Colin Gardner

  • Buzz Spector

    Theoretical discourse has become increasingly keyed on the twin axes of hermeneutic (German) and deconstructive (French) practice. This is a somewhat unequal dialectic, largely because Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, et al. tend to be explained and interpreted within the German tradition, as if they have been secret Hegelians all along. It is thus refreshing to find an artist like Buzz Spector collapsing this opposition. By appropriating the workings of hermeneutics allegorically, he transforms them—playfully, punningly, erotically—into pure jouissance.

    Spector takes the book itself as his

  • Kenneth Shorr

    The problem with most so-called post-Modernist work is that it merely ends up stating the obvious, busily demythologizing spent dogma while remaining blind to its own hidden reifications. This is precisely the plight of Kenneth Shorr’s recent work—collectively titled “The Nostalgia of Meaning.” Here he seems to belatedly arrive at the by now commonly accepted notion that the artwork is a contingent text, the meaning of which is inherently deferred and incomplete, instead of using this perception as a starting point for a more penetrating self-critique.

    Shorr explores the dialectic between the

  • Nam June Paik

    Nam June Paik’s practice, like that of many of his Fluxus peers from the late ’50s and early ’60s, has existed in uneasy contradiction with the co-opting attempts of the art establishment to circumscribe an ephemeral, often aleatory body of work within an ongoing Modernist/post-Modernist historicism. In much the same way that Joseph Beuys and John Cage have, Paik has become part of the international art elite, his work defined and disseminated in terms of a specific historical time and place. On its own terms, Paik’s work itself has evolved from a dynamic, audience-participatory deconstruction

  • Garry Simmons

    In a witty and often disturbing installation of sculptural objects, Gary Simmons explored the ideological structures that link the conformist values of bourgeois educational systems with the art institution. Simmons’ basic strategy is to make a trope of that Marxist staple, “class,” by blurring semantic and contextual distinctions between classroom, art-world classification, and the roles perpetuated by the dominant class structure. These relationships were established from the moment the viewer entered the gallery lobby. The first thing to come into view was Eraser Chair (all works, 1989), a

  • Lawrence Weiner

    Lawrence Weiner’s work has been remarkably consistent over the years. Although committed to post-Structuralist notions such as the contingency of the open text, deferred meaning, and the death of the author, Weiner has pursued a predominantly language-based strategy that is also stubbornly empirical, transforming discourse into content through a transient process of production, presentation, and reception. Indeed, Weiner has wavered very little from his often-quoted 1968 declaration of intent: “1. The artist may construct the piece. 2. The piece may be fabricated. 3. The piece need not be built.

  • Don Suggs

    In The Origin of the Work of Art, Martin Heidegger states, “To be a work means to set up a world,” suggesting that art is a self-reflexive linguistic construct removed from empirical reality. In his later writings, however, Heidegger came to see language as semantically liberating, rather than confining; he looked at art as the manifestation of truth’s becoming, a Dionysian force that calls the phenomenological world into existence.

    Don Suggs’ recent paintings adhere to Heidegger’s early critical position, indicting mediation as an obstruction to actual experience. Suggs expresses this obfuscation

  • A SYSTEMATIC BEWILDERING: THE ART OF JOHN BALDESSARI

    Imagine the damage caused by a theft which robbed you only of your frames, or rather of their joints, and of any possibility of reframing your valuables or your art-objects.

    —Jacques Derrida1

    META-MATTERS

    One of the pleasures of John Baldessari’s work is that it can be enjoyed just as readily by laypeople as by conceptual cognoscenti. It doesn’t require esoteric knowledge of semiotics, deconstruction, and dialectical materialism to relish Baldessari’s cunning wit and visual pranks. Pelicans Staring at Woman with Nose Bleeding, 1984, is funny as a simple, absurdest juxtaposition of visual signs,

  • Uta Barth

    Like many of her post-conceptualist peers, Uta Barth is concerned with exploring and critiquing the ideological deceits of mediated information. This has become a somewhat stale practice in recent years. Raised on Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” nurtured by Jean Baudrillard’s “procession of simulacra,” and primed by feminist rereadings of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory, many artists have come to accept deconstructive readings of all language as mediated chains of deferred meaning and desire. Earnest warnings of the crisis of representation through the reallegorization of

  • Cameron Shaw

    Since Walter Benjamin’s rehabilitation of allegory from the rhetorical realms of historicism, it has become popular among both artists and theorists as a strategy of resistance. By appropriating and reconstituting historical fragments as incomplete significations, the allegory equates history with the ruin, creating, in Benjamin’s words, “an irreversible process of dissolution and decay, a progressive distancing from origin.” Cameron Shaw’s enigmatic reliefs of weathered boxes, bottles, and found stereoscopic photographs seem on first viewing to be a perfect example of this poetry of loss and

  • Günther Förg

    “The successful work . . . ,” wrote Theodor Adorno, “is not one which resolves objective contradiction in a spurious harmony, but one which expresses the idea of harmony negatively by embodying the contradictions, pure and uncompromised, in its innermost structure.” This concept of a dialectical totality whose constituent parts are perpetually autonomous is an apt theoretical model for Günther Förg’s project. Using interdependent series of paintings, sculptures, and photographs, Förg creates large-scale environments in which conventional hierarchies of object and space, support and surface,

