Catherine Liu

  • DIGGING FREUD: FROM CALIFORNIA TO GERMANY

    If postmodernity is postmarked (like the repressed according to Freud) “made in Germany” (SE 19:236), then California is its address, and techno-future."

    Laurence A. Rickels, The Case of California, 1991

    Laurence A. Rickels is one of the few theorists today who is able to think technology through psychoanalysis and vice versa; this assignment is crucial, because both technology and psychoanalysis are everywhere. With California as the site of this encounter, Rickels takes Freud to the beach and California to the couch, picking up, in many ways, where the Frankfurt School left off—cut short (

  • OPENINGS: BEVERLY SEMMES

    THE DIVA IS A WOMAN who is larger than life and therefore does not exist as much as she insists (as Jacques Lacan would say) on taking up more space, monopolizing everyone’s attention, and acting out great loves and great betrayals. We believe in her suffering and her passion; she demands nothing less. The greatest of divas, like Maria Callas, understand betrayal: they understand that becoming a woman is not only impossible, it is never enough. There is always another woman to replace them; in Callas’ case it was Jackie Kennedy. But Callas struggled against the inevitability of her failure; she

  • “Just Pathetic”

    The pathetic is opposed to the sublime in this show, and according to its own predictions, it fails. The pathetic fails because it cannot stand up to the intensity of the sublime; it is in love with its own failure. “Just Pathetic” tries to show us that today failure becomes, paradoxically, success. Failure is more interesting than success simply because it is more variable and multiple, and the works in this show do, to a great degree, demonstrate this point. Visually, it is a very strong show that includes fine pieces by Georg Herold, Jeffrey Vallance, and Chris Burden.

    This, however, makes

  • Henry Flynt

    SAMO© appeared as a cryptic message scrawled across the sides of buildings and trucks in downtown Manhattan as the ’70s drew to a close, and Henry Flynt photographed the graffiti because it must have moved him somehow. Eleven years later, after the rise and fall of the ’80s art boom and the death of SAMO©’s primary creator, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Flynt’s images function as documents of a moment in recent art history.

    Straight photography is quite a leap for Flynt. Based on difficult principles of mathematics and optics, the work of this early Conceptual artist is known for its stubborn obscurity.

  • Graham Durward

    Graham Durward’s work is intense, and intensity possesses an integrity all its own. This artist does not flinch at the spectacle of consciousness deteriorating into flesh, though it does not make for pretty pictures. In its acutely internalized quality, much of Durward’s writing is reminiscent of Antonin Artaud’s. The painful scrawls and scribblings, the bad spelling, the penciled-in corrections in his collages, all give the otherwise baroque text an appealingly gritty feel.

    Durward keeps coming back to a few obsessive moments. He writes, “I cannot conceive of anything except in terms of my own

  • Piero Manzoni

    Acting out in ways that were simultaneously infantile and sublime, Piero Manzoni consistently transformed his intensity and self-destructive passion into rigorous and elegant work. It is fitting that he packaged his feces in tidy little canisters labeled, aptly enough, "Merda d’artista’ (Artist’s shit, 1961). These little obscenities are gifts to the world—packaged rage.

    Reexamining his oeuvre today, 28 years after his death at the age of 30, it becomes clear that the integrity of Manzoni’s practice lies in his passionate engagement with form. Form is the site of all esthetic radicality, and, in

  • Nancy Barton and Michael Glass

    We all have our pet “bad objects,” whipping posts that we condemn in order to make ourselves feel better. In this show Nancy Barton and Michael Glass explore the complex psychic mechanisms by which these scapegoats are designated, showing how the ego produces a denigrated object in order to maintain a fantasy of unity and coherence. “Bad objects” all serve the same purpose—the consolidation of power for a dominant group; thus racism, misogyny, and homophobia can be understood as different manifestations of this psychic mechanism. By presenting a white woman and a black man figuratively and

  • Gretchen Faust

    Gretchen Faust wants her work to encourage what she has described as “the active reinterpretation of the function of mythology in terms of anarchical ontology.” It’s quite a mouthful, and whatever precisely Faust has in mind here, one thing is certain: despite good intentions, there is little that is anarchic about this show. When Faust gave away numbered shovels last year, the action constituted a catchy gesture of potlatch, and she did manage to upset certain routes of exchange. As a rule, however, Faust’s high-toned discourse vainly attempts to compensate for her project’s lack of visual and

  • Larry Clark

    The more mainstream culture tries to eliminate the heart of darkness—the particular brand of bleakness, emptiness, and senseless violence—at the core of the American experience, the more tenaciously it takes hold of us. Larry Clark has frequently lived on the edge, and his entire body of work bears powerful testimony to the fact that the path of rigor and passion often takes the artist through violence and addiction so that he or she may reach a kind of lucidity and a state of compassion.

    This show provides a welcome overview of Clark’s work, but the presentation of the pieces was confusing and

  • Pat Steir

    Pat Steir’s waterfall paintings dance masterfully on the line between figuration and abstraction. Steir has been obsessed with water as figure or trope for some time now, but these new waterfall paintings represent a great leap forward from the series she showed last year. The master is the one who does without doing, and Steir has certainly found a way of putting paint on canvas by adhering to this Taoist discipline. It takes control, however, to really let go, and Steir has given in to the medium so that she can reach the point of feeling the similarity between paint and the water she depicts.

