George Baker

  • “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962”

    Paul Schimmel gathers an international cross section of postwar abstraction that challenges the old modernist story of the “integrity” of the picture plane.

    Always gifted at brushing canonical histories against the grain, Paul Schimmel now gathers an international cross section of postwar abstraction that challenges the old modernist story of the “integrity” of the picture plane. The show’s nearly one hundred works inventory multifarious assaults whereby canvases were sliced, punctured, buried, bandaged, shackled, bound—and confronted with a gargantuan flamethrower. This grouping and the related catalogue will provide new ways of looking at major artists such as Jean Fautrier, Lucio Fontana, and Rauschenberg along with

  • Knut Åsdam

    Since 2003, Knut Åsdam’s work has shifted from sculptural environments toward an engagement with cinema. Architecture, however, remains the central concern of his most recent films. Working repeatedly with a few incredibly talented actors such as Okwui Okpokwasili, the artist breaks down narrative structures, exploring the ways in which urban environments can provoke cinematic form: Characters erupting in violence without motive and actors endlessly wandering empty urban settings echo the social implications of specific sites. In his largest museum outing to date, Åsdam

  • PRIMAL SIBLINGS:

    IT IS A RECURRING EXPERIENCE: I am doing a studio visit, and there on the artist’s shelf is a book by Kaja Silverman. I see The Subject of Semiotics (1983) or Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992): The artist has an interest in psychoanalysis. Or instead I see The Acoustic Mirror (1988) or Speaking About Godard (1998; written with Harun Farocki): The artist, as all good artists should be, is a feminist, and possibly a cinephile. Indeed, I first met Silverman at a lecture in the late ’90s at the Louvre, where she presented a reading of Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais’s collaboration Hiroshima mon amour (1959). Along with Deleuze, Silverman has become the author one turns to for a deep understanding of the cinematic monuments of the postwar era: the films of Godard, Resnais, Fassbinder. That night at the Louvre, she appeared dressed like a character straight out of a film noir, and her stunning reading of Hiroshima brought not a few tears to the eye—and the audience to its feet.
     
    This, too, is a recurring experience: In recent years, I have repeatedly seen Silverman deliver a no less than two-hour-long lecture on Gerhard Richter, only to be greeted with the kind of wild enthusiasm usually reserved for performances and concerts. But there has been an irony for me in all this. Since the mid-’90s, Silverman’s work has shifted away from its earlier concentration on literature and film and moved into a direct confrontation with the phenomena of vision itself and, increasingly, with visual art. There has been a major essay on Cindy Sherman, published in The Threshold of the Visible World (1996); others on artists such as Jeff Wall (“Total Visibility” [2003]) or Eija-Liisa Ahtila (“How to Stage the Death of God” [2002]). There have been books: an epochal rethinking of the very act of looking, in the philosophical treatise World Spectators (2000), where Silverman casts seeing not as implicitly rapacious and violent but as a gift we bestow on the objects and beings of the world, an act of “world affirmation,” as she puts it there. And in the wake of this text, in 2002, Silverman wrote a monograph on James Coleman, devoting a chapter to each of the projected-image works the artist had produced since the early ’90s. This study stands among the pinnacles of recent art criticism, but since it was published as an exhibition catalogue (for the Lenbachhaus in Munich), I suspect that very few artists and writers have in fact encountered it. Thus the irony and the impossible position of our greatest critics today: Whether the field has acknowledged it or not, a major voice within art criticism has emerged.
     
    This misrecognition of Silverman’s primary concerns should change with the recent publication of her long-awaited book Flesh of My Flesh (Stanford University Press, 2009). This volume elaborates on the shift in Silverman’s attention from cinema to time-based art more generally: photography, video, projected images—the whole panoply of artistic practices that Silverman has come to call photography or cinema “by other means.” And yet the cast in this work is immense: There are essays on Richter, Coleman, and filmmaker Terrence Malick, but also on Leonardo da Vinci, and German Expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker. There are appearances by Freud and Romain Rolland, Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé, Friedrich Nietzsche and Marcel Proust, Ovid and Walter Benjamin. The book, in other words, is unclassifiable. And yet its stakes are simple, really. Like so much of Silverman’s recent work, Flesh of My Flesh is about love. During a decade in which the art world found itself obsessed with what it awkwardly called relational aesthetics, Silverman—along with some of her closest interlocutors, including Leo Bersani—instead used aesthetics to explore in the deepest of ways what human “relationality” could be said to be. We are thus witness in Flesh of My Flesh to another major shift in Silverman’s thought: From being one of the foremost theorists of desire, she has moved toward a thinking—a true imagining—of the conditions of both love and joy. As Flesh of My Flesh shows us, these are two affects that our times—of infinite war and indiscriminate destruction; of massive ethnic, national, and religious polarization—must consider anew. The times, in other words, have produced a call. They have been a summons. As I realized when I visited with Silverman this past fall, surrounded by the violent unrest caused by the financial and political crises of the University of California campuses, both hers and my own: First and foremost Flesh of My Flesh is a response.
     
    George Baker

    GEORGE BAKER: Where did Flesh of My Flesh begin?

