Thomas McEvilley

  • FORUM

    ONCE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST WENT to India with a movie camera and filmed the Indian rope trick. The trick was performed by an old man and a boy, in front of a crowd that gathered on the street. The old man threw a rope into the air and it stayed there, upright, on end. Then the boy climbed up the rope and disappeared from sight. A moment later the old man took a scimitar in his hand and climbed up the rope behind him, also disappearing from sight. Sounds of hacking and crying were heard, and the dismembered, bloody limbs of the boy fell to the ground one by one. The old man reappeared, climbed down,

  • MY DOG NEO

    The caryatids

    who hold up

    what we call

    civilization

    rush about

    wondering

    what to uphold.

    And

    everywhere,

    as John Crowe

    Ransom wrote:

    “Behold!

    again the ubiquitous

    hairy dog,/

    like a numerous army

    rattling the

    battlements.”

    USUALLY SNARLING, USUALLY PRETTY much ignored by the people around—like the half-wild mutts ducking into alleyways throughout the world—dogs have been leaping and barking through paintings with conspicuous frequency the last couple of years. Not pets. Not wolves, either. Dogs. Hungry. They snap their jaws. Their flashing teeth have become an emblem of something.

    “Oh keep the

  • Robert Rauschenberg

    This documentary exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg’s contributions to performance works of various types included sets, costumes, audiotapes, photodocumentation, and written description of works from the period 1954–83. The material fell into three parts. The period during which Rauschenberg worked with Merce Cunningham (1954–65) was covered somewhat cursorily through photographs hung outside the gallery itself, in the hallway. His time with the Judson Dance Theater (1963–67)—when he created nine performance pieces of his own—was the central focus of the show. Rauschenberg’s recent attempts to

  • Laurie Anderson

    ICA director Janet Kardon, in the catalogue for this retrospective (it contains no new work), describes it as a “mid-career summary.” The exhibition was lavishly installed, with recreations of several of Laurie Anderson’s gallery installations of the ’70s—At The Shrink’s, 1975, Jukebox, 1977, and Dark Dogs, American Dreams, 1980; an audio room playing Anderson tapes, with her texts written on the walls; a video room playing a video version of Anderson’s film Dearreader, 1975, the MTV-type video for O Superman, 1981, and an interview with London Weekend Television; “sculptures” including the

  • “Tibet, The Sacred Realm: Photographs 1880–1950”

    This impressive photographic exhibition was directed by Michael E. Hoffman and coordinated by Martha Chahroudi for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it first opened. I saw it beautifully installed here; it will open at the Asia Society in New York on March 1. It is a major exhibition in several ways: as ethnological documentation of a high culture, with roots in antiquity, which, eerily, ended in our own time; as material providing insight into the history of religion, laying bare its processes of diffusion, selection, and recombination; as exquisite pure photography of landscape, portrait,

  • FREEING DANCE FROM THE WEB: ON COLLABORATION, TRISHA BROWN'S SET AND RESET AND LUCINDA CHILDS' AVAILABLE LIGHT

    IN 458 B.C., WHEN AESCHYLUS presented the Oresteia in the Theater of Dionysus at Athens, he wrote the librettos (what we call the “plays”); composed the music for instruments, chorus, and solo arias; designed the costumes and stage equipment; choreographed the dance; directed the actors and chorus, and played the main role himself. It seemed totally natural to him to take all that on. In the old days (as Homer noted) men could lift and hurl boulders ten times greater than those we can lift now. Today, lesser heroes, as Homer would say, we seek the well-rounded performance through collaborations.

  • “Underdog”

    It’s not at all clear yet that the so-called East Village “movement” is in fact a movement at all. Is this spate of new galleries more than just more galleries? Aren’t they just filled with more paintings? Don’t many (if not all) of these paintings have recognizable counterparts or predecessors elsewhere? Yes, yes, yes. Much (though by no means all) East Village work does cohere in its small size, somewhat shabby presentation (in framing and so on), and loose working, but the question is whether these traits have anything to do with locale. The same shabbiness and looseness are found in the work

  • Iris Rose, “House of Jahnke”

    Post-Modern seems to mean “neo”: neo-expressionism, neo-figurativism, neo-surrealism, and so on. One critic proposes that what is really going on is neo-classicism. I look at the proliferating revival of forms like the Ionic frieze and Roman sarcophagus in recent Soho shows, and the increasing allusions to the archaeological site by painters and sculptors alike, and perceive a neoantique strain to it all. Nowadays the question about an artist is: what does he or she quote from the past? Pueblan artifacts? Tantric icons? One’s bag from history is in a sense one’s signature, like the distinctive

  • This is Not a Pipe

    When a philosopher, scientist, or poet turns his or her attention to an artwork, the results should be of interest to artists and critics alike. For if artworks truly are to live cultural lives broader than the purview of art specialists, it is precisely here that they may express that life through other voices and eyes and minds. Works such as Aristotle’s Poetics, Wallace Stevens’ Man with the Blue Guitar, and Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach have enriched the stream of artistic relevance and attached a fragrance of deeply layered consciousness to the visual image. Michel Foucault’s

  • Richard Foreman

    These are hard times for experimental theater and performance, what with NEA cuts, the dissolution of longstanding groups, and a tendency to jump the Modernist ship through the appropriation of accepted entertainment modes such as Broadway and cabaret. Richard Foreman’s early work was relentlessly phenomenological, experimental, uneventful; over the last ten years, however, he has gone by stages from Modernist minimalism to post-Modernist Romanticism, until today he no longer regards himself as an avant-gardist but as a classical, text-centered playwright. Yet Foreman can no more forget Modernism

