Tim Griffin

  • Jean Baudrillard giving a Whitney Museum of American Art Distinguished Lecture on American Art and Culture, Asia Society, New York, 1987. Photo: Jeanne Trudeau.

    THEORETICAL PHYSIC

    LAST MONTH, I was invited to participate in a round-table celebrating the legacy of Semiotext(e)—that small press begun in 1974 and responsible for introducing so many European theorists to American readers—on the occasion of its archives’ donation to Fales Library at New York University. My prescribed task was straightforward enough: to discuss the imprint’s influence on art during the past three decades. As luck would have it, however, I fell victim to a flu, and so instead of conveying my thoughts to an assembled audience, I found myself ruminating on the subject at home in bed,

  • Keren Cytter, Four Seasons, 2009, still from a color video, 12 minutes.

    CULTURAL ABSTRACT

    ON ITS SURFACE, curator Daniel Birnbaum’s essay about Keren Cytter in this issue might seem counter-intuitive, inasmuch as it credits the artist with being “emblematic of our moment” while it describes a practice that bears uncanny similarities to works we’ve known in the recent past. In Cytter’s theatrical productions, a male character might become a female who suddenly finds herself a man once more; in her films, an actor is apt to fall abruptly and totally out of character, turning and speaking directly to the audience. Larger narratives, too, invariably come apart at the seams, with passages

  • James Cameron, Avatar, 2009, still from a color HD video, 162 minutes. Jake (Sam Worthington, left) and Quaritch (Stephen Lang, right).

    AVATAR

    I REMEMBER MY FEELING seven years ago, on first arriving at Artforum, that the situation of art could best be described using a relatively simple triangulation—a course any art magazine calling itself relevant would have to chart. First, there were critically engaged artists, writers, and historians: those for whom the idea of art’s possessing a discursive character (perhaps even a dialectical one) was a given, and for whom, one hoped, art was supposed to generate new and revealing ways to encounter, grapple with, and understand the world around them. Second, there were those who still

  • 1000 WORDS: DANH VO

    WHEN ARTFORUM first approached Danh Vo about his pending reinstallation of Elena Filipovic’s comprehensive survey “Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects Without Specific Form” at Wiels Contemporary Art Center, Brussels,† the Vietnamese-born, Berlin-based artist was decidedly reticent to discuss it, feeling that any full exposition of his own ideas would run counter to the project’s spirit. Indeed, he feared the very meaning of his gestures would be irrevocably altered by their public articulation and contextualization; and this, of course, is the very dilemma posed by Gonzalez-Torres’s work and its display. As Vo points out in conversation, the late artist’s pieces often take, and require audiences to take, more circuitous paths, their significance becoming evident only as one moves around them, encountering anew the objects—and often the individuals—that have occupied their different spheres. And herein lies a paradoxical task: If a retrospective is supposed to have a clarifying effect when it comes to an artist’s oeuvre and its qualities, how then should one present work whose meaning always stands at a remove or resides in an opacity that also connotes potential? At Wiels, Vo will put Gonzalez-Torres’s work on view so that it offers many partial reveals and gives (unannounced) access to areas of the institution that are usually off-limits—yielding knowledge of work even while withholding certain of its aspects, allowing for the possibility of alternative routes, both actual and interpretive. Vo will, in other words, illustrate by example and perhaps even provide additional examples by analogy, much as he has done in the passages offered here. —Tim Griffin
     
    †“Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects Without Specific Form,” organized by Elena Filipovic, opened at Wiels Contemporary Art Center, Brussels, on January 16. The retrospective will be reinstalled by a different artist at each of three venues: by Danh Vo at Wiels (March 5–April 24); by Carol Bove at the Fondation Beyeler, Basel (May 21–August 29); and by Tino Sehgal at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (January 28–April 25, 2011).

    PÈRE LACHAISE CEMETERY is the site for an ongoing battle among dead stars using their life dramas, fighting to attract the attention of myriad pilgrims from around the world. The overdose of Jim Morrison; the trial of Oscar Wilde; the execution of the Communards; the accidental strangulation of Isadora Duncan, whose scarf got caught by the wind and the wheels of her cabriolet while she was escaping with her young lover. This was definitely not a place I wanted to miss during my stay in Paris.

    I bought a map by the cemetery entrance, wanting an overview of the grounds in order to chart my path.

  • Marcel Duchamp, Étant donnés: 1º la chute d’eau, 2º le gaz d’éclairage . . . (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas . . .), 1946–66, wooden door, bricks, velvet, wood, leather, metal armature, twigs, aluminum, iron, glass, Plexiglas, linoleum, cotton, electric lights, gas lamp, motor, 95 1⁄2 x 70 x 49". Exterior view. © 2010 Estate of Marcel Duchamp/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

    IN SECRECY

    SOONER OR LATER, anyone working in the sphere of contemporary art has the dawning awareness that someday all this will fall away: The projects and dialogues that are so familiar now, however resonant or even crucial in the present context, will inevitably sink into obscurity or become opaque, their salience lost, only to be reconstructed in approximations by scholars and other enthusiasts decades from now (and that’s the best-case scenario). Perhaps even more disquieting is the occasional sense that such opacity already exists everywhere around us, and that the stories of contemporary art, in

  • Cyprien Gaillard, Desniansky Raion, 2007, still from a color video, 29 minutes.

