PRINT December 1994



Make It New
Bruce Nauman retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: Bad news from the studio, but real news nevertheless. Twenty-five years of pieces, each of which seems to have arisen out of a condition of sudden panic—out of the terror of not knowing, of having forgotten, willfully, day after day, what art is and what an artist might do—of having forgotten, even, what an artist is. A fountain? A source of mystic truths? A cruel instructor? A tortured clown? We get one brutal, last-ditch guess after another, and the whole practice of “artmaking” is reinvented, again and again, in cold desperation, from ground zero. Eschatological propositions are posed, reposed, and never quite discarded. Death is the mother of beauty? Cruelty is the mother of joy? Slavery is the mother of thought? Clearly, while the best pupils in the class are polishing up their dissertations, Nauman is still trying to form the letters and wondering whether letters are indeed what is required. In the present atmosphere of smug knowledgeability, this doubt-wracked puritanism is as bracing as a sip of kerosene. If nothing else, this exhibition demonstrates the utility of intellectual fashion as a ready foil—as an academic straight man against which Nauman’s drastic humanism, redolent as it is with Beckett, Eliot, and Artaud, seems as fresh as a daisy and perfectly au courant, perpetually seeking its end in its beginning—and continuing to begin, again and again.

Made me Blue
Great. Art triumphs again. The abject body of “struggling humanity” is tarted up in a surfeit of excremental paint, stranded in an ocean of tasteful white space, imprisoned behind a wall of shining glass, and gentrified by a quarter-mile of high-dollar beaux-arts framing—and we are expected to genuflect, fall supine, and hyperventilate with transcendence. Basically, the Lucian Freud retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is the kind of exhibition that gives vulgarity a bad name. At best, it offered the beholder a baleful glimpse into life on the tidal flats of ebbing Modernist culture. But you didn’t have to be there. Imagine Andrew Wyeth painting a Francis Bacon and you will get the idea, and it is a stupid idea. I hated this exhibition so much that three-quarters of the way down its intestine of soggy paint, I opted to regurgitate myself, turned upstream against the river of connoisseurs, and made my way out the way I came in. In retrospect, this still seems a wise decision, and the only explanation I can imagine for the exhibition’s popularity (aside its being bad enough to recommend blindness) is that New Yorkers do not spend enough time in the art stores of Santa Fe, Scottsdale, and Laguna Beach. Seriously. Stick an abject, painterly feather on one of these dudes and you could move it out of the gift shop in the La Fonda.

Dave Hickey is a critic who teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


Yum Yum
Maybe I’m a Swiss person trapped in the body of a Baltimorean, but to me Fischli/Weiss (Sonnabend Gallery, New York) are the wittiest artists working today and their March show fooled even some of the so-called “cutting edge.” Fischli-Weiss’ faux ephemera of an imaginary installation crew (lumber, coffee cups, cleaning supplies, tools) arranged haphazardly in an “empty” gallery (nails from the last show still hung in dirty unretouched white walls) led many art-lovers to turn right around and get back on the elevator. “I went but the show wasn’t up yet” became my favorite mistaken review. Little did these unadventurous browsers realize they had just seen the drollest, most deliciously good good-taste exhibition of the year.

If you managed to recognize the polyurethane-painted pieces for what they were hand-carved sculptures of objects so commonplace as to be almost invisible except for the elegance of everyday dirt and grime—you realized here was irony without Pop, camp, or purposeful bad taste. But after careful observation of these brand-name cleaning supplies, ashtrays, and nondescript boards, you noticed that what looked so delightfully real at first glance wasn’t even that well done. These fake “workmen’s” wares seemed as if they’d been produced in a hurry, with little care for perfection, almost as if a first attempt at reality was the best Fischli/Weiss could do. You had been fooled by the exquisite bait left behind by these great impostors, but not by their craft, only by their effortless understatement.

Ho Hum
Dalí—The Early Years,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I still don’t like him much.

John Waters’ most recent film, Serial Mom, was released this year.


