy," 1988. Installation view, Dia Art Foundation, New York, Photo: Ken Schles.
* "The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970"
(cur. Luis Cancel; 136-artist survey), Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York
* "Utopia Post Utopia" (Robert Gober, Richard Prince, Meg Webster, et al.), ICA, Boston
Pictured, foreground: Meg Webster, Moss Bed, 1986-88. Background: Robert Gober, Untitled Door and Doorframe, 1987-88. Installation view, ICA, Boston.
* Steven Hawking, A Brief History of Time
* Gary Indiana, Horse Crazy
* Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism, and the Histories of Art
* Salman Rushdle, The Satanic Verses
* Damnation, dir. Bela Tarr
* Days of Eclipse, dir. Alexander Sokurov
* Dead Ringers, dir. David Cronenberg
* The Decalogue, dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
* Halrspray, dir. John Waters
* Working Girl, dir. Mike Nichols
* Pixies, Surfer Rosa
* Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
* Rave phenomenon throughout Europe
* Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
* Sugarcubes, Life's Too Good
"Andy Warhol: A Retrospective," curated by Kynaston McShind, opens at Museum of Modem Art almost exactly two years after the artist's death. Essays by Robert Rosenblum, Benjamin Buchloh, and Marco Livingstone. The show focuses on "canonical" works and stints Warhol's activities beyond the fine arts.
Ayatollah Khomeini issues fatwa against Salman Bushdie.
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan completed.
"Refigured Painting: The German Image 1960-88," curated by Thomas Krens Michael Govan, and Joseph Thompson, travels to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, after opening at the Toledo Museum of Art. A Teutonic grab bag, ranging from Polke and Richter through neo-ex (Baselitz, Dokoupil, Fetting, Hodicke, Immendorff Lupertz, Middendorf) to Kippenberger, Georg Herold, and Rosemarie Trockel. Savage critical reception, although Peter Schjeldahl manages a recuperative twist: "It's a disaster worthy of an 'I Survived ... T-shirt and, as such, a must-see." The death knell of German neo-ex?
Pictured: "Refigured Painting: The German Image 1960-88," 1989.
Installation view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: David Heald.
Howardena Pindell, "Art World Racism: A Documentation," New Art Examiner: Pindell, an artist, provides statistics concerning the severe lack of representation of artists of color in New York galleries and museums. "Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American artists are ... with a few, very few exceptions systematically excluded."
Robert Mapplethorpe dies at age 42.
Exxon Valdez disaster.
"Bilderstreit. Widerspruch, Einheit und Fragment in der Kunst seit 1960," curated by Siegfried Gohr and Johannes Gachnang, opens at the Koln Rheinhallen. Presenting a smorgasbord of artists (Baithus to Baldessari, Picasso to Prince, Schwitters to Schnabel), "Bilderstreit" -- "picture fight"--is indeed a scrap, but not in the way the curators imagined. Many Cologne dealers sign a declaration attacking the exhibit's "market-politics selection," referring especially to the preponderance of artists represented by Mary Boone and Michael Werner; German critics are virtually unanimous in pronouncing the show a disaster. The hostility drives Gohr from his position as director of the Museum Ludwig.
"A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation," curated by Ann Goldstein and Mary Jane Jacob, opens at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Coming at the end of the decade, the broad survey of the "critical" art of the past ten years--i.e., "Pictures," neo-geo, etc.--accrues an inevitable valedictory air. Much of the work is photo-based, its background Conceptual. Many of the artists also display a marked feminist disposition. David Salle declines the invitation to show. Pictured: Barbara Kruger, Untitled, 1989. Installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
"Magiciens de la Terre," curated by Jean-Hubert Martin in collaboration with Mark Francis, opens at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. The show includes nearly 100 artists, half from the recognized "centers" of contemporary culture, half culled from the "margins." The first major exhibition to take "globalism" as its subject; nevertheless, it is criticized as "neocolonialist," reiterating in a contemporary-art vein some of the complaints that greeted MOMA'S historical "'Primitivism' in 20th Century Art" in 1984.
Pictured: Hans Haacke, One Day the Lions of Dulcie September Will Spout Water in Jubilation, 1989. Installation view, centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Photo: Hans Haacke.
New York senator Alfonse D'Amato presents Andres Serrano's Piss Christ to the US Senate. Serrano had received $15,000 from a grants organization funded partially by the National Endowment for the Arts.
"The Silent Baroque," curated by Christian Leigh, opens at Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg. Former Artforum reviews editor-turned-independent curator Leigh's most grandiose (preposterous?) statement. "My interest in the Baroque is as a social and cultural catalyst," he says. "My interest lies in those places where things that are different come together and resemble one another." Now that's a lot of places. very diverse group of some 50 artists and writers.
The Corcoran Gallery cancels "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment." As part of a protest against the cancellation, Krzysztof Wodiczko projects Mapplethorpe's self-portrait on the museum's facade. Throughout the summer, attacks on the NEA for its support of "pornography" escalate.
Daniel Libeskind awarded Jewish Museum commission in Berlin; the architect says that his design attempts "to make visible the invisible." After numerous postponements, the museum's first exhibition opens in Sept. 2001.
Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History," published in the National Interest: Fukuyama presents an essentially right-wing celebration of history's putative terminus, as if the world had finally reached its appropriate telos; Alexandre Kojeve spins in his grave.
Tiananmen Square massacre.
Gerhard Richter's Atlas exhibited at Lenbachhaus, Munich, before traveling to Cologne. Marks the first exhibition of this gargantuan photographic archive since the 70s.
Jack Smith, director of notorious underground classic Raining Creatures (1963), dies at age 57. Fanatically dedicated to '40s 8-movie actress Maria Montez, he recuperated her ineptitude as a virtue: "The acting was lousy but if something genuine got on film why carp about acting--which HAS to be phony anyway--I'd RATHER HAVE atrocious acting." Pictured: Jack Smith, Untitled (tableau vivant), 1958-62, print from a 21/4 x 21/4 color negative.
