Jack Bankowsky


    CHRISTOPHER MÜNCH MAKES MOVIES out of a fear of missing the action, which is another way of saying he makes movies about mortality. In his 1992 feature debut The Hours and Times, a fictionalized reconstruction of a 1963 weekend John Lennon (Ian Hart) and Beatle manager Brian Epstein (David Angus) spent holed up in a Barcelona hotel room, Münch imagines a horny pas de deux in which Lennon’s light-as-a-feather ride atop the cresting zeitgeist (the last moment of calm before full-blown Beatlemania) makes the fab lad a ready object of fascination for the worldly and ruminative Epstein, his every mortal anxiety in tow. Münch works the charged situation into an affecting evocation of the melancholy of unconsummated desire, but it’s the Beatle conceit that makes the old story new. By the closing sequence, in which Lennon tenders a nonplussed “okay” to Epstein’s solicited promise that they meet on the same park bench exactly a decade later, it’s clear that it’s the specter of fame of a particular late-century verity and pitch—the life-is-short/pop-is-long redemption embodied in Lennon’s burgeoning celebrity—that haunts the quotidian “hours” Epstein suffers enthralled by the pop-historical mop top (and only partially witting cock tease). As spare as it was resonant (the action’s restricted largely to one suite during a single weekend), Münch’s directorial effort was happily in sync with his bare-bones budget, lifting the film above the flood of well-meaning but forgettable indies and earning him a loyal following among cannier film observers.
    In Münch’s new feature, Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day, life’s dependable finitude is once again the esthetic lodestone, but here the house-bound existentialism of Hours gives way to elegy. Shot in a ravishing black and white that recalls the photographs of Ansel Adams and O. Winston Link and that earned cameraman Rob Sweeney the cinematography award at last year’s Sundance, Color ostensibly recounts the counterheroic coming of age of second-generation Chinese-American John Lee (Peter Alexander) via his quest to save the foundering Yosemite Valley railroad line. Lee (whose family came to America to build the transcontinental railroad and prospered as merchants) raises the money to buy the railroad, but his out-of-step endeavor (akin to throwing ’90s venture capital after the typewriter) is doomed from the start. As in Hours, it’s the futility of the gesture—the aborted nature of the central narratives—that opens the local action onto the larger poetry, but in Color Münch trades in Epstein’s personal anxiety over the fleeting nature of his earthly stint for Lee’s perplexity before the passage of an entire way of life. As the railroad becomes the film’s symbolic core of mourning, the Ozymandias effect drives Color’s abiding nostalgia, not only in terms of Lee’s quixotic effort but also in a series of relationships (two intimacies with women, one near intimacy with a man) that become palpable for him only as they evaporate. If the Epstein-Lennon dynamic is refigured here in the overwrought but unrequited attentions that the introverted railroad man Skeeter (played by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe) directs toward the curiously opaque Lee, the film’s overarching romance ultimately revolves around Lee’s relationship to the railroad and his mis-scheduled appointment with destiny, echoed in the sustained visual counterpoint between the white-elephant enormity of the languishing trains and the permanence of the magisterial western landscape (recalling the lyricism of Terence Malick’s farm machinery against the parched Texas panhandle in his 1978 Days of Heaven, a film Münch counts among his favorites).
    With its quirky subject matter and self-consciously poetic use of language, Color’s appeal may seem less epiphanic than that of Hours, but for those poised to test the first feature’s extraordinary promise, the more ambitious Color will secure Münch’s status as an auteur of particular and decisive vision. As Color makes the festival rounds in anticipation of an early-winter release, I sat down with Münch to ask him about these two movies, which have moved me as much as any others in contemporary cinema.
    Jack Bankowsky

    JACK BANKOWSKY: I just read a review of Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day, and I have the feeling that the writer was a bit mystified as to what to make of it. The Hours and Times may have ended up being more accessible because of the John Lennon–Brian Epstein connection, which is something most people can plug into. But to my mind, the films share a lot in terms of thematics and ideas, although the ostensible subject matter of the new film is quirkier.

    CHRISTOPHER MÜNCH: Well, I think both came out of a concern for certain types of characters. Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day was difficult to

  • The Art/Fashion Thing

    WHEN I VISITED Andy Warhol’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1989 and filed my first feature-length article for Artforum, what impressed me as much as the work itself was the great comic spectacle of his museumification as it played itself out in the commentary surrounding the show. In the face of the most contemporary of contemporary artists, both detractors and advocates suddenly turned into 19th-century connoisseurs quibbling over the relative “quality” of the early versus the late work, trying to sort out the “real art” from the dissipated spectacle. At its worst the discussion


    The Whitney Biennial, it often seems, can do no right. The 1993 version of the show—the first of director David Ross’ tenure, and the first entrusted to a single curator—fared badly in the press even by Biennial standards, but the efforts of years past had also routinely drawn fire; group-authored, they were often seen as committee-compromised blueprints of the art-world pecking order. Curator Elisabeth Sussman’s forthright focus on politically motivated work was credited in some quarters as a wholesome corrective to this tendency, but it inevitably ruffled establishment feathers. Shortcomings

  • Etc. Etc.