Here’s to the Crabgrass
Suburban themes are proliferating not only in the art world but in the general culture, such as it is—movies, fiction, TV. The message: suburbia in its Beaver Cleaver and Ozzie-and-Harriet moments is merely an epidermis of sham comfort, security, and normality; scratch this fragile outer shell and you “reveal” a seething, teeming cauldron of vices, the Smiths and the Joneses secretly, repressively kicking up a storm with booze and pills and sex and death. In the art world the suburban vortex gets played out by artists as different as Eric Fischl and Robert Gober.

In America, where a lot of us are from suburbia anyway, some of us can’t get enough of our putative “bad” reflected images. Others are bored by this subject matter—I am, anyway. The charm of Bill Owens’ and Vito Acconci’s concurrent shows, though—both at American Fine Arts, New York, photos by Owens from his book Suburbia in the front room, maquettes by Acconci for houses and public spaces in the back—derived from their humor and lack of pretension. Sure, there’s a bit of Diane Arbus–like freak-show voyeurism in Owens’ photos, but they’re still, for many of us at least, discomfitingly close to home. Plus, the photos usually get captions in the subjects’ own words; speaking for themselves, these emissaries from the hated world of tackiness are reprieved from a too purely objectlike relationship to the spectator. As for Acconci, folie: a Vegas-style outdoor fountain is illuminated from below in the pattern and colors of the stars and stripes. Three channels of this patriotic canal burst in jets of fountains; the fourth runs off quietly into the gutter.

Serrated Hedge
The art world offers us many examples of the unfortunate, the ill-conceived, the ugly, and the stupid. But with notable exceptions—like Ann Hamilton’s Tropos at Dia, a nice setting for the original Saturday Night Live’s “Bad Conceptual Art” segment—these crimes against taste, decency, and intelligence soon fade from memory. Basically, who cares? Far more distressing is the case of artists one actually likes/respects/admires doing really awful things. Such was the case with Richard Serra at the Drawing Center last summer—a show bloated on pride and pomposity but devoid of meaningful substance. How many more of those big black oil-stick drawings do we have to see? And this from the great artist who once brought us Hand Catching Lead and TV Delivers You. Sorry, Dick.

David Rimanelli is a regular contributor to Artforum and The New Yorker.


The year’s best exhibition? With my memory first grounded in New York, nothing clicked; but then I remembered the happy geographic accident that found me in Copenhagen last June, and a border-crossing ferry ride to Malmö’s Rooseum, where the question was answered for me with a eureka: “Andy Warhol’s Abstracts.” “Best” would have to mean something that opened the eyes, lifted the spirits, and changed history, and this giant slice of unfamiliar late Warhol did all of this.

Beginning with something real—tangles of yarn, urine stains, Easter eggs, Rorschach tests, camouflage patterns, shadows—Warhol, with his effortless genius, transformed mundane throwaways into a new language of “found abstraction” that opened startlingly beautiful vistas on both art and art history. Airy and vast, these serial paintings, with their mural dimensions, bowled me over, their one-note vocabularies—ovals, blobs, smudges, filigrees, tangles, blots—rejuvenating through bold magnification the purest pleasure of color, shape, texture. And after the optical shock subsided, there was a brainier pleasure. For with these visual one-liners, Warhol created nothing less than a fresh dictionary of abstract art, reinventing everybody’s logo with a sweeping range that covered Joan Miró and Jean Arp, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, Ellsworth Kelly and even Philip Taaffe. After we’ve absorbed these works, the history of abstract painting. whether first time round or post-Modern, will have to be rewritten to make a big new space for Warhol.

Mum’s the Word
As for the worst show I saw, I forgot most of the candidates’ names, and the ones I do remember, some famous, I wouldn’t dare disclose in print, since I have to go on living in the art world. But I’d be happy to tell you about them over dinner.

Robert Rosenblum is an art historian and professor of fine arts at New York University. He is most recently the author of Andy Warhol Portraits (Thames and Hudson, 1993).


