TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT November 1981

LETTERS

LETTERS

To the Editor:
Thomas Lawson’s review of an exhibition of Oskar Kokoschka’s work (Artforum, September 1981) seems to me to be critically irresponsible. In a rather offhand way, Lawson dismisses Kokoschka’s “sentimental esthetics,” and regards his art as a “curiosity” and his person as an “act” or fraud. While it is true that much of Kokoschka’s later work is unexceptional, two aspects of Kokoschka’s achievement remain noteworthy: his early portraits (ca. 1909–12) and his early (and even some of his later) “baroque impressionist” landscapes (pre- and post-World War II). Also, by refusing to understand the controversy surrounding the first appearance of Kokoschka’s work, Lawson in effect demonstrates not simply his indifference to but also his ignorance of a then current and typical European conception of the person.

Lawson has not discriminated between the stages of the artist’s development. He shoots from the hip, with an all-too-ready hostility, and does not hit his target, despite regarding it as a pushover. A less opinionated approach might have led to a more subtle evaluation.

Donald Kuspit
New York

To the Editor:
Rem Koolhaas claims that his renovation of a hundred-year-old panopticon prison in West Germany (“Architecture and Limits III,” Artforum, September 1981) demonstrated to the satisfaction of the authorities that architecture, metaphorically speaking, resolves the hopelessly contradictory demands of freedom and discipline. But of whose freedom and discipline is he speaking? Of my choice to will discipline to enhance my freedom of expression and movement, or of the freedom of my master to will the curtailment of my freedom? Whether a prisoner is held in chains or is free to walk around the prison, he belongs to the category of individuals who are not free. This state of affairs can only be overcome either by willing to escape, or to revolt. In 1989 it will be 200 years since the Bastille was demolished by the French Revolution. In the last analysis a panopticon is nothing but another Bastille.

Nicolas Calas
New York

To the Editor:
I am writing about Gary Indiana’s very personal and faint survey of the Berlin International Film Festival (“Indiana in Berlin,” Artforum, Summer 1981). My film Splits (reviewed in Artforum in 1978) was informally added to my official entry, The Visit. Splits was not even listed in the program. The total duration of the show was 100 minutes, 22 of which were occupied by Splits, and it is outrageous that a reviewer can get away with covering one-fifth of a show, writing about a work made four years ago, and neglecting my most recent piece and my official entry to the festival. Furthermore, Splits has nothing to do with whichever “Jacques of academe” your reviewer is referring to. Splits has to do only with Jorge Luis Borges and Raymond Roussel. I am grateful in a way that The Visit escaped Indiana’s faddy anti-intellectualism.

I find Indiana’s article vastly incompetent as criticism and full of omissions as journalism. It is in the hands of unprofessional writers such as Indiana that criticism today has become mere narcissistic gossip, where lack of articulate analysis is hidden behind vacuous and florid judgments. Indiana openly disqualifies himself by stating that there was only a handful of interesting films in the enormous program of the festival. Just look at the catalogue of the “International Forum of the Young” and note the number of omissions he has made—from Limite by Mario Peixoto, Amy! by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, The Trials of Alger Hiss by John Lowenthal (which Indiana barely mentions), and Dialogue with a Woman Departed by Leo Hurwitz, to the extraordinary retrospective of the work of Manoel de Oliveira (a Portuguese director often compared to Luis Buñuel and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and whom the festival deserves credit for bringing to international attention). Indiana’s easy dismissal of filmmaking in New York and of the two powerful currents having to do with language and new narrative is revealed by his disingenuous pairing of Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. He simply dismisses three-quarters of a major international film festival.

Indiana glibly comments that “Official fanfare was exclusively devoted to the Competition films . . . ” whose “unifying esthetic” seemed to be “favorable distribution possibilities.” How then does he account for the presence (unacknowledged by Indiana) of Jean-Luc Godard’s Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) in the Forum of the Young? He dismisses The Trials of Alger Hiss, but this movie seems much more than “rehashed rue” evoking a “message of despairing spiritual exhaustion and political malaise . . . ” Rather it seems particularly timely and significant in light of 1981 Ronald Reagan and Moral Majority Americanism, accompanying neo-McCarthyist attacks on reputable left-wing institutions.

Leandro Katz
New York

Gary Indiana replies:
First of all, this depressingly mindless personal attack presumes that a critic writing about a film festival is obliged to mention all the films. As I stated at the beginning of my article, the Berlinale contained so many films that one got the impression of almost indiscriminate entry. The fact that I mentioned Katz’s film at all came simply from having gone to it in the hope of seeing a good film. It wasn’t, and I didn’t stay for the much longer work that followed. My comparatively mild criticism of Splits merely touched on an obvious, dreary phenomenon, i.e., the pompous invocation of “language” as a formal concern by artists who haven’t the slightest feeling or respect for language. Splits may “have to do” with Borges and Roussel, but they most assuredly would not want anything to do with it. I find it incredible that Katz accuses me of using jargon, lacking “articulate analysis,” when his entire letter consists of unsubstantiated, nasty buzzwords and innuendo. There is infinitely more “faddy anti-intellectualism” in the spectacle of those “powerful currents having to do with language and new narrative” running through the work of mediocre filmmakers than in anything I wrote about the Berlinale.

To the Editor:
We would like to bring to your readers’ attention a significant piece of local legislation currently pending in the New York City Council. The bill, “Percent for Art in Architecture,” provides up to one percent of the construction cost of new or renovated public buildings to be allocated for works of art. Based on successful legislation already existing in such cities as Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, and Seattle, this bill enables artists and architects to work together on each project from its inception. Moreover, “work of art” is broadly defined in order to encourage a wide range of innovative works drawing from all the plastic arts.

In short, the New York City Percent bill is structured to insure that public art is of a significant caliber. Most important, the bill will generate a wide range of public art commissions for visual artists. It’s time that New York’s public buildings reflected the outstanding accomplishments that flourish here. We urge your readers to write to Councilmember Edward Sadowsky, to let their support of such legislation be known. Councilmember Sadowsky is Chairman of the Finance Committee where the Percent bill (intro. #1093) is under consideration. His address is:

Councilmember Ed Sadowsky
Chairman, Finance Committee
136–51 37th Ave.
Flushing, N.Y. 11354

Jenny Dixon Director,
Public Art Fund, Inc.
New York