Matthew Barney's Field Dressing performance takes place at the Payne Whitney Athletic Complex at Yale, in Barney's senior year at the university. Pictured: Matthew Barney, Field Dressing (orlfill), 1989, video still. Production:
Gran Fury's Control project appears in Art forum. Pointed juxtapositions of image and text, e.g., a picture of a masked scientist bending over a petri dish with a quotation by a Hoffmann-La Roche executive: "One million [People with AIDS] isn't a market that's exciting. Sure it's growing, but it's not asthma."
"Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing," curated by Nan Goldin, opens at Artists Space. The show addresses the massive losses from Abs sustained within the arts community. A wide range of works, by David Wojnarowicz, Kiki Smith, David Armstrong, Greer Lankton, et al. Wojnarowicz's incendiary catalogue text becomes the center of a huge media fracas as NEA head John Frohnmayer threatens to defund the exhibition.
"Image World: Art and Media Culture," curated by Lisa Phillips, John G. Hanhardt, and Marvin Heiferman, opens at the Whitney. Sort of a more inclusive New York pendant to "A Forest of Signs." TV, movies, ads--the "culture industry" as fodder for a generation of post-Pop/post-Conceptual artists often vacillating between critique and complicity. Call it "Richard Prince's World." Pictured: Nam June Paik, Fin de Siecie II, 1989. Installation view, whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
The Berlin Wall falls
Day Without Art organized by Visual AIDS. A wide variety of responses, from galleries closing their doors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's draping Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein.
United States troops invade Panama.
ALSO OF NOTE
* Marcel Broodthaers (cur. Michael Compton and Marge Goldwater; first US retrospective), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
* Tony Cragg, Tate Gallery, London
* John Currin, White Columns, New York (solo debut)
* Jeanne Dunning, Feature, Inc., New York (New York solo debut)
* Andrea Fraser, Philadelphia Museum of Art ("Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk")
* Jenny Holzer, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
* Gary Hume, Karsten Schubert Ltd., London (solo debut)
* Komar and Melamid, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York ("Bergen Point Brass Foundry, Bayonne")
* Sean Landers, Tom Solomon's Garage, Los Angeles (solo debut)
* Donald Moffett, Wessel O'Connor Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Vik Muniz, Stux Gallery, New York (solo debut)
* Cady Noland, American Fine Arts, Co., New York, Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, and Galleria Massimo de Carlo, Milan
* Tim Rollins/K.O.S. (cur. Gary Garrels), Dia Center for the Arts, New York
* Lorna Simpson, Josh Baer Gallery, New York (New York solo gallery debut)
* Philip Taaffe, Pat Hearn Gallery and Mary Boone Gallery, New York
* Tunga, Whitechapel Gallery, London
* Jeff Wall, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (New York solo debut)
* "Against Nature: Japanese Art in the Eighties" (cur. Kathy Halbreich, Tom Sokolowski, Shinji Kohmoto, Fumlo Nanjo; Kaoru Hirabayashi, Shako Maemoto, Tatsuo Miyajima, Yasumasa Morimura, et al.), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
* "Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980" (cur. Dawn Ades and Guy Brett; 170-artist survey), Hayward Gallery, London
* Inaugural Istanbul Blennale
* Susan Buck-Morss. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project
* Pat Hackett, ed., Andy Warhol Diaries
* Cornel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy
* City of Sadness, dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien
* Do the Right Thing, dir. Spike Lee
* Drugstore Cowboy, dir. Gus Van Sant
* Heathers, dir. Michael Lehmann
* Histoire(s) du Cinema, dir. Jean-Luc Godard
* Sex, Lies, and Videotape, dir. Steven Soderbergh
* The Unbelievable Truth, dir. Hal Hartley
* De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising
* Nirvana, Bleach
* N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton
Keith Haring dies at age 31.
Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet sells at Christie's for $82.5 million to a Japanese buyer, surpassing the previous record of $53.9 million for Irises at Sotheby's three years earlier. But many works from the Impressionist and modern sale go for around or below their estimates, and 24 fail to sell.
Gran Fury invited to show at Venice Biennale (The Pope and the Penis project, as members of the collective describe it). Commissioners of the Biennale refuse to assist in getting the project through customs. Finally, Gran Fury appears in the show. Censorship only aggrandizes their presence.
Jenny Holzer becomes the first woman from the US to win the Venice Biennale's Golden Lion.
Grants to "NEA 4"--Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, John Fleck, and Tim Miller--rejected. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Republican from California: "It shouldn't have been that difficult to reject sacrilegious and pornographic art. It is time we set some standards."
Critic Craig Owens dies at age 39. Beyond Recognition, his collected essays (Barbara Kruger, Jane Weinstock, Lynne Tiliman, and Scott Bryson, eds.), appears two years later.
"Just Pathetic," curated by Ralph Rugoff, opens at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles. Work included by Mike Kelley, Cady Noland, Jeffrey Valiance, Jessica Diamond, David Hammons, et al. Four months later, "Stuttering" (curated by Vik Muniz) opens at Stux Gallery, New York, with works by Muniz, Cary Lebowitz/Candyass, et al. Incipience of the "loser" or "abject art" trends of the early '90s.
Iraq invades Kuwait.
Texte zur Kunst founded in Cologne by Isabelle Graw and Stefan Germer. The journal sedulously advocates critical theory (shades of the Frankfurt School) in its approach to contemporary art.
At Sotheby's, fewer than half of the postwar works sell. Total sale: $19.8 million, a mere half of the low end of the presale estimate. Andre Emmerich: "I would expect that [prices] will be more sensible in the next series of sales in May. The craziness has gone out of the auctions." (Between 1990 and 1993, some 70 Manhattan galleries will close as a result of the dwindling market.)