Seeing the Light
Cy Twombly’s retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art makes it clear that he is one of the true greats of 20th-century art—in the same league among gestural painters as Pollock and de Kooning. I single out the exhibition not only as a triumph for an artist but as an exemplary piece of curating. Kirk Varnedoe’s selection is challenging and open to criticism, but never ill-considered or facile. His hang is perfect and one of its perfections is that it doesn’t call attention to itself. The background colors are right and the lighting good, though the museum lacks the daylight that would bring out all the inner light in Twombly’s paintings. And there is no writing on the wall, only in the catalogue, where it is penetrating in content and stylish in formulation.

Temple of Gloom
The biggest let-down of the year for me was the display at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, of “Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation: Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern.” In the ’60s I was lucky enough to spend many days in the Barnes, in Merion, Pennsylvania; every visit was deeply satisfying, partly because of the absence of people, partly because of the presence of daylight. (On more recent visits I found the electric lights permanently on: madness.)

Arriving at the Kimbell, I gasped anew at the proportions of Louis Kahn’s exterior, a great temple. In the exhibition there were joys such as finally getting to see Matisse’s Le bonheur de vivre, 1905–6, at eye level. But the selection had disappointments: too many Renoirs of the wrong sorts; my favorite Cézanne in the collection missing (Still Life, 1892–94; Venturi 745). What was really making me peevish, though, was the space. The lighting was poor; the walls were too low, being of travertine their color was disobliging, and the lines of the joins were distracting. I even had the feeling—a feeling one wouldn’t ever expect to have about a museum built by Kahn—that as with the Guggenheim, the art should be removed and a new, ritualistic religion invented (something Masonic, perhaps) in order to make proper use of the temple.

David Sylvester’s book Looking at Giacometti was published in London in October.


A Good Impression
I choose “The Origins of Impressionism” (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) not for the brilliance of its curatorial strategies, nor for the originality of the conception, but simply for the inventiveness, freshness, and sheer exhilaration of the paintings on view. This is a show about the visual invention of modernity: what it was to be young and alive in mid-19th-century Paris, full of the novelty of the greatest city in the world and the ravishing countryside around it, of the new resorts and their denizens, of new ways of formulating sexuality. And it’s all painted in a new visual language that you can see evolving within individual paintings and from painting to painting, within the work of individual artists and among the members of a vigorous artistic community. These paintings are not just origins of a later moment, not just the origins of anything: they are terrific achievements in themselves. I gave a lecture called “Why the 1860s Is the Best Decade of the 19th Century—Or Any Other.” It was meant to be a provocative title, to be sure, but it was based on a deeply felt conviction.

I would also like to plug the “Mme. Grès” show at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum as the best sculpture show in town.

Freudian Slip
I have already said enough about the Lucian Freud show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I reviewed for this journal. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just add that probably quite a few shows were worse, but I didn’t really look at them—I stuck my head in and took it out again as fast as possible. I don’t remember names or galleries, and even if I did, I don’t think I’d want to repeat them; I don’t like being unkind to young artists—only to self-important, self-aggrandizing old ones, who can take it.

Linda Nochlin is the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Modem Art at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.


Moveable Feast
John Cage’s ever-changing, “Rolywholyover: A Circus” (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, SoHo, New York) was a curator’s nightmare and a critic’s dream—watching the museum staff gingerly carting work in and out of the galleries throughout its run had a sheer visceral thrill. The mixing of artistic principles with those of the day-to-day world became a kind of constant leitmotif, manifested over and over again in innumerable variations. Cage’s theory of chance was conveyed through this project as a kind of natural offshoot of this marriage of art and life, not really as a theory at all. In a sense, “Rolywholyover” wasn’t even a survey of Cage’s ideas as such, but a template to be brought back out onto the street and applied to the experience of the world outside the museum. If the exchange between art and life has indeed become this century’s most meaningful esthetic site, then Cage can posthumously be appreciated as a kind of ecological correction on Marcel Duchamp’s art of restraint. Through his example, random acts of generosity may yet find their place in critical theory.