    KAJA SILVERMAN: I guess the answer to that question would have to be “in my unconscious.” Although the book was not yet a gleam in my conscious mind’s eye, I started writing it in 1999, with an essay on Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line [1998]. I was drawn to the film because I found it so emotionally overwhelming and because the affects that it precipitated in me felt both ontologically and historically true, even though I could not link them to anything in the present. This was very mysterious, and it became even more so later, because one by one,

  • OUT OF POSITION: THE ART OF MARTIN KIPPENBERGER

    By the time he died, of cancer, in 1997 at age forty-four, MARTIN KIPPENBERGER had generated what was already recognized to be one of the most significant, and prescient, bodies of work from the postwar era—one whose diversity was matched only by its elusiveness and complicity in its own misprision, since the artist’s wide-ranging engagements with radically contrasting approaches to painting, sculpture, photography, and installation all but demanded to be seen through the prism of his own larger-than-life persona and past history as a punk-era impresario. Kippenberger’s influence among artists internationally has grown steadily in the years since his death, and yet his first US retrospective took place only last fall, organized by Ann Goldstein at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. We asked art historian and critic GEORGE BAKER to take stock of “Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective”—which travels to the Museum of Modern Art in New York next month—and to consider the still-evolving implications of the artist’s practice.

    THERE ARE NIGHTS IN LOS ANGELES when, if your friends are artists, you wind up at Capri—the somewhat forlorn, outdated (very ’80s) restaurant that Martin Kippenberger invested in soon after he moved to the city for a brief time in 1989. Inevitably, someone who knew Kippenberger, or someone who knew someone who knew Kippenberger, will tell you that the artist wanted to back the restaurant so that Los Angeles could have decent spaghetti Bolognese. And so, knowing that everyone tells such stories about Kippenberger, you contemplate ordering that. But since this is a story about translation and

  • MILD ABOUT LARRY: 2002 WHITNEY BIENNIAL

    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. (Artforum.com editor Saul Anton adds a new-media footnote.) The only constant: the carping, of course—and one stray note of triple consensus.

  • George Baker

    “Only through sickness can we know what true health is,” Joe Gibbons states at one point in his video Confessions of a Sociopath, 2001. “That's why I've gone to such lengths to develop my neurosis.” Wobbling between Super-8 films of past transgressions and video footage of present inaction, Gibbons's work refuses the suturing of its two contradictory media through its author's confrontation with the intractable disparity between his former and current selves—a kind of Krapp's Last Tape—inspired reverie. In its salutary pessimism, the work reads to me like a rejoinder by film and video

  • OPENINGS: NANCY DAVENPORT

    I FIND DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY vaguely depressing, an oxymoron like the advertising slogan “a major motion-picture event” or the hip-hop mantra “Keepin’ It Real.” For one thing, it now seems clear that our greatest account of the photographic medium, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida (1980), emerged only at the moment of the historical dissolution of precisely those aspects of the photograph that it isolated. Conceptual art had already embraced an aesthetic of pure photographic denotation, declaring war on what Barthes called the punctum—the photograph’s mad dalliance with contingency, its excessive

  • Sam Taylor-Wood

    Sam Taylor-Wood makes big photographs. I like photographs that are small, made to be viewed in books or, ideally, held in one’s hands, destined to be turned, caressed, and scrutinized up close. In such experiences lies something like the essence of photography, for me. And thus I do not like Sam Taylor-Wood’s photographs.

    Of course, Taylor-Wood’s images were never intended to be exceedingly photographic. They flirt with cinema (the panoramic horizontal expanse, “sound tracks,” and temporal dilation of the “Five Revolutionary Seconds” series, 1995–98). They dally with theater (the play with

  • William Kentridge

    William Kentridge’s first American retrospective opened with a recent film, Shadow Procession, that seemed to ironize the South African artist’s meteoric critical rise in the last decade. The 1999 work records a succession of jerry-built figures in silhouette, which are projected on a wall at the entrance to the show like the fleeting animals conjured by moonlight on the walls of our childhood bedrooms. To enter the exhibition was to allow one’s own shadow to fall in with the phantom procession, and the film’s sound track at times made this entrance like joining some kind of popular festival,

  • “Leon Golub: Paintings, 1950–2000”

    CRUELLY TRUNCATED IN ITS BROOKLYN HANGING after its inaugural run at the sprawling Irish Museum of Modern Art, this exhibition was hardly a retrospective—but I'll forgive it that for starting things off with a fine mess. Spat out roughly midway along the triumphant march that led from Jasper Johns's 1954–55 Flag to Barbara Kruger's 1991 version emblazoned on the exterior of the Mary Boone Gallery in New York, Golub's Napalm Flag, 1970, desecrates à la Dubuffet. If the trajectory traced from Johns to Kruger transformed the avant-garde's target from individual myth to the mass media, one

