Matthew DeBord

  • Organising Freedom: Nordic Artists of the ’90s

    The middle panel in a triptych of exhibitions—“After the Wall” was the first, “What If” will be the third—“Organising Freedom” showcases work by the artists who spawned the “Northern miracle.” Curator David Elliott brings together videos, installations, photographs, and paintings, all produced in the ’90s by the likes of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Miriam Bäckström, Olafur Eliasson, Annika Eriksson, Peter Land, Annika Karlsson Rixon, and Fanni Niemi-Junkola. Apparently riffing on a comment by ur-Nordic chanteuse Björk (“I thought I could organize freedom. How very Scandinavian of me”), the exhibition

  • “Labyrinth and Identities: Brazilian Photography, 1946–1998”

    All the hype (or, if you’re above cynicism, growing awareness) concerning Brazilian photography might prompt one to keep expectations low for this survey of thirty-one artists. But the reputation of curator Rubens Fernandes Jr., director of São Paulo’s Fundação Arnando Alvares, recommends this selection of some 160 works, among them Cristiano Mascaro’s urban views; Geraldo de Barros’s Constructivist experiments; lush color photos by Miguel Rio Branco; and Valdir Cruz’s and Pierre Verger’s ethnological portraits. Here, avant-garde aesthetics, nationalism, and the fury of industrialization have

  • Sixth International Istanbul Biennial

    Though its theme, “The Passion and the Wave,” might be mistaken for the title of a Yanni album, the sixth installment of the Istanbul Biennial promises to be anything but flaky. Miriam Bäkström, Yuki Kimura, Ugo Rondinone, Arturo Herrera, Kara Walker, and Fatimah Tuggar are among the sixty well-chosen artists assembled by organizer Paolo Colombo, director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva. Works will be shown at several venues, principally the Dolmabahçe Cultural Center, along with a smattering of site-specific projects, including an installation of billboards reachable only by ferryboat.

  • “Looking for a Place”

    The third installment of this Southwestern biennial achieves, at the very least, a more lucid title than its predecessors (“Longing and Belonging: From the Faraway Nearby,” 1995; and “Truce: Echoes of Art in an Age of Endless Conclusions,” 1997). Independent Spanish curator Rosa Martinez, fresh from organizing the Istanbul Biennial, brings twenty-five cutting-edge contemporary artists to Santa Fe, including Ghada Amer, Louise Bourgeois, Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, Charlene Teters, and—in case you were getting worried—a few guys, too. The show occupies a range of sites, even one at Los

  • “Other Narratives”

    CAM senior curator Dana Friis-Hansen made his mark with shows organized around such notions as “cross-cultural identity” and “the other.” His latest effort, “Other Narratives,” brings together a selection of '80s and '90s American art that “addresses issues of self, society, history, and cultural marginalization.” Think you've heard all that before? Well, the works by the twenty artists slated for inclusion—Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Pepon Osorio, Elaine Reichek, Kara Walker, and Carrie Mae Weems among them—should rise above the banality and buzzwords.

  • VOTI

    “A permanent forum for the discussion of issues pertaining to curatorial practice in the context of contemporary society,” von (—the letters stand for “Union of the Imaginary” (with the U expressed in the ancient Roman style, for pronunciation’s sake)—has been nestled inside Jordan Crandall’s X Art Foundation, at the Blast site, since March 1998. An invitation-only forum for a group of about forty-five mostly youngish, mostly freelance curators to hash out issues pertaining to their amorphously defined jobs, VOTI'S membership reads like a who’s who on the current international scene: Okwui Enwezor, Dan Cameron, Hou Hanru, Francesco Bonami, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and Carlos Basualdo, among others, all contributed to the site’s formation. Modeling itself on a labor union—with Crandall at the top, and Ulrich and Basualdo as his capos—VOTI arose out of disgruntlement with the current state of freelance curatorial affairs (i.e., a curator is thought to come, prepackaged, with a specific set of artists and a signature theoretical approach which can then be plugged into whatever show management has in the works). The union’s only action so far has been a private letter of protest to the Whitney, criticizing the firings that took place there after Maxwell Anderson seized the reins. A recent discussion opened a dialogue on contracts. In the future, some topics will diverge from the invitation-only template and be discussed in public forums. “We wanted to send a signal to the rest of the art world,” says Basualdo, “that it was still possible to work collaboratively.”
    Matthew DeBord