Sigmar Polke retrospective, curated by John Caidwell, opens at SF MOMA. As the decade closes, an opportunity to examine in depth an artist who influenced divergent trends in contemporary art, on the one hand held up as an exemplar by Buchloh, on the other an all-too-obvious influence on Salle and scores of lesser figures. Pictured: Sigmar Polke, 1990. Installation view, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
* Candida Hofer, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, New York
* Clido Melreles, "Mission/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals)," ICA, London; "Cinza," Museum of Modern Art, New York
* Juan Munoz, Renaissance Society, Chicago
* "Sigmar Polke: Fotograflen" (cur. Jochen Poetter), Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden
* Flona Rae, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow (solo debut)
* Thomas Schutte, Kunsthalle Bern
* Jessica Stockholder, American Fine Arts, Co., New York Pictured: Jessica Stockholder, Rower Dusted Prosles (detall), 1992. Installation view, American Fine Arts, Co., New York.
* Carrie Mae Weems, "Calling Out My Name," CEPA Gallery, Buffalo; traveled to PP.O.W., New York (solo gallery debut)
* "Paintball" (cur. Richard Prince; Prince, Pruitt/Early, Tom Henry III), 303 Gallery, New York, and Stuart Regen Gallery, Los Angeles
* "Transcontinental: Nine Latin American Artists" (cur. Guy Brett), Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, England
* Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
* Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century
* Misery, dir. Rob Reiner
* Paris Is Burning, dir. Jennie Livingstone
Pictured: Jennie Livingstone, Paris is Burning, 1990. Production still: Michael compte,
* Pretty Woman, dir. Garry Marshall
* Reversal of Fortune, dir. Barbet Schroeder
* Ice Cube, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
* Yo La Tengo, Fakebook
RELATED ARTICLE: David Lynch's Blue Velvet
WHEN I WAS ATTEMPTING to learn to think, the idea of "the figure in the carpet" was standard critical fare. In the Henry James story of that name, a novelist gaily disses a young critic's review, then explains that critics have always "missed my little point . . . an idea in my work [that] stretches . . . from book to book, and everything else, comparatively, plays over the surface of it." Fascinated by this (ultimately undiscoverable) "general intention," the critic imagines it as "something like a complex figure in a Persian carpet"--a pattern so deeply embedded in the art's fiber as to be invisible, but informing the whole thing.
David Lynch's 1986 movie Blue Velvet quite trashes that model. Everything's up on the surface; the figure in the carpet is so explicit that to decipher is redundant. In fact, Blue Velvet recalls what the theorist Dick Hebdige, extrapolating from '80s thinkers like Jean Baudrillard and Fredric Jameson, once called "flatness": the sense that reality has been overtaken by appearances, which in turn "can no longer be said to mask, conceal, distort or falsify reality." Superevidence is manifest from the film's first sequence (with its white-white fence, blue-blue sky, red-red roses, and yellow-yellow tulips, a primary palette vacated of life's pastels) to its last, where the sign of catharsis is an obviously mechanical robin. (The director might as well be Ed Wood.) Illusion announced as illusion is an old trope, but Lynch doesn't so much break the fourth wall as make fiction global. Sans masks and concealment, no figure in the carpet is possible--meaning the end to an entire paradigm of art and audience response.
Entendres too literal to be double dot Blue Velvet's dialogue. Want to signal that the hero's sexuality is still emergent? Have a woman tell him, "I looked for you in my closet tonight"--when he really has hidden there earlier on, short-circuiting the metaphoric. Or have him tell a friend, "You're a neat girl," only to hear her reply, "So are you--I mean, you're a neat guy." Blue Velvet's symbols, particularly the Freudian ones, are too overt to be symbolic. You remember the plot: Young Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) finds a severed ear in his nice little hometown, then enters a dangerous underworld of kidnap, rape, and murder. Fine--but the family romance is everywhere. Mother, father, daddy, baby, Momma loves you--the words are on everyone's lips. The notorious scene in which Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) forces sex on Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) while inhaling an unnamed gas begins with her "Hello, baby"--to which he replies, "It's daddy, you shithead." Yet two minutes later he is calling her " mommy," and saying of himself, "Baby wants to fuck!" And when Dorothy--whom Jeffrey has been sleeping with--turns up, naked and battered, on his lawn, a high school rival asks him, "Is that your mother?"
Blue Velvet is the first movie I remember that seemed tailor-made for both postmodernist theorists and a popular audience. It played it both ways: No matter how depthless its surfaces, and despite its coy comedy of banality, the film was riveting, unsafe. Hopper's Frank is a terrifying villain-violent, obsessed, the prisoner of his fetishes. And Rossellini's nude scenes defied the Hollywood norm: Her body was bulgy and pale. No doubt she could have put in some gym and beach time before the shoot (as MacLachlan presumably did; Lynch plays knowingly with his hyperconventional good looks and toned physique), but she and Lynch preferred ordinary vulnerability to movie-star sleekness. Blue Velvet enacted a return of the repressed: Dancing in a world of simulacra, it simultaneously communicated deep and frightening feeling. And how did it do this? Through acting! The thing becomes a hall of mirrors. A great movie of the '80s, Blue Velvet both reflected the changes we sensed at the time and allowed us a way to feel real.A contributing editor of Artforum, where he served as an editor from 1981 to 1995, David Frankel is senior editor in the Department of Publications at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
A contributing editor of Artforum, where he served as an editor from 1981 to 1995, David Frankel is senior editor in the Department of Publications at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1986 Jeff Koons's Rabbit
WHEN I FIRST SAW RABBIT, in the "neo-geo" group show at Sonnabend in 1986, I was dumbstruck. It seemed to me instantly, by involuntary reflex--and still does by long reflection--that this bunny is one of those very rare hits at the exact center of the target. It's a piece where a ton of contradictions (about the artist, about the time) are fused with shocking, deadpan economy into an unforgettable ingot. I can unpack this scuipture endlessly without ever dulling the bewilderments--hilarious and outrageous but chilling and cynical, familiar but also from Mars--that caused that first frisson.