Downward Spiral
At first I was at a loss to figure out where the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at the Guggenheim went off the tracks. Having been a gung ho Lichtenstein fan for years, I guess I’d managed, like many others, to maintain a state of denial about the fact that most of his recent shows have been packed with filler. The sad part is that this survey appears to have been motivated by the most straightforward of intentions: to keep its subject bobbing along in the tide of public consciousness. But it was scheduled at a moment when the only way Lichtenstein’s work changed the pulse rate was through the fear that this 15-year fallow period might turn out to be a deeper rut than he’ll be able to paint his way out of. Hanging the show so that one started at the top of the Guggenheim ramp with the recent paintings, then descended to the early work, only intensified the search to pinpoint the last good painting he did. (I’ll take Reflections II, 1988.)

Dan Cameron is a New York-based independent curator and a regular contributor to Artforum.


Salle Forth
During the first part of 1994 I saw fewer shows than usual: I was at home a lot working on a book about David Salle. But it seems to me that Salle’s two January shows—of new paintings and sculptures at the Gagosian gallery, New York, and of mostly older paintings at Mary Boone—together constituted one of last winter’s high points. Although he always seems to be having the vapors in print, Salle is in fact in quite vigorous form these days. Despite being labeled an ’80s has-been, for instance, he managed to conjure up a scenario wherein two prominent galleries seemed to be competing for him, and his new Early Product paintings were dismissed even by some of his habitual enthusiasts for being too cool and self-possessed: perhaps too successful, in other words. In any case these suave, seemingly impassive pictures were underestimated. The show struck me as a kind of classic valedictory, a grand gesture of passage through which the artist demonstrated his rhetorical techniques while placing himself historically within a context of specific sources and affinities. These are not Salle’s most ingratiating works, and they are not his most irritating ones, but in their sangfroid and commanding clarity they are his most public works to date—history paintings, in this sense.

The concurrent opportunity to see a clutch of early-’80s Salle classics at Boone should, on the other hand, have dispelled some of the sentimental nimbus that still lingers over that period of the artist’s career, when people seemed either to be rushing off to the barricades “offended” or falling abjectly in love with his tentative, cypherlike nudes. A brooding trio of paintings from 1983, for example, including Man in a Hat, Cane, and Deaf Ugly Face, looked remarkably sharp and fresh for all their introspection; and the infamous Autopsy of 1982 (the painting that first set off feminist alarms) seemed almost academic: an ingenious translation of certain video and performance genres of the ’70s—in particular ones largely associated with Bruce Nauman—into a two-dimensional format.

Safer in Numbers
For some reason, I can’t seem to remember anything this year that struck me as both awful and significant enough to attack in print. I would, however, like to express some seasonal ire against contemporary-art bashing and the scapegoating of criticism, as both practices have increasingly been manifest in the general press. I am tired of all the creeping punditry by aging oompahs—all that flatulent talk of the emperor and his clothes. After fifteen years of suffering fools in the field, I am reminded of Allen Funt and his old Candid Camera routine: Whatever the season, critical climate or condition of art, someone, somewhere, often late at night at a party when I’ve least expected it, has walked up to me and—with a piquant-nigh-onto-sultry expression—said to me “Gee, honey, you use such big words.” This, dear readers, is the level we’re dealing with.

Lisa Liebmann’s book David Salle, will appear this month from Rizzoli.


Feeling Fine
Let’s not make this a matter of good or bad. Obviously the worst shows I didn’t see at all or walked right through without seeing. The really bad stuff you don’t notice unless you force yourself. Your shields are up. So I’d rather deal with the feel-good show of the year and the feel-bad show of the year.

I felt really good at Fischli/Weiss’ show at the Sonnabend Gallery. You got off the elevator and the show wasn’t there. Or it was there but it was camouflaged. You had to track it down and look hard to find it. The exhibition was disguised as no exhibition, the process of installation was installed, the show was between shows. What you saw was the gallery stripped bare by construction workers who had left their stuff behind. Conceptual trompe l’oeil. Modesty. Humility. Arte povera puttanesca.

