PRINT December 1995

Jan Avgikos


In the hands of younger artists, the Self in art has become slobberingly solipsistic. Banality is far from new, but it’s hitting record lows in the mutterings of semiliterate, clueless artists whose philosophical musings are as laughably limited as they are alarmingly familiar. The exception is ALEX BAG: she also revels in low banality, but her understanding of it is remarkable, as demonstrated in her portrayal of a girl slacker who “matures” over eight semesters at art college. She is brought to life in a video produced as an extended monologue with the camera, intercut by miniencounters with the job market and technology, among other misadventures. (The installation also included a tape library of venerated art-student role models—Kate Moss, Courtney Love, Johnny Rotten, etc.) Bag excels not only in her characterization of the young artist caught up with appearances and bored with substance but also in her wicked satire of the art world. Confession is the bait that draws us into Bag’s talk show, but it’s her agility at cultural sampling that lends her work veracity and suggests her sport is to play with the crisis of meaning and our collective fear that we stand at the brink of cultural demise.


How do you like your art? High or low? Would you rather be confirmed by art whose pedigree guarantees incontestable “quality” than challenged by brash initiatives that alienate or confront? Then ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG, circa 1995, is the artist for you. Scavenging his own vocabulary of the media- and process-saturated palimpsests he introduced in the ’60s and serving them up in denatured formal arrangements, his once-revolutionary work amounts now to canonical complacency. Today Rauschenberg’s work can only be admired for what it once was. This is art that is self-referential, remote from the extra-artistic references it incorporates, concerned exclusively with self-perpetuation. Rauschenberg’s work indulges our need for “esthetic emotion” through the manipulation of “significant form,” but the forms are significant only on the basis of their originality 30 years ago. With nothing to proclaim or defeat, he continues to make “Rauschenbergs ”—which, these days, is about as high and as banal as it gets.

Jan Avgikos is a contributing editor of Artforum.