Rabbit is now so widely known through photographs--and is so effective as a logolike image--that one can easily forget how imposing it is as a sculptural object. The process of casting heated the air inside the inflatable original, so that each volume of the cast swells outward with an impossibly taut, barely contained energy underlined by the strained crinkling along major seams. The head--easily seen as a simple sphere in frontal photos--actually has a more awkwardly complex sculptural life, given the flatness of the sides and back and the large, critical detail of the inflation nipple protruding at the rear. The symmetrical lightness suggested in photos is also contrary to the real-life sense of the object's ungainliness and menacing weight, balanced on the points of its unflat feet.
The piece has also become such an inescapable, seemingly inevitable icon of its epoch that no one much bothers now to remember its original context: a 1986 series called "Statuary," which also included a bust of Louis XIV and several other, smaller stainless steel items of kitsch, such as a big-headed figurine of Bob Hope. The group, as its author said with characteristic circumspection, was "a panoramic view of how art has participated culturally since the French Revolution." But, leaving aside the time-line problem of the Sun King (died 1715) and the uprising (born 1789), I doubt anyone has ever looked at Rabbit and thought it showed--as the artist said he hoped these pieces would--that "no matter who you put art in the hands of, eventually it will reflect their ego and just become decorative." Among its other appeals, Rabbit is a terrific instance of how good art trumps rhetoric, even in the archrhetorical 1980s.
The catchphrase of the day, for example--"commodity critique"--seems a leaden downer that does no justice to Rabbit's energies, frozen but quicksilver as well. And all the talk about Koons as a Duchampian appropriation artist might work fine for the Bob Hope statue and similar, more forgettable parts of his series, but Rabbit--like others among his best things--is mightily transformed from its source, extremely stylized, and derives much of its impact from its abstraction. As in Roy Lichtenstein's comic canvases, the cheap, generic original is seemingly mimicked yet actually refined and made more abstract, with knowing nods to the styles of modern art. In the case of Rabbit--for the part of Koons's audience that enjoys such games--the nods explicitly evoke Constantin Brancusi and Claes Oldenburg. The gleaming machine-age idealism of the former and the garrulous metamorphic bumptiousness of the latter are quoted and aggressed against in the same cruelly parodic breath. Yet the satire has its own rogue vitality , not only parasitic but autonomous, in the way Devo's robotic 1978 remake of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" also seemed independently likable and pitch-perfect for its time.
The polish of Rabbit, too, is more than just a jab at Brancusi. It's also an unexpected hinge point between the mirrors that Robert Smithson plucked out of Minimalism and the increasing glitz of younger art to come. We know from Koons's own accounts that he was inspired by Smithson's reflectors when he combined mirrors with his earliest use of inflatable bunnies and flowers, in 1979. His unabashed exploitation of that polished gleam as a fusion of high art and lowbrow commercial sheen then set a tone--along with his indulgences in color and his interest in display--for what would become, among younger artists in the next decade, a widespread interest in exploiting imagery of glamour and seduction. (Think Felix Gonzalez-Torres's use of silver foil, or the mirrored boutique in Janine Antoni's Gnaw, 1992.) When the larger story of how Pop and Minimalism came to hybridize in their afterlives is eventually told, Rabbit will be a key exemplar.
This snarky little thumper has other stories to tell too. Koons said, "To me the Rabbit has many meanings. It is a symbol of the playboy, of fantasy and also of resurrection." (The joining of those last two terms alone can provide food for long thought, or skepticism.) "But to me, the Rabbit is also a symbol of the orator making proclamations, like a politician. A masturbator, with a carrot to the mouth." Left out of that roundup is the way the piece prefigures Koons's later concentration on images of toys and childhood, and the possibility of its vanitas associations. Like other work of his before and after--basketballs, life vests, balloons--the piece has to do with that most evanescent of life markers, breath. His inflatables are self-declaredly hollow, but also armored--in this case with the hard, gleaming bubble of American consumer delight, which it seemed, in the heyday of Reagan, that no one might ever pop.
Kirk Varnedoe is professor of the history of art at the Institute for Advanced 5tudy in Princeton, New Jersey. This spring he will be giving the Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, on the subject of abstract art since Jackson Pollock. (Sue Contributors.)
1987 Todd Haynes's Superstar
TODD HAYNES MAY HAVE GRADUATED to the Oscars, but he earned hipster tenure with the 1987 bootleg classic Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, his docudrama about the plight of the anorexic pop star, as "dramatized" by Barbies.
If the '80s were the decade of irony, Superstar takes inauthenticity as merely its starting point and evokes real emotion as we feel the pain of a plastic icon. "I just want it to be perfect!" Karen Carpenter (Barbie) declares, stressing out in a lilliputian recording studio. Don't we all? While the all-Barbie cast could seem flippant, or trivializing, instead of being distanced from the skinny songbird's saga, we are drawn closer to her alienation, as she internalizes systems of control (family, celebrity) that exploit her as a puppet of wholesomeness. The pedagogical tic of the '80s was to expose everything we take for "natural" as culturally constructed. Yet as a case study, Superstar manages to be not didactic but funny and sad. The Mattel thespians expose the American dream of becoming an image rather than a self: Behind the "construction" of the celebrity's plastic persona is ... more plastic.
With deadpan rigor, Haynes contextualizes Karen's affliction within postwar American consumer culture. Anorexia is culturally induced by highly controlled familial environments that the victim internalizes. Karen's boundary-free, custom-uglified Barbie Mom is uncannily replicated in her showbiz handler, who creepily assures her, "We're a real family here at A&M.... All you have to do is put yourself in my hands." In the case of Karen's troubled family, body, and identity, the confusion between her image and her life is tragic. On the level of representation, Haynes's mingling of dolls and "reality" rocks: The jet-molded actors' scenes are enhanced by establishing shots of "real" suburban scenery, cutaways to "real" gesturing hands, actual toilets, and TV clips that dynamize the groovily dressed, stilted Barbies. Karen's personal hell occurs in darling miniature mise-en-scenes, against the incongruously sweet, wistful, melodious Carpenters sound track.