Art doesn’t play hard-to-get enough these days, but Fischli/Weiss combine elusiveness with congeniality, the perfect combination for fun and cognition. Abstraction is usually a process of elimination; Fischli/Weiss make it a process of realism. By reconciling these traditional poles they are starting art over from scratch. Their ersatz everyday objects are black holes that suck response out of you, suck the meaning out of everything that comes near them. Million-dollar Sheetrock and cigarette butts!

Feeling Fat
The Barbara Kruger show at Boone was heavy. It made me feel fat. I wondered if maybe I dress a little too much like Jack Webb. I noticed that my feet hurt. I fought against guilt and eventually won. I felt urged toward alienation and it made me want cookies and a hug. Of course these feelings were evoked skillfully; Kruger is a smart cookie. But if she were actually a cookie, if for example she were a Fig Newton or a Prune Pocket or a creme-filled sandwich, she might be thinking about switching from that same old Futura bold italic to Dom Casual or News Gothic or Broadway. You can’t live on permanent hard sell anymore than you can live with a permanent hard-on.

I guess Kruger, despite her genius, is not my favorite artist because she’s not much fun. It’s the same reason I don’t listen to a whole lot of Ice Cube or Megadeth. Kruger used to be funny. Now she’s just scary in earnest. I wonder if the surgeon general ever thought about putting jokes about smoking on the sides of cigarette packs.

It seems that Kruger has forsaken resonant ironies in favor of a Big Sister Is Watching approach that would be kitsch if you added water. She’s become a sort of Stalinist/MacLuhanist ad agency. What saves her work from being bad is that it is well done. It’s the best pro bono work out there, except that it probably makes a profit and it may not really be as bono as it looks. It’s so unrelenting and accurate and detailed in its depiction of the iconography of evil that it verges on going over to the wrong side, it verges on being fascinated with the style of evil. Sorta like Milton and Satan, you know, or Visconti and Nazi uniforms.

Kruger would be a genius if she would lighten up. She’s so solemn and serious and righteous that I wish she’d do some work with Freddy Kreuger. I’d like a little greater range of emotions, technique, and taste. I’d like new typefaces, music, and video. How about working with Beck and Hole. How about being more investigative and less rhetorical. I prefer questions to answers. They give me, the audience, something to do. But that’s just how I feel now. I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. I’d rather be president than right. So sue me. Wait a second. Rereading this it seems to me that I must have liked Barbara Kruger’s show a lot. Maybe I was just ticked off there was nothing to buy. Never mind.

Glenn O’Brien is a contributing editor at Allure and creative director of advertising at Barney’s, New York. He contributes regularly to Artforum.


House Is Where the Heart Is
In a London year not blessed with superlative events, the brightest recollection remains the extended life, into 1994, of Rachel Whiteread’s public sculpture House. For those yet untouched by its local notoriety, Whiteread created a concrete cast from the interior of a narrow row house, a last survival of an entire demolished terrace in Bow, in the city’s working-class East End. There was a homely degree of sentiment in the fragments of domestic detail imprinted in its surface: traces of paint and wallpaper deflated the sculpture’s automatic mimicry of Brutalist extruded forms, a mimicry that in itself recalled a history of poorly judged transformations in the area’s urban fabric. At the same time, the sculpture’s exposed volume of once-private lives assumed the civic character of sentinel and monument, but one so sensitive to its environment that its quality of presence underwent a fundamental reversal as one moved around it: a romantic monolith when seen against the raw expanse of turf exposed by the destruction of its neighbors; a ghostlike X ray when seen against the dense townscape on the opposite side of the road.

Broken Home
One reward for House’s eloquence and dignity was a genuine and steadily growing magnetism for visitors from all over the country. In that context, the local governing council, pontificating in the usual way about the offended esthetic sensibilities of the common man, perpetrated the worst event of the year by finally insisting on the sculpture’s demolition. Though not a strict parallel to the fate of Tilted Arc, since the original agreement between artist and council had specified a temporary work, this legal vandalism arose from resentful incomprehension and an attendant wish to frustrate and deny the wide engagement with ambitious work that the piece had opened up. House had won its place in London life, and that alone was grounds for its destruction.