    A decidedly politicized awareness has always inflected Zoe Leonard’s fugitive, eclectic, outwardly quite urbane vision: Though hard to nail down, she can always be counted on to make a statement. How surprised (maybe shocked) I was, then, to encounter her two most recent photographic series—images of trees and dead animals—a stark contrast to her earlier work like the low-angle runway shots of models, or the “Watermelon Woman” archive compiled with Cheryl Dunye. These new photos seemed to all but embrace the conservative mythology of American life: burly patriots hacking out a destiny, subduing and surviving. Had the reliably engagé Leonard, in her trips to the Alaskan frontier, gone native? During our conversation, she read a paragraph from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea about a fisherman’s laconic bond with a fish. Listening to my tape recorder whir in the silence as she considered a reply, I braced myself for a militia pitch.
    A silly expectation, because Leonard has grafted the aesthetic concerns developed north of the Lower 48 onto the incisive blend of public and private explorations typical of her artmaking. The artist—whose celebrity since Documents IX in 1992 has been matched by her devotion to grassroots activism—is all about edge: the verge of gender bewilderment; the blissed-out canon of beauty harshly rebuked; the crude unveiled. Her fascination with subsistence thus strikes me as wholly in character, an extension of her obsessions woven into a back-to-the-land ethos. These pictures—outdoor abbatoirs, streetscape flora that combat the urban fabric—signal an effort to inhabit an economy that most of us only glimpse. Leonard remains one of our bravest artists: a moving target who has learned to shoot back.
    Matthew DeBord


    I see this tree from my back window. I’ve had the same apartment for eighteen years, and I’ve watched this tree grow up and around the fence. I’m amazed at how, over time, it has absorbed the fence into its body.

    In 1994, I started spending time in Alaska. The first time, I stayed six months. I returned in 1995 and lived up there alone for a year and a half in Eagle, a small village on the Yukon River. I got interested in the idea of subsistence—of living more directly from my own labor. I heated with wood, hauled my own water, and gathered and grew some of my food. Gradually, my

  • “David Hockney: Espace/Paysage”

    This smallish retrospective (including about fifty paintings, photographs, and installations) of the ubiquitous Brit focuses on his innovative responses to space, both pictorial and “real.” A major catalogue boasts texts by the Pompidou’s Didier Ottinger (who organized the show), Pierre Sterkx, et al. Don’t despair if your favorite photocollage isn’t included at the Pompidou—it just might show up elsewhere. Hockney exhibits abound in Paris this spring. “Dialogue with Picasso,” at the Musée Picasso, aims to consider his debt to the modern master, while a fuller look at Hockney’s camera-based

  • Douglas Gordon

    Young British Artist Douglas Gordon, who is of course really Scottish, strives to elicit fresh frissons, serving up a creepshow of good old-fashioned alienation in cool new art-directed packaging. The Centro Cultural de Belém now brings together Gordon’s twenty-four-hour, slow-motion version of Hitchcock’s Psycho, a number of previously seen installations, and documentation of the artist’s mid-’90s performances “Kissing with Sodium Pentothal” and “Kissing with Amobarbital.” In addition, Gordon is creating three new installations for the exhibition, his largest one-man show to date. The catalogue

  • Mario Merz: “La Casa Fibonacci”

    Jorge Pardo’s shack in Los Angeles may be getting all the press, but the Serralves Foundation’s project (organized by Vincente Toldoli, the new director of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves)—the realization of the “ideal” house of Merz’s imagination—sounds more conceptually dynamic, if a little less chic. Once the structure is complete, Merz will install sculptures and drawings to spruce up the decor. A book documenting the casa will include Merz’s writings about the project, to be published by Hopeful-monster. There are no plans for the home to go mobile.

  • Franz West

    “It doesn’t matter what the art looks like but how it’s used,” declared Franz West in 1990, adding, “the important thing is to find a place for art, not a definition.” West has spent the better part of the decade restlessly seeking such places, arranging his signature furniture-objects at the peripheries of those sites we designate for “official” artistic exchange. West’s oeuvre recalls the high theatricality of Robert Wilson brought down to earth by the typically casual facture of his objects. Now West has been selected by the Rooseum’s Bo Nilsson to “self-curate” an exhibition of past work in

  • “Body Mécanique: Artistic Explorations of Digital Realms”

    Body art is not exactly news, but as artists are just beginning to explore the intersection of corpus and motherboard, “Body Mecanique” looks timely indeed. Striving to “comprehend life as a hybrid of flesh and information,” Wexner curator Sarah Rogers has corralled a roster of fourteen thoroughly wired artists, including Laurie Anderson, Judith Barry, Brad Miskell, Thecla Schiphorst (who will explore the overlap of choreography and video), and Chris Marker, who’s lately gone high-digital with his lavish CD-ROM project, Immemory. Three themes—“body language,” “the constructed body,” and “body

