PRINT December 1995

Boris Groys


RAYMOND PETTIBON’s show at the Bern Kunsthalle was the best confirmation that one can put together work that doesn’t completely give itself up, or away, on first glance, as is unfortunately too often the case with art today. Hung closely together on the walls, the hundreds of drawings, reminiscent of cartoons in their blend of word and text, demand to be read from one picture to the next in pursuit of hidden contexts, stories, and meanings, but the viewer’s quest—the experience of more and more of them—is never frustrating, because each drawing is individually self-contained and wonderfully poetic. Pettibon creates a perfect balance between the autonomy of a single drawing and the place of that drawing in the totality of the show. By the end one is left with a pleasant feeling of tiredness, an all-too-rare sensation after seeing a show these days.


The gravest disappointment this year had to do with an entirely personal interest of mine in Russian art. A sinfully expensive show—“BERLIN-MOSCOW, 1900–1950” at the Berlinische Galerie—was yet another wasted opportunity to point out the merits of Russian art to the West. The exhibition is not structured by any esthetic, theoretical, or political questions; the organizers clearly assumed that a chronological, “factually” motivated arrangement of documentation and artwork from 50 years of contact between Moscow and Berlin would suffice. In its cumulative effect this uninspiring show was so depressing that even the interesting things—the things worth seeing again and again—seemed dull and stale. Daniel Libeskind’s pseudo-Suprematist design should have given the exhibition space some external unity but merely proved that with a little effort even Suprematism can be debased and turned into unbearable kitsch. One can only hope that Western as well as Russian curators will eventually abandon their summary, ethnographic view of Russian culture and begin to take an interest in the positions of individual artists instead of throwing money out the window for senseless, pseudorepresentative mastodons like this project.

Boris Groys is a German writer and curator. He is the author of The Total Art of Stalinism.

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.