When Whiteread had earlier won the Turner Prize, it was strictly in recognition for her gallery-bound work; but House was on everyone’s mind, and its background presence lent the award a reprieve from idleness and self-congratulation. That one glimmer of authenticity was enough to bring on moneyed specialists in corporate détournement to add aid and comfort to the official enemies of the piece on the Bow council. The “K Foundation,” opportunistic guise of the hit-it-lucky dance-music producers KLF, used their global takings to stage an award of their own—twice as lucrative as the Turner, and staged with impeccable Situationist iconoclasm—for the “worst” artist of the year. Naturally they made Whiteread their target, and it wasn’t only the gutter tabloids that applauded. Britain remains the place where recombinant pastiche, reigning over a digitized cultural economy, can exact its revenge on art.

Thomas Crow is a contributing editor of Artforum.


Let It Bleed
Put your finger on the problem; tap the phobia: feel the malaise; work the twisted, sordid junk—the oppression, the pain—we all carry around with us. Feed off it. Fetishize it. Flaunt it. Make no apologies for your difference, but don’t claim privilege because of it either. Make it into art.

That’s the way Cady Noland’s work (Paula Cooper Gallery. New York) functions for me: no smarmy appeals to conscience; no heroic acts of salvation; no trumped-up aura of righteous transcendence (downright spooky in work that purports to be socially engaged). In Noland’s deft portrayal of tabloid Americana, the “cult of the artist” mumbo jumbo that corrupts socially engaged art is mercifully absent. Noland drops from the picture entirely; the only reflection of autobiography we encounter is our own. No one asks us to care. either about the plight of the individuals represented in the work (Wilbur Mills, the Manson girls, troubled celebrities, “poster people”) or about the artist. Such concrete realism paves the way to interpretative largesse. Put yourself inside the frame—literally, in one of the stockade sculptures—or muse from a safe distance on the media’s power to commodify human suffering. Shake your head at the condition of American culture or see your own reflection in it. Subjective engagement is deregulated: you’re on your own.

A Lean and Hungary Look
The award for the worst form of social-esthetic dysfunctionalism goes to Andres Serrano (Paula Cooper Gallery), who traveled to Eastern Europe (or should we say to Europe’s “third world”). His mission: to exoticize, patronize, and exploit. In earlier series—those of the morgue, for example, or of the homeless—Serrano has displayed his attraction to severely marginalized people, but his colonizing impulses in the name of the father have never been so apparent as in the “Budapest” series. Life-size scale and luscious color animate his subjects, but his approach is blatantly an orientalizing one: first, cast people in genre roles; second, portray them as quaint, or freakish, or purely sexualized objects. We are given the soldier, the sailor, the bathers, the elderly couple, the mother, the child, and so on, but in each case the “genre” is overwhelmed by prurient interest and presented as spectacle: the mother is a vision of enormous tits; the elderly couple, a mesmerizing display of sagging flesh; the little girl sits in a masturbatory position, a pedophile’s delight. Serrano affects a cross between old master painting, National Geographic, and Hustler, which would be fine but for the pretense that his work is unblemished by voyeurism or libido—an excruciatingly boring denial, particularly when mobilized in the name of “art.”

Jan Avgikos is a contributing editor of Artforum.


A Sign for a Cy
If there were a word for those deep sighs of relief and release that erupt spontaneously after the successful completion of necessary physical and mental exertions—whether athletic, sexual, or esthetic—that word would describe the feeling that Cy Twombly has created and induced for some forty years now. Twombly has taken up and extended the frantic impurities that Willem de Kooning first imposed upon abstraction. He has turned the sublime into the scatological, and vice versa. His exuberant writerliness, which at once reveres and reviles Jackson Pollock, kept drawing viscerally alive on painting’s surface during a period when the acts of the hand were elsewhere being severely disciplined or forbidden. He disrupted abstraction’s proclivities toward hermetic homogeneity with a kind of discursive and disjunctive narrativeness.

