Bob Nickas

  • Jeff Wall, 1984. Photo: Ian Wallace.

    Jeff Wall

    BOB NICKAS: When I saw The Vampires’ Picnic in 1991 it made me realize the ’80s were over. In retrospect, how do you see the decade through the filter of your work?

    JEFF WALL: I don’t think it’s because of the calendar, but by about 1990 I had decided to move in slightly different directions. The Vampires’ Picnic was part of a group of pictures in which I wanted to work with larger groups of people. It was also one of a few pictures involving imaginary, fantastic elements and what I’d call an “ornate” style. I did this as a vague counterpoint to pictures like Mimic [1982] or Milk [1984], which

  • McDermott & McGough, 1989.

    McDermott & McGough

    BOB NICKAS: If you were to make a panoramic history painting that would represent you in the ’80s, what would you paint?

    PETER McGOUGH: We already made that painting, in 1985. It’s the two of us, and it says NOTORIETY. And on one side there are positive minds, temples to fame, success . . .

    DAVID McDERMOTT: We’re in tailcoats at the very top, and all the other people are trying to climb up.

    PM: We took it from an illustration in Hollywood Babylon. It has a huge eye and says PUBLIC EYE. It was about the art world.

    DM: Hubert Burda, the publishing heir, has it hanging in his cafeteria to inspire the

  • John Armleder

    BOB NICKAS: You’ve been coming to the Basel art fair since the early ’70s, using your little corner spot to promote artists you like. And you do this through Ecart, which is more of a publishing activity than a gallery. So it’s a certain philosophy that’s led you to participate in something so commercial?

    JOHN ARMLEDER: When Ecart started back in the ’70s, we had a gallery space in Geneva and an offset print shop, and we would publish books, which we brought to the book fair in Frankfurt. One day I thought, “Maybe we should go to the art fair in Basel,” and I asked for a table to show our books.

  • “Garry Winogrand 1964”

    How often have you taken a picture that’s not at all what you’d seen? This never happened to Garry Winogrand. Or it happened all the time. He knew that “the photograph isn’t what was photographed. It’s something else. It’s a new fact.” Winogrand never staged anything. He had a restless nature, a restless eye, and was so often on the move that he almost always managed to be in the right place at the right time. In the fall of ’63 he applied for, and received, a Guggenheim fellowship, intending to drive cross-country and take pictures along the way. He was propelled as much by a need to be in

  • Lily van der Stokker, Art by older people (70 + 72), 2001, colored pen and pencil on wall, 8 1/4 x 15 3/4".

    Lily van der Stokker

    Before he’d ever been so honored, Ed Ruscha declared famously in a drawing: I DON’T WANT NO RETROSPECTIVE. In this first survey of Lily van der Stokker’s drawings, there’s one that happily notes: GOING BACKWARDS IS A MOVEMENT TOO. The sentence perfectly captures how van der Stokker entwines pathos and deadpan humor. Although she’s best known for site-specific wall paintings, matter-of-fact statements delivered in curlicues of florid abundance, drawings are at the very heart of her work. They form a visual diary that’s emotion specific. A guilty pleasure? Contributors to a comprehensive book

  • Bob Nickas


    1 Lily van der Stokker (Le Consortium, Dijon) WHAT IS LOVE, WHAT IS LIFE, WHAT IS DEATH. Questions posed in a drawing from 1993 included in this show made me realize what a welcome antidote this artist offers, not just to bleaker days but to feel-good movies, Sunday sermons, and all that sham. Her latest wall paintings name-check people she knows and loves without the slightest hint of sentimentality, and it seems like an achievement . . . now more than ever. Color remains delicious, her hand unpredictable and buoyant. The tendrils that hang above the couch in Nice and Easy, 2002, have


    “WHY COULDN’T HE JUST HAVE TAKEN A PRETTY PICTURE?” The image is of a young girl, radiant, bathed in the most exquisite light as she stands behind a torn screen door deep in a Kentucky holler. Yet to her well-dressed older sister who now lives in town, the picture, taken years before by Shelby Lee Adams, represents the stereotype she sought to overcome: the lazy, unwashed hillbilly. For her that front porch is still too close for comfort. And yet it’s the real sense of intimacy in Adams’s photographs, even at their spookiest, that offers an image of the “mountain people” of Appalachia that we

  • Untitled, 2000.

    Sigmar Polke

    The official Great European Painter designation may be contested by another German artist, but of his generation it’s Sigmar Polke who produces just about the only work of consequence to younger painters today. He’s every bit the maverick he was in the ’60s and ’70s, serving up an irreverent mix of art history and pop detritus, thrilling visual distortion, and no short supply of comic/cosmic effects. This show, curated by Dallas’s John R. Lane and Charles Wylie, satisfies the always high level of curiosity about what Polke’s been up to lately. Included

  • Upside Down: Pastoral Scene (detail), 2002.

    Sam Durant

    Nineteen sixty-eight: a year of global unrest and seismic shivers. Where better to ride the wave than in golden California? Steel-and-glass boxes perched above LA, the Case Study Houses, remnants of one of the great experiments in modern architecture, lie in ruins—trashed by a ragtag family of squatters? Charles Eames meets Charles Manson: That’s one way of relating the nightmarish scene imagined in a series of architectural models titled “Abandoned Houses,” 1995, by Sam Durant, an artist for whom the dreams of both modernism and hippie idealism are the stuff of myth and memory.

    The history


    When Lawrence Rinder was named curator of contemporary art at the Whitney two years ago, he inherited one of the toughest gigs in the world of art: the Whitney Biennial. Because the biennial remains contemporary art's best-known survey, hosted by one of the art world's most visible venues it's the show critics love to hate. We asked three Artforum regulars, Bob Nickas, Bruce Hainley, and George Baker, for their takes. ( editor Saul Anton adds a new-media footnote.) The only constant: the carping, of course—and one stray note of triple consensus.

  • Bob Nickas

    “Where’s the art? There’s nothing to see.” Thus spoke the well-dressed dowager as she teetered dangerously over the mutant sculptures of Luis Gispert. The artist, by way of a nearby wall label, refers to Remix (Extended Beats), 2001, as “a unique mix of ghetto style and Danish modern design.” She wasn’t having any of it. And Gispert’s photos of cheerleaders seemed more taunting than cheering. She blinked in my direction, and though I shrugged sympathetically, she scowled—that grandmotherly look that says quite plainly, “You, mister, are this close to being cut from the will!” The museum

  • Bob Nickas


    1. Rodney Graham, Getting It Together in the Country Is this the sound track to the new reality? Recorded two summers ago but lately on my turntable just about all the time, “Nature Has No Purpose,” “Champagne for Everyone,” “This Is the Only Living I’ve Got (Don’t Take It Away from Me),” and a beautifully resigned cover of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” got me through the dusty days.

    2. LiLiPUT A reissue of everything from ’78–’83; an eccentric, electric rush. Never underestimate four bored Swiss girls.

    3. The Fall, The Unutterable Mark E. Smith stuttering all over the k on “Ketamine