Jean Fisher

  • Yinka Shonibare

    DUTCH WAX-PRINTED COTTON FABRIC masquerades as authentic African textile both for Westerners and for Africans seeking to break with Western dress, despite the fabric's passage from Indonesia through Holland and the mills of Manchester to the markets of Africa, North America, and Europe. It has become a signature of Yinka Shonibare's work, which emerged at the end of the '80s as installations of small chunky “canvases,” frequently overpainted on the sides or faces with an acrylic impasto of biomorphic forms and installed in grids on a monochrome wall. Considering the pressures on black artists

  • “Seven Stories About Modern Art In Africa”

    Exhibitions based on ethnic interpretations of multiculturalism that arise from the current fashion for curatorial globetrotting have mostly failed to advance an understanding of contemporary visual art from beyond the Western metropolis. In Britain, a glance at recent exhibition reviews touching on such themes as “New Art from China (or India, Cuba, etc.),” is enough to confirm the suspicion that the esthetic concerns of individual artists continue to be neglected in favor of redundant assumptions about ethnicity or poorly informed comparisons with Western Modernism. Why this continues to occur


    I am standing before James Coleman’s La Tache Aveugle (The blind spot, 1978–90), a slide projection derived from a brief sequence, less than a second long, of the 1933 film The Invisible Man. I witness an outrageously attenuated and inexorable dissolve—20 minutes duration for each frame, the whole cycle taking several hours to complete. Virtually nothing happens except almost imperceptible shifts in perspective; nobody, of course, materializes.

    This dramatized deferral of the moment of revelation that one anticipates from the image, from film, strikes me as immensely comic, in a Borgesian


    IT IS PERHAPS DIFFICULT now for the West, where the miraculous has long been banished by rationalism, to imagine the crisis of knowledge precipitated 500 years ago on both sides of the Atlantic by the Spanish conquista. From the European perspective, other imaginary worlds, divine and profane, had long preoccupied the Greco-Judaic consciousness, but these had been the product of a fixed world order. Confronted by a reality challenging the projections of space and time that he had structured through his mythic texts, the European was suddenly no longer the privileged subject of knowledge. The

  • Anselm Kiefer

    As far as I can tell, Anselm Kiefer’s work is devoid of any recognizable sense of humor. Weighty and monumental, it takes itself seriously, in the solemn tradition of history painting. This might not be worth mentioning, but for the fact that several of the pieces here play with notions of truth and knowledge as they are embodied in the book or library. This strategy calls to mind Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, 1983. The power of Eco’s book lies in the Rabelaisian frivolity with which the notion of learning is dismantled and reduced to a kind of dessicated narrow-mindedness. Books,

  • “Magiciens de la terre” in Paris


    According to the Great Encyclopedia, the first museum in the modern sense of the word (meaning the first public collection) was founded in France by the Convention of July 27, 1793. The origin of the modern museum is thus linked to the development of the guillotine.

    —Georges Bataille1

    The slaughterhouse is linked to religion insofar as the temples of by-gone eras . . . served two purposes: they were used both for prayer and for killing. The result (and this judgment is confirmed by the chaotic aspect of present-day slaughterhouses) was certainly a disturbing convergence of

  • Keith Piper

    Keith Piper is part of a vital constituency of British-based artists of color, a group that by no means speaks with a homogenous voice. These artists, in fact, are engaged in a complex debate on the nature and possible directions of alternative arts from within a plurality of cultural experiences and a diversity of esthetic strategies. Piper, who often identifies the author of his work as “Black Art by Machines,” is a political activist. Yet despite his dependence on the use of familiar sociopolitical subject matter, his vocabulary is considerably more subtle than the plaintive rhetoric of ’70s

  • Joan Fontcuberta And Pere Formiguera

    “On August 7, 1955, Professor Peter Ameisenhaufen drove alone to the north of Scotland. Three days later his car was found on the coast, near a cliff. His body was never found. . . . ” Thus, in mysterious fashion, ended the career of an obscure German zoologist who had spent his life discovering and classifying hitherto unknown species of world fauna. Did he commit suicide, or was he killed by one of the creatures he conjured into human consciousness? In any case, his disappearance is not without trace; what remains is the “Fauna” series: fragments of his archives of personal memorabilia, and


    (The passages of this essay that are printed in boldface were written by Jimmie Durham, those in lightface by Jean Fisher.)

    Don’t worry—I’m a good Indian. I’m from the West, love nature, and have a special, intimate connection with the environment. (And if you want me to, I’m perfectly willing to say it’s a connection white people will never understand.) I can speak with my animal cousins, and believe it or not I’m appropriately spiritual. (Even smoke the Pipe.)

    I’m assuming there is an audience interested enough in American Indians to read this. Like V. S. Naipaul, I imagine the possibility of

  • Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark

    Kathryn Bigelow, who worked in the ’70s with Art & Language and collaborated with Lawrence Weiner on films and videos, was co-author and codirector of the cult biker movie The Loveless, 1982. Bigelow has reappeared as the director of a beautifully crafted feature film, Near Dark, 1987, that explores some unsettled shadows in the American consciousness. It is an astute blend of genres: a vampire horror film that condenses the nature/culture conflict of the western with the problem of the rootless body expressed in the road movie. It is bound by an atmospheric soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.