Together with his drawing wizardry, this has made his work critical to a wide spectrum of artists. Twombly may well have supplanted Jasper Johns as a paradigm for emerging painters. But all of this dissolves in the exhilarating rush of visual intelligence that Twombly’s joys and furies of paint have induced each time I have seen his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Cy’s Selected
So, if I now write that the Twombly exhibition was also the worst that I saw in the last year, it is to bemoan the exhibition’s incompleteness. As beautifully selected as the individual paintings largely are, I regret the sparse selection of drawings, when drawing has obviously been such a critical and beautiful part of Twombly’s undertaking. And as wonderful as the year 1961 was for Twombly, could we not have had fewer paintings from that year and seen some of those later dark-green paintings suggesting drifting shards of Courbet landscapes (shown at the Venice Biennale in 1988), and the still darker and more disturbing ones shown later that year at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh? Have these works been banned from Twombly’s career? If so, why? In New York, we still don’t know enough about Twombly’s work of the last decades (certainly the 50-foot painting shown concurrently with the MoMA retrospective at the Gagosian Gallery was a big help, and provided an unanticipated but profound coda). Rather than a retrospective, this became a curatorial selection. What we need is a full retrospective and more Twombly in New York.

Klaus Kertess is a writer and adjunct curator of drawing at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. He will curate the 1995 Whitney Biennial.


Group Therapy
Rousing opening number: 11 months ago Los Angeles rang in the new year with a magnitude-6.7 earthquake. Amazingly, the local art scene managed to sleep through it. Artistically speaking, 1994 has dragged out like one long snore, giving new meaning to the phrase “beauty rest.”

Most of the highs: groups—ones that play music, that is. Art bands, once a cringe-worthy label, have been reinvigorated locally by such outfits as Polar Goldie Cats, Mythter, and Liquor Cabinet, who perform regularly at popular hideaways like Three Day Weekend (which mounts exhibitions only when Monday’s a day off). In the spring, down the street from Three Day Weekend yet worlds apart, the Museum of Contemporary Art was taking beginners’ lessons from Felix Gonzalez-Torres on how to act with the level sociability incumbent upon a truly public institution. Meanwhile across town, the small, embattled literary-arts center Beyond Baroque was screening a short film by newcomer Anna Biller, Three Versions of Myself as Queen. A fairy-tale adaptation of feminist realpolitik, the film’s humor and graceful perplexity may not have caused any sudden shifts in the local fault lines but did crack a glorious smile on this audience member’s face.

Mugs Shot
Some of the lows: Catherine Opie, and the wave of hype she rode in on. Her show of photographic portraits at Regen Projects over the summer was one of the most acclaimed of the year, which only goes to show what a lousy year it was. The power of Opie’s work can be credited entirely to her subjects—pierced and tattooed bull dykes, transsexuals, cross-dressers, and gender-benders, scouts pondering the frontier of identity—yet this power is registered only by how the photographs shrink from it, how their expressivity nervously alternates between timid reticence and heavy-handed outbursts. The pictures look like they were made by a DMV photographer on assignment for iD magazine. Opie faithfully adopts the sober conventions of mug shots and official portraiture, but, as if to hedge her bets, she also tries to spice the images by using loud monochrome backdrops and, most annoyingly, a fish-eye lens, which pushes and pulls at her scenes, making some sitters lean too far back while others jut their faces out at the viewer. The delicacies of pride spiked with vulnerability, of teasing, challenge, and seduction, are bludgeoned into either smug self-satisfaction or arrogant confrontation. Seldom has drag come across as, well, such a drag.

Also a drag: group shows, fast becoming the most hateful exercise in the art world. They’re now used solely as occasions for either turf seizures by petty cliques or delusional pseudoscholarly expositions. Often they’re both at once. It’s getting to the point where it seems there’s little joy left in belonging to a group of any kind, unless, of course, it’s got a beat.

A new year’s resolution: that in ’95, we finally get the art world to rock.

Lane Relyea lives in Los Angeles and reviews regularly for Artforum.