  • Fiona Templeton

    Fiona Templeton’s three programs were in every technical way as far from the scale and splendor of Foreman’s Egyptology as they could be, yet once again the proscenium arch was tightly in place, the audience secure in its space and its role. Thought/Death, 1980, the oldest of the pieces, was still the most gripping and explosive, a rare example of minimalism infused with dramatic presence. In the “Thought” section of the work Templeton stood in front of the audience for perhaps ten minutes trying to think of something to say and never managing to do so (the only word, repeated several times,

  • The Houston Festival, visual-arts section

    The visual-arts section of the Houston Festival last spring, curated by Fletcher Mackey, focused on outdoor sited works; fourteen such pieces sprouted along the Buffalo Bayou, a meandering stream that runs from the elegant Memorial district into the downtown. A half-dozen artists were brought from both coasts, and others were commissioned from Houston or elsewhere in Texas. They were faced simultaneously with a setting of considerable natural charm and with the awesomely growing Houston downtown skyline, which hovered in the background of those works that did not hide from it. In addition to

  • MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ/ULAY, ULAY/MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ

    IN 1975 MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ and Uwe F. Laysiepen (Ulay) met in Amsterdam and recognized each other as Tantric collaborators. In Tibetan Buddhist lore, which along with theosophy and alchemy has influenced them both, the recognition of a karmic acquaintance is a natural experience, not something unlikely or bizzare. Born on the same date (though he is three years older), Marina and Ulay, as they are usually referred to, exhibit remarkable similarities of physiognomy, personal style, and life-purpose. Since that meeting they have entered an artistic collaboration that has emphasized mediations and

  • ART IN THE DARK

    THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONCEPTUAL and performance genres changed the rules of art till it became virtually unrecognizable to those who had thought that it was theirs. The art activity flowed into the darkness beyond its traditional boundaries and explored areas that were previously as unmapped and mysterious as the other side of the moon. In recent years a tendency has been underway to close the book on those investigations, to contract again around the commodifiable esthetic object, and to forget the sometimes frightening visions of the other side. Yet if one opens the book—and it will not go

  • “ANKEBUTA, AN ANCIENT BABYLONIAN SCIENTIST, WROTE A WORK ON ‘ARTIFICIAL PRODUCTION’ IN WHICH HE CLAIMED TO HAVE MANUFACTURED A LIVING HUMAN BEING.”

    “I am” is a vain thought; “I am not” is a vain thought; “I shall be” is a vain thought; “I shall not be” is a vain thought. Vain thoughts are a sickness, an ulcer, a thorn. But after overcoming all vain thoughts one is called a silent thinker. And the thinker, the silent one, does no more arise, no more pass away, no more tremble, no more desire.

    —Majjhima-Nikaya 140

    Robot Robert knew he was a robot, knew he was programmed to know it, suspected he was programmed to rebel against it. Question: How can

    Robot Robert bust his program with full assurance that he has not been programmed to bust it?


  • DIOGENES OF SINOPE (CA. 410–CA. 320 B.C.): SELECTED PERFORMANCE PIECES

    CERTAIN ANCIENT GREEKS INSISTED THAT philosophy should be an activity coextensive with life—as certain artists in our time have said about art. “Philosophize more often than you breathe” was the advice of one of the ancient exponents of this view. What he meant is that life lived with a certain focus is philosophy, as in our time it has been claimed that life lived with a certain focus is art.

    The process of expanding a limited category into a universal frame involves a willingness to manipulate language directly. The semantic boundaries of the category word are broken open and forced, step by

  • HEADS IT’S FORM, TAILS IT’S NOT CONTENT

    One of the characteristics of myths is that they seem to promise rules of order but never deliver them.

    —Jack Burnham
    1

    PASSIONATELY ADHERED-TO SYSTEMS of belief pass through cultures like epidemics of disease. The great formalist critical tradition of the postwar period, embodied in the works of Clement Greenberg. Michael Fried, Sheldon Nodelman, and others, still has the art body in the last shivers of its fever. In their practice, these critics opened the artwork to profound phenomenological analyses. But their concern with surface, figure, and color eventually coagulated into a repressive

  • Twelfth International Sculpture Conference

    The Twelth International Sculpture Conference, held August 6–15, brought together hundreds of sculptors, performance artists, critics, curators, collectors, and teachers for exhibitions, panel discussions, slide presentations, technical demonstrations, and a variety of ambient events. The complex affair was organized with great care and attention to detail: but what was it all about? Most participants regarded it as a type of convivial get-together, valuable for establishing and maintaining contacts and the dialogues that attend them. Yet many had the distressing feeling that issues were not

  • NEGATIVE PRESENCES IN SECRET SPACES: THE ART OF ERIC ORR

    I am against painting and sculpture and what they stand for . . . The studio mind is better abolished. . .

    I’m interested in the stuff you don’t see but it’s really there.

    —Eric Orr1

    ERIC ORR FIRST EXHIBITED as an artist in 1964, in the student center of the University of Cincinnati. The work was a Colt .45 automatic pistol mounted on a stand at eye level for a seated person, facing a wooden chair. The hammer was in cocked position; the trigger was wired to a treadle where the right foot of a person seated in the chair might comfortably rest. Seated there, one gazed down the muzzle of the gun

  • YVES KLEIN, MESSENGER OF THE AGE OF SPACE

    If you come back someday

    You who dream also

    Of this marvellous void

    Of this absolute love

    I know that together

    Without a word to one another

    We will hurl ourselves

    Into the reality of this void

    Which awaits our love

    As I wait for you each day . . .

    Come with me into the void!


    —Yves Klein1

    THE MOST FAMOUS IMAGE OF Yves Klein—the startling photograph of the artist, dressed in business suit and necktie, leaping into flight from a second-floor ledge on a quiet Paris street—is usually seen out of context. Yet with Klein, context is everything. Originally part of a literary document, the photograph