  • Walter Van Beirendonck

    Belgian designers tend to look to the street for inspiration. Walter Van Beirendonck does his prêt-à-porter countrymen one better in combining youth style and the futurism thats become de rigueur in Japanese design. Gathered under the aegis of “Wild and Lethal Trash,” his fall/winter collection is being impresarioed by Boijmans design curator Thimo to Duits, with a catalogue including contributions from International Herald-Tribune fashion writer Suzy Menkes and artist Orlan. Along with Beirendoncks homage to adolescent knuckle-dragging couture (“Cybercombat style for space skaters”), the

  • Let's Go to the Living Room

    One assumes something got lost in the translation, but the motif of this aggressively antigallery exhibition is ochanoma, or “living room,” the metaphor curator Koichi Watari asked each of the six participants to take as an inspiration. So Japanese artist Kaoru Arima will send visitors on a sort of treasure hunt, Cai Guo Qiang will collaborate with Chinese Feng Shui specialist Kongjian Yu on an Internet site, and 1997 Venice Biennale prizewinner Fabrice Hybert will provide an in situ installation, as will German-American Christine Hill. Meanwhile, Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul’s project—a comic

  • artists in residence

    The Swedish Art Grant Committee has named curator and critic Daniel Birnbaum director of the International Artists’ Studio Program in Sweden (IASPIS). Birnbaum, a regular contributor to Artforum, succeeds Sune Nordgren, who will become director of Baltic Flour Mills, the exhibition center being established in Newcastle, England.

    Appointed for a three-year term, Birnbaum will oversee a program that began providing studio grants to artists and organizing exhibitions last year. IASPIS is housed in the Royal Swedish Art Academy, an allegedly haunted seventeenth-century landmark in central Stockholm

  • Christopher Wool

    A man of large, block letters—and a maven of various textual-turn and neo-abstract collusions as much indebted to Franz Kline as Ed Ruscha—Christopher Wool gets his first major one-person show in the United States, an encompassing rundown of fifty-odd pieces, some dating from as early as 1986. MoCA curator Ann Goldstein has enlisted the artist to devise an in situ exhibition plan to present his engaging, often daunting, sometimes inscrutable work, including ’80s-vintage pattern paintings and stenciled- and stamped-texts pieces, plus silk-screened and spray-painted works from the ’90s. The show’s

  • The ’80s

    Now that the ’70s have been parsed from every imaginable angle, is it time for the big ’80s revival? From María Corral, director of Barcelona’s Fondació “La Caixa” collection, comes this internationally inflected, thirty-seven-artist summary of the Go-Go Decade’s “pluralistic mosaic of expressions.” Americans from Jenny Holzer to Bill Viola are on the docket, Rosemarie Trockel’s ideological fillips will balance Georg Baselitz’s and Anselm Kiefer’s painterly Sturm and Drang, and sculpture will be largely given over to the British representatives (e.g., Tony Cragg and Richard Deacon). The Iberian

  • Pay for Your Pleasure (Reprise): Joe Scanlan

    Considering Joe Scanlan’s obsession with the ephemeral pageantry of everyday objects—biodegradable flowerpots, underwear—the question posed by his first one-person museum show derives from the MCA’s institutional imprimatur. Will the need to occupy space violate the intimacy the artist characteristically evokes through his edgy commentaries on quotidian beauty? Titled to pun on Mike Kelley’s 1988 Pay for Your Pleasure, Scanlan's installation—the sixth in the museum's series highlighting emerging artists—features new work in his signature idiom of recycled domestic detritus along with Kelleyesque

  • William Kentridge: Weighing . . . and Wanting

    Working in a South Africa troubled by its past yet giddy about its future, William Kentridge has managed to fashion an enviable career, appearing at Documenta X and the 6th Havana Biennial. The Johannesburg native shifts modes easily between drawing and filmmaking, reconciling the two practices in an art of ambiguity in which, in his words, “optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.” For Kentridge’s first solo US museum show, MCA director Hugh M. Davies has organized “Weighing . . . and Wanting,” consisting of the artist’s satirical yet melancholy charcoal drawings and a film documenting

  • U2's PopMart

    Pop art is the arena rock of art history. So why shouldn’t U2—whom everyone expects to deliver a jam-the-stadiums extravaganza with each new album—latch onto Pop and its glib iconography in order to revivify their fading image? The band’s final Meadowlands performance on the troubled PopMart Tour summarized the exceptional crassness of this tactic: what better way to resist becoming an anachronism than to follow the example of an art movement that refuses to grow old quietly? Rest assured, these lads are never going back to the sooty Dublin days of Boy and Kajagoogoo haircuts, not as long as