    EDWARD RUSCHA'S DEADPAN charge of redundancy on the cover of this anniversary issue reminds us that what is true for rock stars and pop artists also holds for a magazine whose identity is synonymous with vanguard culture: the onset of deep adulthood is cause less for jubilation than for dread. It’s no secret that Artforum has become something of an institution over the last three decades; Ruscha’s dig, in fact, is only the most recent in a minitradition of artists-tweaking-Artforum that dates back at least as far as John Baldessari’s 1966–68 THIS IS NOT TO BE LOOKED AT. And indeed it is not the

  • A Conversation

    Ingrid Sischy is currently editor-in-chief of Interview and a photography critic for The New Yorker. She served as editor of Artforum from February 1980 to February 1988.

    JACK BANKOWSKY: When you took over Artforum you were only 27. How were you received in the beginning?

    INGRID SISCHY: I have no idea; I was too busy trying to do the job to worry about that kind of thing. When I was offered the position it felt like something hit me on the head. When fate knocks you on the head you go with it or you don’t. And I went with it. We had to move on the first issue so fast; by the time we finished it

  • April 1993

    Remember the soft-focus ’70s? The mood most celebrated by the yuppie “poets” of the ’80s, who came of age in that “blighted” decade, was a misty nostalgia for the ’60s they had missed. Back then, the ’70s seemed the one slice of history constitutionally immune to the wave of cultural cannibalism already flowering in products as diverse as New Wave, American Graffiti, and a photograph by Sherrie Levine of a photograph by Edward Weston.

    Well, the ’70s are back—and have been for some time, if one heeds the augurs of clubdom, where mood rings, bell-bottoms, and the Brady Bunch have already enjoyed

  • Jack Bankowsky

    Demon-possessed and spewing indecencies, Sue Williams has arrived spitting and foaming in the art-world spotlight. Indeed, Williams loads her canvases with brutish doodles and slogans until their scrubbed and smeared surfaces read like a virtual catalogue of crimes against her sex.

    Dan Cameron looks in on this one-woman heart of darkness and discovers a feminism that works the very belly of the beast. Williams has perfect pitch when it comes to the dictions of abuse, of both the overt and the more insidious sort. She knows that oppression can come dressed as common sense—its impositions managed

  • Jack Bankowsky

    Professing a fascination with the American culture-scape that shares as much with the wide-eyed dazzlement of the 19th-century innocent abroad as with the sophisticated deliriums of contemporary old world emissaries like Jean Baudrillard, Dick Hebdige recounts a North American odyssey that took him from the “echoing ball courts” of Chichén Itzà to the “blasted city center” of Detroit. As a practiced decoder of cultural signs and the author of Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Hebdige is well equipped to read the “ruins” of our truly ancient continent. Indeed, just when the thought of another


    ZEROING IN ON the most numbing daily given of our souped-up late phase of capital—the ubiquitous advertising still—Richard Prince planted a pin on the cultural map by parading Madison Avenue’s longest-running fiction, the ridin’, ropin’ Marlboro man, under the sign of art. Like the now venerable tradition of artists, from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons, who have in one way or another squared off with the twin demons of commerce and communications, Prince has been subject to a predictably mixed reception: he is simultaneously revered as an “artist’s artist,” with a cultish cabal of


    IN SLACKERS, 1991, RICHARD LINKLATER'S vision of adolescence gone rancid, he trains his camera on a mundane milieu—the postgrad, between-semesters doldrums of a middle-American university town (Austin, Texas, to be precise)—and introduces us to a new casualty for the ’90s. A subject without a mission, a fate, or even a subjectivity (at least in the superadequate Modern sense), the slacker inhabits an atomized universe: everyone speaks a debased or hybrid argot, worships at their own jerry-built altar, proselytizes for a private religion. Master narratives, in short, do not inhere. The slacker


    CROSS HELTER SKELTER with Mother Goose and you get a sense of the nuanced disorientation that characterizes Karen Kilimnik’s art. Though at first glance her loose spills of eclectic ephemera seem culled from the bedroom sanctuary of an overwrought teenage girl, signs abound that her preteen never-never land is under siege. Patient pastels of regal stallions (remember girls and their glass horses?), stuffed toys, idealized “pretty ladies,” doilies, glitter, toilet-paper streamers, and a generally perplexing mélange of things diaphanous and pink fuel the atmosphere of daydreamy solipsism. Yet


    ALMOST 30 YEARS after Robert Rauschenberg hung his now-famous paint-encrusted bed on a gallery wall, Jessica Stockholder hitched a mattress to the side of a garage, painted it red, and initiated a practice that, if nothing else, appreciably strains dominant artistic protocols.

    Stockholder’s work since then—gangling installations and sculptural combines characterized by a slapdash facture and hands-on approach to materials—has, in fact, been greeted by a fair amount of head-scratching: a litany of reservations from “arty” to “willfully idiosyncratic,” not to mention misunderstandings about the