  • Vernon Fisher

    Conceptual, language-based artists dedicated to the slippery semantics of the open text are particularly ill-served by the museum retrospective. When their work is shown en masse, it tends to be circumscribed by a confining second and third order of denotation, that of naturalizing museum discourse itself. This was particularly true of Vernon Fisher’s long-awaited but ultimately disappointing mid-career retrospective. The exhibition placed Fisher within the familiar image-as-text, text-as-image lineage, with its predictably dysfunctional rhetoric of arbitrary cultural codes and destabilized

  • Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler

    The work of Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler is concerned with collapsing the dialectic between public and private, inside and outside, through a strategy of semiotic reconstruction. By remapping and relabeling the established cultural codes of institutions such as the family, home, and museum, Ericson and Ziegler attempt to disclose the concealed alienation and ideological base of all artificially predetermined systems, including their own. Their agent provocateur in this enterprise is language itself. In the process of estranging the domestically familiar within a public, often commercial context,

  • Ann Preston

    Ann Preston’s recent work continues her ongoing deconstruction of the so-called transcendental, non-representational artwork into a repetitive series of contingent and rhetorical figurative motifs. In this case, the contingency is based upon a corporeal consciousness instilled by the Creation Myth. By titling her installation of wall- and free-standing sculptures “In His Image,” Preston simultaneously underlines and questions the predominant patriarchal ideology not only of representational encoding itself, but perceptual experience as a whole. Preston’s lowest common (signifying) denominator

  • Liz Larner

    Like many of her conceptually oriented peers, Liz Larner is concerned with deconstructing the role of the art institution in its presentation of the artwork. In lesser hands, this has often led to the creation of falsely contrived dualities: specifically, an opposition between artist and establishment in which the inevitable cultural and political seepage between the two sides is either artificially negated or simply denied altogether. Consequently, the circumscribing role of the gallery or museum is simply traded in for another reifying dogma, that of confrontational theory itself. Larner’s

  • David Bunn

    Until the expected completion of its Frank Gehry-designed exhibition space in May 1989, the newly constituted Santa Monica Museum of Art has been exploiting the unfinished site (a former egg-processing plant) through a series of site-specific installations entitled “Previews: Art in the Raw.” Although the concept is hardly new, it clearly illustrates the current art institution’s sensitivity to post-Conceptual challenge, inviting artists to critique its mythifying role, all the better to circumscribe the resistance from within. The debut show—David Bunn’s ingenious Sphere of Influence—attempted

  • THE WORLD ACCORDING TO DOUGLAS HUEBLER

    In its very style, the exposition of dialectical theory is a scandal and an abomination in terms of the rules and the corresponding tastes of the dominant language, because when it uses existing concrete concepts it is simultaneously aware of their rediscovered fluidity, their necessary destruction.

    Guy Debord1

    CONCEPTUAL ART IN THE 1980s has fallen victim to its own historicized dogma. Drawing upon various poststructural literary and psychoanalytic theories, most dating back to the late 1950s and early ’60s, conceptualism has ceased to question established ideological and academic values,

  • Lee Kaplan

    Until this year, Lee Kaplan’s work had taken the form of small, intimate collages of photomechanically reproduced images derived from corporate reports, fashion layouts, and advertisements. By appropriating and dislocating the allegorizing strategies of early Modernism—such as those of Kurt Schwitters or Hannah Höch—and rereading them through the reifying language of Madison Avenue, Kaplan was able to disclose their historicized passivity and restate an open evaluation of the image-context dialectic. In two recent exhibitions, however, Kaplan moved up in scale and ambition to tackle historicism

  • Terry Allen

    Over the past five years, Terry Allen’s “Youth in Asia”—an ongoing series of mixed-media tableaux and installations—has provided a poignant and conceptually complex investigation into the legacy of the Vietnam War and its impact on the American psyche. While this might sound like familiar territory, Allen offers a fresh reading of it, juxtaposing the idealized signification of ”home" with dark symbols of alien cultures dismembered by war. Allen’s oeuvre defies easy analysis because it refuses to be either didactic or apologetic. With its dislocated, stream-of-consciousness combination of narrative

  • “Artschwager: His Peers And Persuasion, 1963–1988”

    Until recently, Richard Artschwager’s work had always been considered an anomaly at the margins of late Modernist practice. Although tied variously to Dada, Surrealism, Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, and long considered seminal in exploring the blurred significations of painting/sculpture, sculpture/furniture, and object/image, the almost fetishistic banality of much of Artschwager’s output makes it extremely difficult to categorize. While his frequent use of Formica, celotex, and media-generated imagery points to a simulationist esthetic critical of Modernism’s innately self-reflexive “

  • Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

    Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe’s nonrepresentational paintings are inherently unstable. They exploit the metaphysical dialectic of presence/absence, interior/exterior, identity/difference through a series of formal discontinuities that create a multiplicity of possible readings. Gilbert-Rolfe achieves this largely through a strategy of decentering, forcing the viewer to discover ways in and out of each individual work, as well as through the apparent disunity of the installation as a whole. By deliberately clustering vertical strips of color toward the outer edge of the canvas, the artist is able to