  • Donald Baechler

    Distinguished by their idiosyncratic infantilism and the richness of their surfaces, the compositions Donald Baechler exhibited at Paul Kasmin last spring reveal the artist as a master of the sloppy line, the crazy shape, and the deranged dot. Baechler uses collage, ink, gesso, flashe, coffee, and pencil on paper to create these masterfully messy compositions, which interpolate the flattened-out schizophrenic space of his larger works with a new delicacy and concision.

    Two compositions, each entitled Crowds (all works 1990), are the strongest in this show. In one, primitive heads made up of a

  • Larry Johnson

    Larry Johnson avoids the posteverything trap of solipsistic obscurity by tuning into the voices of the American vernacular. Common language, like common sense, can be rather strange, and Johnson capitalizes on this fact, taking the fragments of contemporary American consciousness we can all hear as his subject matter.

    Johnson designs and edits these voices into a radically condensed form as paintings; in the space of a few lines, a slice of mutating consciousness is powerfully fixed. The new texts are more intensely psychodramatic than the ones in his previous show, and their authenticity ups

  • Wolfgang Staehle

    Wolfgang Staehle confronts the ways in which film and television shape our notions of framing in painting. He is an artist who cannot completely abandon the canvas for the screen, and painting persistently returns in his work as the uncanny. Staehle explores the fantasy of the screen and the adequacy of the image it frames more thoroughly than any other artist working in either painting or video today. His work speaks about the space outside the screen, the space that all acts of framing implicitly repress.

    Staehle’s tiny monitors peer out at us like techno-eyes. Installed in cardboard boxes, on

  • Walton Ford

    Walton Ford allegorizes the legacy of slavery and the racism of the American South in the flattened spaces and golden tones of 15th-century painting. If the Sienese masters attempted to represent the sacred and its permutations, Ford is only interested in the profane and its ambivalence, its pettiness, its evil. In a series of portraits entitled, “The Blood Remembers,” (all works 1989), ugliness attains a level of intensity that attests to the potency of this peculiar conceit. The faces of unhappy white people, painted in his characteristic neonaive style, are pinched with nastiness and thinly

  • News Room

    News Room, 1990, is a three-dimensional sketch of sorts, a prototype conceived by architect Peter Fend, video artist Greg Lehmann, and computer artist George Chaikin, to bring us into an interactive relationship with the news media. Hampered by time and budget problems, the artists nevertheless managed to transform the space into a semblance of a hustling and bustling news room. Dominated by a table piled with newspapers and files of clippings, News Room was designed to encourage viewers to read and discuss the news—to use the gallery as they might a public library. A bank of video monitors

  • Manipulation and Photography

    The title of this show is simplistic: there isn’t a photographic image that isn’t manipulated or manipulating. In fact, curators Kathleen Cullen and Dan Appel brought together work that deals not only with manipulation but with abuse, loss, and violence. The artists seen here also seem to be expressing a deep ambivalence about money. This is a refreshing position for a viewer weary of tongue-in-cheek, disingenuous attitudes toward greed and mercantilism in the art world.

    Simon Leung’s Father’s Journal, 1989, is a photocollage of found black and white images (mostly medical photographs from the

  • Terry Allen

    America is a sick place and Terry Allen knows it. Big Witness (living in wishes), 1988, consists of a prostrate figure lying in a cage within a cage, trying to knock himself out with some New Age self-help tapes. The installation is underlit with red, green, and blue lights, giving the otherwise sterile structure the atmosphere of an abandoned disco in some depressed Midwestern Holiday Inn. The self-help tapes being played are embedded in the giant’s body. Smarmy Muzak accompanies even smarmier discourse. Some paternalistic, New-Age asshole drones on and on about how to obliterate any resistance

  • Teresa Bramlette

    Banality is a powerful drug, certainly one that has not been thoroughly explored. It can make certain objects completely invisible. In this show, called “Traces of Use,” Teresa Bramlette attempts to make us see what banality obscures. The artist’s emulsion-on-wood images of bowls, cutlery, grapes, and so forth recall those pieces of wood with images of tourist attractions shellacked onto them that one finds at souvenir stores. The exhibition, while earnest, falls short of being compelling because the esthetic impact of Bramlette’s work is not strong enough to stand up to the banality of the

  • Roy Lichtenstein

    Roy Lichtenstein’s mirror paintings, executed between 1969 and 1972, reflect nothing: as such, they are both cruel and true. These mirrors do not offer easy narcissistic gratification, allegorical meanings, or narrative logic. They do not tell us that we are the fairest in the land; they do not flatter us with false promises of referentiality or content. They are exultant images of an emptiness endemic to American popular culture. Lichtenstein as an artist refuses to comment on this emptiness; like Warhol, he absorbs it and reproduces it with a kind of vacant intensity whose beauty has not faded

  • Hannah Wilke

    Hannah Wilke makes feminism look easy, and why shouldn’t she? After all, she’s been committed to sketching out a language of female eroticism on the drawing board of representation for years now. The strongest work in this show was the “Seura Chaya” series, 1978–89, which juxtaposes photographs of Wilke’s mother, ill from cancer and bald from chemotherapy, with drawings of the artist’s bird, Chaya. (Wilke got the bird after her mother’s death.) This work is testimony to the courage of both mother and daughter. Wilke has written that by obsessively photographing her mother, she had hoped to give