Critics’ Picks

John Pilson, Mr. Pick-up, 2000-2001.

John Pilson, Mr. Pick-up, 2000-2001.

San Francisco

Sudden Glory

The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
360 Kansas Street
January 19–March 9, 2002

The title of this ode to humor in art refers back to Thomas Hobbes, but the true muse of Ralph Rugoff’s latest curatorial effort is Buster Keaton. Keaton’s comically blank demeanor in the face of calamity are directly referred to in Steve McQueen’s dour film installation, Deadpan, 1997, in which he recreates a scene from Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr: An A-frame house facade falls over the artist, who is saved only because he’s standing precisely where the window ought to be. Throughout the surprisingly elegant show, artists infuse instances of failure, falling, and futility with wry wit. Rugoff seems to be revisiting a theme explored in his early 1990s show “Just Pathetic,” and in this era of calamity, the timing couldn’t be more fitting. Jim Lambie’s busted bags of paint ooze down the wall, creating beauty out of adversity, while Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset contribute an art-shipping crate with a suspicious white liquid—a plastic substance from the family of faux vomit—oozing out from the bottom. Entering slightly different territory, John Pilson’s video Mr. Pick-up, 2000, shows a lawyer in an ever-escalating situation in which he’s unable to pick up the papers and materials he’s dropping on his way out of his office. The most laugh-out-loud work in the show, however, is Martin Kersels’s Pink Constellation, 2001, a twenty-minute video that uses a classic movie special effect to create the illusion of the hefty artist, a woman, and a dog dancing on the ceiling of a pastel-pink bedroom. It’s a party-colored universe full of delightfully daft moments of jiggling and floating—and, well, the glory of falling up.