  • Sowon Kwon

    “I LIKE GENERIC, DEADPAN TITLES.” Such was Sowon Kwon's apt comment on her recent installation Two or Three Corridors, 2000, a work christened while the artist was evidently in a '60s state of mind—think of the piece as the indecisive offspring of Richter's Eight Student Nurses, or Ruscha's Twentysix Gasoline Stations, or Kosuth's One and Three Chairs. Kwon's installation itself, however, was structured more in the spirit of Michael Asher's “situational aesthetics,” as the artist displaced a series of works from the collection of the Philip Morris offices to the Whitney's space in the

  • Krzysztof Wodiczko

    “Like you I have longed for a memory beyond consolation, for a memory of shadows and stones.” These words (by Marguerite Duras) are delivered deadpan and lumbering by the female protagonist in the opening dialogue of Alain Resnais’s 1959 film Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Seconds later, the film displays footage of a government building that stood at the epicenter of the Hiroshima nuclear catastrophe, the ravaged husk of which has been left standing, memorialized as the A-Bomb Dome. It was this structure that Krzysztof Wodiczko chose as the site for his Hiroshima Projection, 1999, a work commissioned

  • PISS ELOQUENT: THE ART OF KNUT ÅSDAM

    It is not polite to speak of the crotch of the question.

    —Erik Satie

    YOU ARE PUSHED UP CLOSE AGAINST THIS BODY, a man’s body, held by a camera that clings to its object like a pair of too-small trousers to the skin beneath them. You are staring at a crotch. Fragmented by the camera’s inert pressure, this is a body robbed of any sense of boundary, caught—like the trunk of an upended tree—at one of the sites of its own splitting, displaying the shadowy fold of zipper and seam as displaced echoes of the body’s own rupture. You notice, of course, the penis, cradled in the snug material but also

  • Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

    Little by little, the simple rigor of Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation became clear: Distributed evenly throughout the gallery were five inflatable children’s pools, of an intense, almost Mediterranean blue. Each pool, filled with the same small quantity of water, was outfitted with an electric pump that created a mild current. And, finally, in every pool, there appeared a diffuse, floating mass of crockery—an identical number of assorted bowls, Chinese teacups, and stemware.

    And with this the chaos began. Or perhaps I should say cacophony. For as the gentle current shuttled the bowls

  • Rainer Ganahl

    Since 1995, in his “S/L (seminars/lectures)” series, Rainer Ganahl has been producing what are essentially portrait photographs of intellectuals. Far from the contemplative tradition associated with a photographer like Gisèle Freund or the free-floating head shots found on contributors pages in magazines from Vogue to Artforum, Ganahl’s snapshot aesthetic positions intellectual activity as a form of labor. The figures are depicted in the context of their semipublic work: leading a seminar, giving a lecture, attending a conference. For each subject, Ganahl then usually selects two photographs:

  • Gary Simmons

    “Everything,” Michel Foucault once wrote about Magritte’s This Is Not a Pipe, “is solidly anchored within a pedagogic space.” In “The Forest for the Trees,” Gary Simmons’s most recent New York show, the scene was set by four large-scale C-prints installed in the front room of the gallery. A seminar room, a lecture hall, a chemistry auditorium, a large classroom: Each photograph placed the viewer squarely before a typical university space. These classrooms, however, were empty. Moreover, they appeared outmoded—one’s eye settled on the flaking ceiling paint in the seminar room, the missing characters

  • James Welling

    Consider the Rorschach effect typically experienced when looking at James Welling’s photographs. One cannot place these images; even if one knows what they are ostensibly of—aluminum foil, pastry dough, drapery, gelatin—one is unable to stop the spiraling movement that transforms the photograph into a surface of sheer projection. It has been similarly difficult to place Welling as an artist: He refused to embrace the media appropriations of his postmodernist peers, and his photographic investigations seemed to emerge into the art world of the late ’70s without specific precedent.

    One

  • Jason Simon

    To enter the slightly claustrophobic gallery—its windows and doors had been blackened to block out all external light—was to step into a scene of catastrophe. The centerpiece of Jason Simon’s most recent exhibition was a single sculpture, provocatively entitled Public Address: Collapsed, 1998. Two immense, jet-black speaker horns—brute, definitively outmoded mechanisms of the type once found in public arenas or sports stadiums—lay precariously on the gallery floor. Judging by the limp rigging and cracked ceiling tiles strewn around the horns, the work’s conceit was that the

  • Mark di Suvero

    Mark di Suvero has always associated himself with traditional left-wing political culture: according to one of his originary stories, for example, he used to refuse to produce objects for the art market, choosing instead to make toys for children in local housing projects. He claims to have learned from this “what worked and what didn’t.” Then there was his long and evidently painful self-exile from the United States during the Vietnam War—an exile that at least partially endeared him to the French. After settling in France, he was invited in 1975 by Michel Guy, France’s Minister of Culture, to

  • Andrea Robbins & Max Becher

    There can be no doubt about the incisive precision—worthy of the best work of Walker Evans—with which Andrea Robbins & Max Becher edited and sequenced their latest collaboration, a 1994 series of scarcely thirteen photographs of the concentration camp at Dachau. Since 1986, the two have positioned their projects within the vocabulary of documentary and Neue Sachlichkeit photography while critiquing the legacies of both; investigating the tensions between word and image, they continually turn for subject matter to the intersection of global tourism and the increasing desire for an aesthetic of