Ralph Rugoff


    THE FIFTY-EIGHTH VENICE BIENNALE opens May 11 to a world riven by powerful disinformation campaigns and tipping toward reactionary crisis. The Biennale’s artistic director, Ralph Rugoff, discussed the exhibition—and the palliative potential of art’s world-building powers—with Artforum contributing editor Daniel Birnbaum, who in 2009 organized the Biennale’s fifty-third edition.

    Ralph Rugoff: There’s something about this exhibition you may not know, which is that there will actually be two exhibitions: “Proposition A,” at the Arsenale, and “Proposition B,” in the Central Pavilion. The exhibitions

  • Mood Music in Green, 1997.

    Dave Muller

    In addition to the convivial group shows (“Three Day Weekends”) he organizes, gregarious Los Angeles–based artist Dave Muller makes smart, colorful drawings that recontextualize and often wryly reinterpret posters and announcements for other artists’ exhibitions. This survey, organized by Bard CCS Museum director Amada Cruz (who, with CCAC Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art curator Matthew Higgs, contributes to the catalogue), focuses on the drawings, which lends the exhibition a collegial feel. In addition, the artist is offering visitors a taste of Muller-style sociability


    AVANT-GARDISTS USED TO HOLD THEIR AUDIENCES in contempt, but today times are friendlier. Over the last decade, a growing number of contemporary artists have assumed the well-meaning demeanor of attentive service providers. Instead of trying to offend the public, they build funhouse slides and playgrounds in museums and hold late-night DJ events. They cook meals for their once despised spectators and transform inhospitably austere gallery spaces into welcoming lounge areas. In a climate of diminished cultural expectations, these artists seem to insist that, if nothing else, art should at least

  • Ralph Rugoff

    SHIRLEY TSE CANNILY CELEBRATES THE PHANTASMAGORIC possibilities of polymers. The Hong Kong–born, Los Angeles–based artist transforms Bubble Wrap, Styrofoam, and polyurethane into pullulating constructions whose sagging and dented surfaces alternately suggest organic growths and abject industrial architecture. And just as the commercially formulated plastics that Tse uses are typically associated with packing and shipping, her sculpture likewise conjures a sense of work in transit, as if it were continually redefining its ultimate destination or even figuring out whether its field of reference

  • Ralph Rugoff

    1 “100 Days No Exhibition” (Salzburger Kunstverein) While the overriding tendency among museums was to kick off the millennium with a publicity-grabbing bang, Kunstverein director Hildegund Amanshauser decided to darken her gallery spaces and host a hundred-day series of symposia questioning the basic assumptions underlying current curatorial practices. At a moment when the international circuit is glutted with cloned exhibitions and pseudosensational shows, “100 Days” was exemplary—offering hope for a future beyond the knee-jerk reflexes of standard institutional fare.

    2 Tom Friedman (


    AFTER ALMOST TWO DECADES of making images of indoor worlds—rephotographing magazine and advertising images, or shooting portraits of the paintings lying around his studio—Richard Prince finally lugged his camera outside. Of late he's been taking photographs in and around the upstate New York town he moved to several years ago. On paper it sounds like a dramatic departure, but one of the more surprising aspects of Prince's new work is how quietly yet persuasively it insists that there is no essential difference between making pictures of other pictures and making pictures of the world at large.


    Anthony Hernandez’s “Pictures for Rome,” 1998–99, bear no resemblance to the familiar images of that city. Venturing into the interiors of abandoned schoolhouses, hospitals, and never-finished office buildings, Hernandez’s camera peruses these late-twentieth-century Roman ruins as if examining strange treasures from a lost twilight world. Whether framing eerily silent scenes such as an underground parking structure flooded with water, a curving hallway of ghostly offices, or the dust marks where pictures once hung on a wall, his meticulous compositions are closely observed and richly detailed—to


    LAST FALL, at Ron Lee’s World of Clowns, Jeffrey Vallance curated the most exuberantly disturbing show I have ever seen. Minutes after entering Mr. Lee’s museum, which occupies a patch of Martian landscape 20 minutes outside Las Vegas, I began to experience a stomach-twirling cocktail of elation and nausea. It was no doubt helped along by the female clown who greeted me at the door, and a surge of dizzy memories sparked by the indoor carousel, but the most disorienting aspect of “Clown Oasis” was its uncanny disappearing act. Like an illusion in a Siegfried & Roy show, Vallance’s exhibition was

  • Ralph Rugoff


    There were two outstanding retrospectives in Los Angeles last year—Jeffrey Vallance’s and Annette Messager’s—but the strongest new work I saw was GARY SIMMONS’ “Erasure Drawings” at the Lannan Foundation. If in the past Simmons had tended toward didactic one-liners, these spectral, CinemaScope-sized murals, executed in white chalk on long black walls, hit nerves from awe to sadness. Aggressively smeared, their imagery evoked a cartoon ghost town—burning ships, empty ballrooms, vacated thrones—and lent the foundation’s industrial cloister an elegiacal aura (not unfitting for a space


    AS THEY EXCAVATE pop culture’s repressed fantasies, Paul McCarthy’s demented mock-instructional videos, AudioAnimatronics-type sculptures, Hollywood-style sets, and mutant figures look like distorted family entertainments more than the objects of art history. At once eerie and comic, his bestiary teems with robotic goat-fuckers, giant furry skunks with human genitals, psychoactive human/vegetable hybrids, and mannequin legs afflicted with multiple personality disorder. Looking like mutants from a theme-park slum, they allegorize the traumas of consumer culture in the terms of sexuality, identity,

  • George Stone

    George Stone’s latest installation evoked a scene from a morgue: ten gun-metal gray latex sheets, doubled to form what looked like body bags, lay stretched out on a concrete floor. Resembling useless oxygen tubes, thin rubber hoses ran from the bags to a track fixture on the ceiling. Most macabre of all was the fact that the bags, seemingly filled with human remains, frequently stirred with uncannily lifelike movements (made by robots fabricated with PVC tubing that mimicked the articulated human joint). These figures abruptly recoiled into fetal crouches or slowly stretched out creaking limbs,


    Watching someone drive a nail through his penis isn’t usually my idea of a compelling art experience, but Bob Flanagan is something else. When Bob hammers that nail through his member while telling a joke or personal anecdote to his video camera, he’s trying less to shock than to make us reconsider the topography of desire, and the relationship between bodies and egos. In addition, he’s recounting the story of his life: known for over a decade as a poet and preeminent masochist, Flanagan, aged 40, has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that destroys most sufferers by adolescence. Taking these