Karen's low-cal journey from suburbs to stardom to skeleton is depicted in one of several elegant montages: As the Carpenters croon that they're "On Top of the World," a whirlwind of world capitals, salads, iced teas, Ex-Lax, and bathroom scales charts the career flying and the pounds dropping. Eventually, fans gasp at this obviously anorexic Barbie, her face hacked into bony angles by Haynes's clever styling. She bottoms out in an eloquent, grotesque scene. Due onstage, her brother, Richard (Ken), finds Karen passed out at her vanity table, slumped over the telltale box of Barbie-size Ex-Lax: "Redo your makeup. You're a mess!" Her image-obsession is destroying her, but instead of compassion she gets prodded to pull together her "false" self and get out there and perform. (Ever read Alice Miller's Drama of the Gifted Child?) As Karen desperately acts out her invalidated inner life, literally emptying herself with laxatives and emetics, one recalls Nietzsche: "Through what is laughable, say what is somber." Ti ll the end, the ill goodie-goodie is eager to please others; home from rehab, she cheerfully reports she's "better than ever," then hits her stash of teeny Ipecac bottles and pukes to death.
What I love about Superstar is the same thing that excited me about another great art moment of the '80s (though it first appeared in '79): Dara Birnbau m's video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. Over and over again Birnbaum repeats footage from the TV show starring Barbie-shaped Lynda Carter: The superheroine twirls in a circle in her wobbly "transformation"; she deflects killer rays with her wristbands while a pasty dweeb cowers behind her. Birnbaum's appropriation makes Wonder Woman repeat on us in a cheeky way but leaves her relatively intact, while Haynes gnaws at his icon, dirtying her up with repressed back story. Rather than passively consuming such persecutory myths of feminine perfectness, these artists treat them as our psychic playthings (which they are) and wring meanings and feelings from them at odds with the "ready-made" versions. These icons infect the fibers of our fantasies. Haynes's Superstar chews them up, metabolizes them, and then vomits them out, with chunks of history. While p urging is gross in real life, in art it's swell.
Rhonda Lieberman is a New York-based writer, critic, and artist. (See Contributors.)
Andy Warhol, 1928-1987
I KNOW I HEARD about Andy's death before it hit the papers, so it must have been sometime late that Sunday, February 22, 1987. I was on the telephone with Peter Hujar, meandering through some extended schmooze, undoubtedly about him having AIDS and/or me being in love, when Peter said, offhandedly, "By the way, Andy Warhol died."
Just like that. It's Peter's timing I recall. A little like "PS: Your cat is dead." Yet I assure you Hujar did not give the news of Andy's death the backseat out of indifference. Peter was taut with emotion over it. His offhand tone was more typical of the dire deliberateness that muffled so much in one's world circa February 1987. Those were overwhelming times. Moving day by day toward the future that 1987 was holding before us, you had to hold on very tight. People who weren't close to the AIDS epidemic may find it hard to connect to the kind of quiet desperation that suffused so much of life then. Those who tested positive, like Peter, had a diagnosis that looked exactly like a death sentence. Uninfected people knew--knew--that some significant number of the people they cared about would be dead within a year. Life was lived with that bell tolling all the time. "In the midst of life, we are in death," Luther wrote. Well, February 1987 was literally like that.
Such was the metaphysical mix for Peter's "By the way, Andy Warhol died." A week later, Vogue asked me to gather statements from people about Andy's passing. Richard Serra was charming; Dorothea Rockbume was blunt; Emile de Antonio, incisive. Peter's statement was one of two (but only two!) tinged with tangible grief: "It's so sad that he's gone. I wasn't ready to have Andy go yet. Not yet."
Not yet. That said it. Not yet. Make it the motto of 1987.
Fifteen years earlier, I had written a book called Stargazer, in which I argued that Warhol's famous vision of "now" entailed a parallel sense of "now's" perpetual transition into "then." I saw Andy's aesthetic of pure immediacy as a myth, a neo-romantic dream for all its brash daring; the whole thing glowed in a nimbus of things passing. By the '70s--or even earlier--Andy was already swathed in the aura of his '60s moment. He carried with him his very own lost age. Warhol's "now" was a covert romanticism that exuded, like some philosophic vapor trail, a kind of pathos--a pathos for which film is an especially potent medium. Even Andy's fascination with the stars was riddled with the ironies of this pathos, not the-least of which was a cult of young beauty captured on film, only to die immortalized. He started the "Marilyn" series the day of Monroe's suicide. "Timing," he noted, "is everything"; Warhol's "now," in short, was drenched in mortality.
Andy replied with a blurb for the second edition: "Stargazer is to die over."
Long after, when he was actually gone, I still hadn't plumbed how complex my surmise really was. After the murder attempt of June 1968, Warhol believed he had briefly "died" on the surgical table, only to have his "death" miraculously rescinded and his restored life thus split into a momentous Before and After. I didn't quite grasp how important that event would become for his subsequent vision of time. Warhol thought his "reprieve" from death had been conditional: Under certain conditions, it could and would be cancelled. For instance, he was sure he must never again enter a hospital. If he did, his own supremely privileged moment, that moment of death, suspended in 1968, would come unstuck. God would finish the moment he'd put on "pause," and Andy's death would resume--but only in a hospital, where it had been interrupted. These obsessions, I gather, lay behind his mad, life-threatening refusal to take sound medical advice in 1987.
In 1987, the "now" of the '60s died--a "now" that claimed to be without past or future, and upon which Warhol had based his glowing Pop statement. And its vanishing left behind another "now," one that felt more like an '80s "not yet."
It was as though some significant part of a generation had made a transit between two different senses of the moment, two ways of experiencing the touch of time.
Stephen Koch is a New York-based writer and critic. (See contributors.)