    Cyprien Gaillard

    This survey features the artist’s already-familiar studies of post-Soviet fight clubs and housing-project demolitions, along with newer works that will undoubtedly evidence an expanding cartography.

    The classic anthropologist’s eye encounters the YouTube ethos in Cyprien Gaillard’s photographs and videos, whose streams of stitched-together footage seem at once fragmentary studies of alien cultures and rough-hewn compilations of amateur travelogues—forcing audiences to ask themselves time and again, “Is all this real?” Curiously, such a building air of instability intersects with a sense of unsteadiness in Western cultures, as Gaillard, conquistador with a digital camera, tours lands of lost modernism worldwide, from Kiev to Cancún. This survey features the

  • Karen Andreassian, Ontological Walkscapes (detail), 2009, digital video, artist’s book, interactive website. From the 11th Istanbul Biennial.

    THE ORDER OF THINGS

    WRITING IN THIS ISSUE about the current traveling retrospective of the work of James Castle (1899–1977)—a deaf and mute artist who, over the course of some seventy years, produced thousands of handmade objects and drawings while living in the care of his family in Idaho—curator Lynne Cooke describes a historical schism in the reception of such endeavors that were never intended to traverse the established distribution networks of art-world institutions. For much of the past century, Cooke says, these productions were understood to be (and were valued for being) totally transgressive,

  • László Moholy-Nagy, From the Radio Tower, Berlin, 1928, black-and-white photograph, 13 3/4 x 10 1/4". © 2009 Estate of Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

    ACTION AND ABSTRACTION

    NOT MORE THAN FORTY-EIGHT HOURS after Artforum’s October issue hit the stands did I receive an e-mail from a friend and colleague expressing some ambivalence about the magazine’s inclusion of excerpts from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Commonwealth. Absolutely, he said, it’s great to find the political philosophers’ ideas in these pages—but can we in all seriousness share their enthusiastic belief, suggested in a preamble to those excerpts, that the art world today might offer us a reservoir of experimentation “revealing the limits of our imagination and at other times fueling it”? The

  • Cyprien Gaillard, Cairns (131 Allan Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow, 1965–2007), 2007, color photograph, 67 x 83".

    ALTERNATIVE REALITIES

    INTRODUCING MICHAEL HARDT AND ANTONIO NEGRI’S newest publication, Commonwealth—two extended selections from which make their debut in this issue—curator Okwui Enwezor looks back at the cultural context surrounding the arrival of the theorists’ earlier philosophical disquisition Empire and recalls that volume’s (and the day’s) somewhat paradoxical quality. Published in 2000, the book ostensibly set out to describe a political and social logic emerging as the binary codes of the cold war finally gave way to decentralized networks forged by capital and marked by regional conflict—in

  • New York Stock Exchange closing numbers, April 9, 2009. Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters.

    CRITICAL MOMENTS

    SEPTEMBER MARKS A FULL YEAR since our encounter with economic cataclysm prompted many in the art world to suggest that seemingly retardataire notions of critique, resistance, and transformation—often easily dismissed as abstract or archaic—were now not so highfalutin. Rather, it was suggested, at a historical juncture when dynamics in finance were clearly rattling the very foundations of the global economy, even the most speculative conceits of art assumed a pragmatic air. Such dizzying questions as “How do we want to be governed?”—to cite just one matter raised in this publication

  • Wind turbine on display at the European Wind Energy Conference & Exhibition, Marseille, France, March 16, 2009. Photo: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters.

    VALUE SYSTEMS

    AT ISSUE IN SO MANY SYSTEMIC DILEMMAS facing the United States today—whether in banking, health care, or energy infrastructure—is a fundamental economic question: How can one generate new sources of value and wealth? Our ability to skirt the long shadow of global warming, for instance, would seem inextricably linked to a broad transformation of industry—so that one kind of mass employment, revolving around the production of gas guzzlers, say, might give way to another, revolving around the production of electric, solar, and wind power and technology. From a certain perspective,

  • THE PERSONAL EFFECTS OF SETH PRICE

    THE VOLUME IS SLIM AND BLACK and, measuring just six by eight inches, clearly designed for portability. It would slip easily into a coat pocket or knapsack. And that, if the simple phrase adorning its cover is any indication, is precisely what the book is intended to do: How to Disappear in America, reads the title, whose throwback proposition, evocative of so many open-road, bohemian rambles and countercultural undergrounds—at once Emersonian and desperately on-the-lam in spirit—is only amplified by the presence on the dust jacket of a dancing figure that bears a vague resemblance to the logo