PRINT December 1995

Klaus Kertess


If I don’t say so, who will? For me, the best exhibition of 1995 was the WHITNEY BIENNIAL, because it was the one I learned the most from. Besides, any show that makes as many new enemies for the curator as this one did for me must be important.

So what did I learn? Much I learned by osmosis, from being in so many studios; that knowledge can’t be verbalized and was, of course, the best part. I learned firsthand that the Biennial is a wonderful impossibility. I learned that today’s critical vocabulary must be enriched and simplified before it can actually touch art. I learned that my hope to highlight a purely visual intelligence without reverting to the glacial confines of formalism is a valid one. And I learned to love the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija.


I never think about the worst exhibition until Artforum calls; but the Museum of Modern Art’s recent video-artists group show, “VIDEO SPACE: EIGHT INSTALLATIONS,” created about as much excitement as a potato (not couch) festival. There was little to hold this group together other than the segregation of a shared medium. Bill Viola’s revolving mirror was so imposingly scaled it offered little chance for real reflection. Why does his romanticism seem so manipulative? And what about that crate of damaged goods credited to Judith Barry and Brad Miskell that seems to have fallen off a delivery truck on its way to William Gibson’s?

At least the show included a couple of good works. Gary Hill’s entrapment of whispering body fragments in an array of small, uncased monitors lets us know quite poetically how much our bodies are defined by television. And Stan Douglas’ barbed deadpan and visual acuteness retrieved and made operatic that moment when TV made the news soap-operatic. But the carefully constructed aural play of cacophony and polyphony in his piece was largely drowned out by the gratuitous racket emanating from neighboring works. In the end, noise became a most appropriate metaphor for the exhibition as a whole.

Klaus Kertess is a writer and curator who lives in New York. His most recent exhibition was the 1995 Whitney Biennial.