"DECONSTRUCTIVIST ARCHITECTURE," curated by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, opened at the Museum of Modern Art in June 1988. It seemed at first sight to be a heterogeneous affair, cobbled together from drawings and models of the mostly unbuilt work of seven architects assembled beneath a neologism suggestive at once of the Russian avant-garde movement of the '20s and the interpretative approach to literary and philosophical analysis pioneered by Jacques Derrida. Following the tactics employed by Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock in their 1932 "Modern Architecture" exhibition at MOMA, "Deconstrutivism" sought to bring art-historical order to work that was united primarily by its opposition to the historical pastiche associated with postmodernism. The catalogue essays, however, disclaimed that a new style was in the making. Johnson asserted that while in 1932 he was on a "quest for a new style of architecture," more than a half century later he had "no such aims." Wigley, similarly, stated that "Deconstructiv ist architecture is not an '-ism' ... not a new style."
Nevertheless, Wigley's essay intimated that the dislocations of structure, form, and function evident in Russian Constructivist architecture had now found fulfillment in the "dislocations" of the contemporary architects on show. He associated the fragmented structures of Constructivism with the Russian revolutionaries' desire to destabilize traditional architecture and devise a new architecture out of modern technological forms, placing their characteristics against classical norms and the unity of rationalist modernism. Discerning similar formal traits in the contemporary projects, Wigley proposed that they be seen in relation to deconstruction, itself dedicated to undermining commonplaces and to revealing unease beneath apparently stable texts.
The architectural homology, however, was less clear. Of the projects exhibited, only Bernard Tschumi's red follies for the Parc de La Villette in Paris and Rem Koolhaas's Rotterdam Apartment Building and Observation Tower drew on Constructivist motifs; Frank Gehry's Gehry House in Santa Monica seemed closer to Dada roots; Daniel Libeskind's City Edge project, Zaha Hadid's design for the Peak in Hong Kong, and Coop Himmelb(I)au's Rooftop Remodeling in Vienna were indebted to the vocabulary of German Expressionism and Dutch modernism. Peter Eisenman, finally, despite having collaborated with Derrida for a garden within Tschumi's park, exhibited in his design for the University of Frankfurt's Biocenter as much reliance on the multiple grids of his earlier experiments with the architecture of Giuseppe Terragni as on any philosophical borrowings. In retrospect, if any unity is to be detected among the exhibited projects, it is in their common disregard for classical composition, rejection of overt historical refer ences, respect for the various traditions of the avant-garde, and evident delight in formal oppositions. In short, while the exhibition offered indirect proof of Wigley's own admission that the selected architects did not "participate in any new movement," the projects, taken collectively, stood firmly on the side of a continuing "tradition" of the modern.
Thus, despite the slightly forced comparison to the early avant-garde movements and the overly literal association of fragmentation in architecture with the more complex philosophical position of deconstruction, the historical impact of this show was significant. The architects of "Deconstructivism" have become the institutional and academic leaders of their generations; their works have become models for late-modern architecture on a global scale; they have collectively established a way of looking at architecture, a way of expressing technological and social values in form that, in retrospect, as Eisenman has stated, "stopped Postmodernism in its tracks." If the "Modern Architecture" show of 1932 proposed a more or less unified style for postwar reconstruction, then this small exhibition was, in concentrated form, a preface to the renewal of modernist forms that has, with little of the "unease" Mark Wigley detected, emerged as the triumphant manner of the last decade.
Anthony Vidler is professor of architecture and dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at cooper union. His most recent book is Warped Space: Art. Architecture, and Anxiety in Modem Culture (MIT Press, 20001.
IN 1988 THE UK WAS IN CRISIS: The economy was still reeling from the previous year's stock-market collapse, the conflict in Northern Ireland was escalating by the day, and on the night of December 21, a terrorist's bomb brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Throughout, Margaret Thatcher remained defiant, determined to see Britain rebuilt in her own image: as a classless society in which, with enough hard work, any individual could succeed. London's Docklands--a fading conduit for Britain's declining manufacturing industries--was ground zero for Thatcher's master plan. Lodged uncomfortably amid the working-class neighborhoods that housed the docks' erstwhile labor force, the Docklands would eventually become a monument to free enterprise: a home to luxury waterfront apartments and headquarters for multinational media and banking conglomerates. It was here that Damien Hirst--at the time an undergraduate fine-art student at Goldsmiths College--organized the exhibition "Freeze."
Throughout the '80s the British art scene had become increasingly complacent. Dominated by the "Lisson sculptors"--Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Anish Kapoor--and older painters such as Howard Hodgkin and expat Malcolm Morley, the arena offered scarce opportunity for younger artists. Hirst and his Goldsmiths peers elected--with positively Thatcherite zeal--to determine their own fate. Clearly impressed by the vast white spaces of Charles and Doris Saatchi's Boundary Road gallery--a private museum that, since its opening in 1985, had put the dowdy British art establishment to shame--Hirst and Co. transformed an abandoned Docklands building into an airy showcase for their own work. Accompanied by a sleek catalogue sponsored by the government-approved property consortium Olympia and York Canary Wharf Ltd., "Freeze," with its unshakable self-confidence and shameless professionalism, would display none of the anarchic amateurism typical of student shows.
Today "Freeze" is probably better known for who, rather than what, was in it. While the exhibition would ultimately provide a platform for the careers of Hirst, Gary Hume, Anya Gallaccio, Angela Bulloch, and Sarah Lucas, among others, the work itself was surprisingly conservative. Predominantly abstract, it included Angus Fairhurst's systematic grid painting and Hirst's accumulation of hand-crafted colored cardboard boxes--works that could have been made at any point in the preceding twenty years. Mimicking the swagger of much of the art collected and promoted by the Saatchis, many of the works on display merely looked like art, approximating (and often conflating) the languages of Greenbergian formalism, Minimalism, and post-Minimalism, with a dash of Conceptualism for good measure. The majority were stridently apolitical, offering little reflection of the prevailing climate of unrest. (A notable exception was Mat Collishaw's Bullet Hole, 1988, an imposing backlit photograph of a fatal head wound, appropriat ed from a forensics textbook and hinting at the visceral nature of Young British Art to come.)