  • “Rooms With A View”

    “Rooms with a View,” curated by Fred Wilson and designed by Curt Belshe and Lise Prown, was a richly textured, seriocomic interrogation of the cultural and esthetic codes of three types of stereotypical museum spaces, installed, with fine irony, in the old P.S. 39 building in the Bronx. The views in question were those of the turn-of-the-century Salon, the Modernist “white box,” and the ethnographic museum, addressing “the struggle between culture, content, and the context of art.” What is particularly to the point is that in cross-referencing from one space to another, a politicized ethnographic

  • Rasheed Araeen

    Few people have challenged British institutional racism with the intelligent persistence of Rasheed Araeen. His retrospective in a public gallery, albeit a provincial one, is a fairly provocative event. During the 20 years since he arrived in Britain from Pakistan, Araeen has struggled to gain respect as a contemporary artist against an establishment that has consistently insisted on his marginal “ethnic” status. Araeen’s testimony to this struggle, Making Myself Visible (published in 1984), confirms the assertion by other writers that political imperialism thoroughly contaminates such liberalist

  • Hamish Fulton

    Hamish Fulton and his occasional traveling companion Richard Long have been, like Braque and Picasso, so roped together that, to a casual glance, it is sometimes difficult to see where one’s photographic work ends and the other’s begins. Both artists tend to walk in the remote corners of the world; but Long uses the walk to document the elemental or sculptural gesture, beating out his own paths and making material “cuts” in the landscape, while Fulton treads quietly, little more than a silent witness to the nature that becomes annotated in his captions. “Day 11,” he begins, in support of one

  • Dermot Seymour

    Of the bitter conflicts in the world, none seems more touched by insanity—and for a multiplicity of reasons—than that of Northern Ireland. There, aided by their cynical government, the protagonists are engaged in a protracted struggle over ancient mythologies, while the world is in jeopardy from the insidious effects of pollution. This appears to be the subject of Dermot Seymour’s painted landscapes, in which invasion, surveillance, and disaster take place under the baleful stares of domesticated, wild, and exotic animals. It is not an easy subject to deal with in this medium, and Seymour’s work

  • Edgar Heap of Birds

    Male identity in Western culture has tended to be defined in terms of relations of power that circulate around gender and cultural difference––an identity in support of which an abundance of anthropological and zoological data has been assembled to “prove” that the inferiority of women and others is the “natural” order of things. Edgar Heap of Bird's work has always recognized this situation as a problem of rhetoric, of a measure of the untranslatability between disparate entities, but one that nevertheless has had serious effects upon the psychic and social well-being of his people in Oklahoma

  • Dan Grahm

    Dan Graham’s Pergola/Conservatory, 1987, is a complex extension of his glass “pavilion” sculptures. Designed for an outdoor location, it is an open-ended walkway 20 feet long, with a curved vaulted ceiling. The double armature, wood inside and metal outside, supports a surface of two-way mirror glass and functions as a trellis for exterior vines. Graham’s pergola is a hybrid, incorporating elements of the rustic arbor and gazebo as well as urban structures such as the bus shelter and the corporate atrium, which Graham, collaborating with Robin Hurst, discussed in the six-panel piece Private “

  • Mac Adams

    Mac Adams’ work has always expressed an impatience with the purely formal language of mainstream modernism and with the arbitrariness and self-referentiality of its esthetic decisions. Such impatience carries over to the current fashion for estheticizing the codes of commodity production where this is the sole referent to the work. In Adams’ work, though, meaning is born of the relation between things and the power invested in them by the imagination, and it is this relation that is addressed by the photographs and sculpture shown here in the exhibition “Shadows and Reflections.”

    The staging of

  • “BERLINART 1961–1987”

    “BERLINART 1961–1987” was intended to celebrate this city as one of the great art capitals—a magnet for artists from all over Europe and the United States as well as Germany itself. Many of these foreign artists were invited by the Berlin Artists Program of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). As this exhibition is named for Berlin, one might expect it to illuminate something of the nature of the narrative spaces constructed by the city, the psychosocial dynamics involved, and their intersection with a context beyond the concerns of art history. For the most part, however, such signs

  • Muntadas

    Exhibition, 1987, was a modified version of an installation by Muntadas staged in 1985 at the Galería Fernando Vijande in Madrid. In the ten works shown here he presented nine forms of image-presentation currently used by artists, from the historical conventions of the museum to contemporary street display: The XIXth Century Frame, The Slide Projection, The Print Series, The Photo Series, The Billboard, The Triptych, The Video Installation, The Drawing Series, all 1985, and The Light Box and The Light Box Display, both 1987. In each case, there was no image as such; the display case of “prints”

  • Gerard Hemsworth

    The mind’s capacity to make meaningful connections from seemingly absurd juxtapositions is essential to humor and its potential to subvert language, and is intrinsic to the maneuvers that constitute both the internal and the external events of Gerard Hemsworth’s paintings. Although his images and inscriptions are handcrafted, they are cliched, reproducible signs, including those drips and marks that are often claimed to express an inner essence. In Madam I’m Adam, 1986, these signs of “expressionism” are combined with two identical images of a chimpanzee’s head. Here, through the title’s gender