PRINT December 1995

Benjamin H. D. Buchloh


While there were certainly a few exhibitions eligible as moments of supreme consolation in a year of desolate mediocrity, dozens qualified for the epithet “the worst.” JAMES COLEMAN’s installation at Dia remains for me the most memorable show of 1995 and would likely be my choice for “best.” However, since the fact that I contributed to the exhibition catalogue might tinge the mythical claim of disinterested judgment, I’ll select SOL LEWITT’s installation New Structures at the ACE Gallery. Uncannily reminiscent of the structure in Paul Strand’s 1915 photograph Wall Street New York, ACE’s architecture seems to announce one of the art world’s future functions: to disguise the traumatic fusion of technological rationality and corporate power behind the facade of classicist austerity (i.e., the marriage of Calvin and Judd).

LeWitt’s installation—rectilinear structures and pylons built from uniform concrete cinder blocks—articulated (and resolved) Minimalism’s inability to commemorate historical trauma in the monument or to confront the trauma of the present. Situated between the ominous banality of barracks and the austerity of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s funereal Neoclassical monuments, LeWitt’s New Structures attested not only to the virtues of stylistic constancy redeemed by perpetual crisis but also to the rigor of an esthetic opposition developed 30 years ago at a moment of liberal democratic aspirations.


At the opposite end of Minimalism’s legacies and the literal end of the line is JESSICA STOCKHOLDER’s installation at Dia. The afflatus that powers her inspiration might as well relinquish its prefix. Between rummage and razzmatazz, the work’s sole authenticity is its cynicism in baring the abundantly self-evident decrepitude of the strategies of a once seemingly autonomous visual culture. Hers is neither the reflection nor the farcical repetition of that history’s fate—minimal as corporate deco, serial as ornament, radical gesture as designer patent. Stockholder is the scavenging shopkeeper who decorates the windows with the relics of an extinct culture as new merchandise. Undoubtedly the fact that her mad-housewife approach to recent art history passes in certain quarters as feminist keeps genuinely engaged feminist practice at bay.

Benjamin H. D. Buchloh is an art historian at Barnard College.