Given the inconsequential nature of much of the work it contained--and the scant critical press it received at the time--the show's subsequent legend probably owes more to its aggressive ambition and marketing (tales of Hirst ferrying curators to the exhibition in taxis are now part of its folklore) than to its import as a show. Only in hindsight is it possible to interpret Hirst's gesture as a catalyst for British art's subsequent development. Now we know the story: The intelligent artists in "Freeze"--of whom there were many--soon abandoned their derivative collegiate manners. In 1992 Charles Saatchi unveiled Hirst's "shark"-- The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living--and the YBA was officially born. The rest of course is history. Yet despite the exhibition's consequence as an early platform for this rising generation, "Freeze" was, and remains, a period piece, a testament to Hirst's skillful manipulation of a moment. Without Thatcher's license, the exhibition that launched a sensat ion would have been inconceivable; given her subsequent fall from grace, and the rise of Tony Blair's soft socialism, we can safely predict that we'll never see the likes of it again.
Matthew Higgs is curator at the CCAC Wattis Institute for contemporary Arts, San Francisco.
Robert Mapplethorpe's Self-Portraits.
BACK IN THE EARLY '80s, AIDS seemed as much rumor as reality; loan remember going to parties and hearing scattered complaints of strange, unpleasant symptoms that were terrifyingly resistant to diagnosis. Soon, however, a plague lurched into view, and its profile was monstrous. There was the implicit understanding that the virus was targeting (or, for the conspiracy minded, targeted at) the urban gay male community. Adding to the horror of a seemingly unstoppable disease was the toothy satisfaction of the Christian Right that the wicked were receiving their biblical due. With remarkable dispatch, the AIDS pandemic came to dominate the sociosexual identity of the United States. In the arts, the toll was all too quickly visible, and AIDS research became the cause du jour. The disease also activated the queer art community (gay suddenly sounded too passive); ACT UP attracted--and created--artists, while Gran Fury emerged as the decade's epic art collective.
Today, a lot of what remains of the creative anger and energy of the '80s is valued principally as archival material; the AIDS-responsive culture of the period--paintings and poems, novels and dramas, theatrical films and made-for-television movies--is now only so much documentary evidence. The gravity of loss and nobility of endurance that once galvanized gay America seem very far away, almost an odd regional prologue to the current global HIV nightmare.
There are, however, two works of art that literally embody the arc of the disease in New York during the time of siege. Both are self-portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe. One has nothing to do with AIDS, and the other confronts it head on. Together they illustrate many stories of beauty and death--that of Prince Prospero in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" or Dorian Gray in Wilde's Picture or Aschenbach in Mann's Death in Venice--you get the idea. The first photograph is from 1980, when the artist was at the height of his notoriety. He was thirty-four and about to enter the neoclassical phase of his career, dominated by arrangements of expensive flowers and black men. The roughest stuff was behind him, but it still resonated. The wonder of the portrait is that its hustler ambience is all hair and costume; the face itself has a child's strange, ambisexual softness, which skews the point of sale more toward apathetic vulnerability than predatory availability. The playacting boy in the picture--a stone-cold kid in a candy store--provides an interesting take on a moment when sexual license was daunting in its amplitude.
The second portrait is from 1988, when the artist was forty-two and had been living with AIDS for years. He was wheelchair-bound and ravaged by the illness that would claim him in March of '89. The photograph is an almost ridiculously melodramatic composition, but it's also an intensely eloquent balancing act that avoids tipping toward the vulgar. The artist's face is oddly naked in its soft-focus remove; the catastrophe that has overtaken him is all too visible in the eyes, the set of the mouth, the streamlined bone structure. Any more information would be a violation. Would it work if the sitter were anyone but Robert Mapplethorpe? Of course, there is no answer. One of the photograph's more remarkable effects is how the head moves toward you (not backward into the darkness). There are conversations yet to be had and understandings yet to be resolved. The death's-head cane, which could so easily be the undoing of the photograph, has been turned into a scepter firmly in the grasp of the artist. The outlaw! ae sthete is still sweetly, dramatically in control, and his profound understanding of the contained enormity of his mortality is ennobling.
Obviously, Robert Mapplethorpe is not the face of AIDS. His was an individual death, and that is the point. As someone with HIV, he disappeared into a database, and it is there, lost in a sea of statistics, that our comprehension of individual suffering atrophies. Today the sheer magnitude of measured death--from friendly fire, hijackings, military actions, terrorism, famine, genocide, AIDs--devours our capacity to see ourselves in the faces of others, to understand that each of us is equivalent. Robert Mapplethorpe's face, framed in his final self-portrait, helps me understand.
Richard Flood is chief curator at the Walker Art center in Minneapolis.
The Removal of Tilted Arc
Arthur C. Danto
BY THE TIME RICHARD SERRA'S Tilted Arc was lifted from Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan in March 1989, the controversy over its existence had spanned a decade. Discussions sparked by the 120-foot-long curved steel wall started even before its installation in 1981 and caused a detectable shift in attitude among artists, curators, and their audiences about the responsibility of public art to the public for whose benefit it is ostensibly intended.
Though the debate continues to this day, at the time the nature of that benefit had certainly been inadequately canvassed. The placement of art in the midst of life is not always an unqualified good, and it is still insufficiently appreciated that the right of people to participate in the decisions that affect their lives extends to art when it impinges on their lives as lived. The right of free expression is constitutionally guaranteed. What remains to be explored is what recourse we have over art that is imposed on us without our consent. But the dispute over Tilted Arc at least carved a place for these questions in the making of and discourse around public art.
In 1979, a committee of experts was charged with commissioning a work for the east plaza of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building--an admittedly nondescript downtown site. These art professionals thought primarily in terms of a work that would "not be overwhelmed by a city of skyscrapers," but they did not take greatly into account that the people who inhabited said city might be overwhelmed by the art. Because the intended site was public, more was at stake in the work's placement than its quality as an aesthetic object.
"Not being overwhelmed by a city of skyscrapers" was translated into decisions based on scale. But more is involved in the concept of a site than the formal relationships with the visible surroundings that characterize it architecturally. The size of the sculpture was disproportionate to the size of the place, but, even more significant, Tilted Arc preempted the space, conflicting with the plaza's function of facilitating transversals. Users of the plaza were obliged to find ways around what could not but be an obstacle on wet and windy winter days or in the unremitting heat of Manhattan summers. Even though the sculpture was celebrated on grounds of site-specificity, the site to which it was specific was construed entirely in optical terms. How could the art not be resented? It had been imposed on the basis of almost purely visual considerations by those expert in such matters, on people for whom visual considerations were only part of the story.
Serra himself said, "My sculptures are not objects meant for a viewer to stop, look, and stare at." He was, he continued, "interested in a behavioral space in which the viewer interacts with the sculpture in its context." Note that the public continues to be thought of as "viewers," and "interaction" as appreciating the way sculpture engages aesthetically with its surrounding space. There was no consideration of the possibility that the public's interactions were not primarily aesthetic. The location itself of the sculpture took on a meaning: A decision had been made over which the public had no control. This meaning would have been the same had the sculpture been made not of rust-clad steel but of polished bronze or Lalique crystal, or of a chorus of elegant water jets set close together along the same curve. The alleged ugliness of its surface was subordinate to what the sculpture as a whole said politically. It was never just a question of taste.
The advocates for Tilted Arc did not think of the users of Federal Plaza as by definition the artwork's relevant public. Instead, they defined "the public" in abstract terms, as deserving the best art there is, as it deserves the best knowledge that can be had. But where that art is to be placed, how it is to be lived with, and what its meaning will be for the lives on which it immediately impinges are among the issues the bitter debate barely touched. This left a wound that public-art practitioners are now attempting to dress. Let's hope they remember: Specific unto a site is the form of life therein.
Arthur c. Danto is Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University, art critic for The Nation, and a contributing editor of Artforum.
New German Photography
EARLY IN 1989, I was commissioned to write a catalogue essay on two young German photographers who would show at P.S. 1's Clocktower Gallery as part of "Ruhrworks: The Arts of a German Region," a New York "festival" of arts from the Ruhr Valley in northern Germany. I didn't know either artist: Both men boasted respectable exhibition histories in Europe but were yet to establish an American presence. Andreas Gursky would have his first New York exhibition later that year; Thomas Struth's track record included a one-person show at P.S. 1 in 1978 and several group shows over the next decade. So I traveled to Dusseldorf to visit their studios.
I looked forward to seeing the work of these up-and-coming photographers in part because they had studied with Bernd and Hilla Becher at Dusseldorf's Kunstakademie. Well known for creating typological images of industrial structures, the Bechers were respected-- almost revered--for the sort of rigorously anti-picturesque photographs that had long been associated with Minimalism and Conceptualism, but the work of their progeny was less known. What, I wondered, would the images of students anointed by the Bechers look like?
The answer was initially disconcerting. The pictures I saw were new to me and yet weirdly familiar. Struth brought out a series of unpopulated, exquisitely detailed urban streetscapes and industrial views, which were printed in black and white at approximately twenty-by-twenty-four inches. One showed the ivy-covered air shaft of a coal mine that looked like an incipient industrial ruin; another displayed a chaotic pastiche of ersatz architectural structures and commercial signs in a spanking-new mall. Gursky was working with color prints of about the same size and looked at the uneasy relationship between generic modern architecture and the German landscape. Most of his images contained people--a lone man dwarfed by a towering bridge, a scattering of students in a coldly minimal university plaza--although one rural scene was simply an expanse of brown grass dotted with chickens.
The Bechers' emphasis on photography as an objective, informational practice was a clear influence. But the subject matter and methodologies also reminded me of American photographers largely ignored by the art establishment, which had carefully segregated photography during the '60s and early '70s, valuing only images made in the service of stringently Conceptualist ends. People such as Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams had gained notice during a short-lived photo boom in the mid- to late '70s, but this was largely confined to the photography world that revolved around the New York galleries Light, Castelli Graphics, and Witkin, and the Museum of Modern Art's photography department. The end of that boom coincided with a new challenge to the subjective, expressive possibilities of photography implicit in the strategies of irony, appropriation, and pastiche introduced by the "Pictures" artists. Once again, there was a world of difference between artists who "used" photography (to critique representa tion) and mere photographers (the ones who made representations).
In the work of Gursky and Struth, however, the gap seemed to narrow. The images were certainly informed by the Bechers' typological training, but Gursky and Struth were photographing scenes. They seemed to draw not only on Becherian neutrality but also on American topographic photography--which stands to reason, since the Bechers exposed their students to the work of photographers like Shore, Baltz, and Adams. Indeed, the Bechers exhibited with the Americans in a landmark 1975 exhibition at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, titled "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape."
These links were effaced, though, when Gursky and Struth showed in New York in 1989, and the omission was perpetuated throughout the '90s. Critics invariably limited the two men's sources to the work and pedagogical philosophy of the Bechers, applauding the "non-expressive" use of the medium and documentary "realism." Such writers ignored the fact that those were also hallmarks of '70s American photography. Only recently has this artistic history been restored, in catalogue essays for the two photographers' traveling American retrospectives.
Of course, both artists have reached well beyond their early influences. Their large-scale photographs engage both the viewer's eyes and body, demanding that one consciously locate a position in relation to the image rather than just take it in at a glance, giving photography the kind of stopping power previously reserved for painting. That turn is often recapitulated in the photos' subjects. Approaching Struth's museum pictures, for example, viewers jockey for the perfect perspective from which to contemplate the welter of tourists who search for ideal viewpoints of the monuments of Western art. For Gursky, the spectacle of capitalism--its sites of shopping, money trading, and sporting rituals-- provides the panoramas before which we seek our subjective niches. This is the pair's greatest achievement, and one I glimpsed on that visit to Germany: to reveal the modern world's often confounding patterns, structures, and spaces, and to use the photograph to question our relationship to them.
Carol Squiers is a curator at the International center of Photography, New York.
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|Date:||Apr 1, 2003|
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