PRINT December 1995

Lisa Liebmann


Despite several extraordinarily good exhibitions this year of work by individual artists—NANCY RUBINS, JESSICA STOCKHOLDER, SOL LEWITT, and HOWARD HODGKIN among them—I nevertheless declare this the year of JEAN CLAIR, in honor of the Musée Picasso director’s two huge, historically ambitious, concurrent loan-show extravaganzas: “Identity and Alterity: Figures of the Body 1895–1995,” which was the centerpiece and principal justification of this summer’s Venice Biennale; and “Lost Paradise: Symbolist Europe,” at the Montreal Musée des Beaux Arts.

Both shows were a lot of fun—morbid, sexy, surprising—and to be admired for, among other things, their freewheeling inclusion of photography, perhaps especially in Montreal. (The turn-of-the-century American Pictorialist F. Holland Day, whose homoerotic allegories were well represented there, came as something of a revelation.) But for all its flaws—and I will not repeat its unidiomatic and rather passé title—the Venice show was the surpassing thrill. It filled the Palazzo Grassi and several galleries at the Museo Correr, where, in addressing recent decades, it petered out. But the Palazzo Grassi experience alone was a knockout—a fantastic voyage of the “I” that began with the sexual angst and eugenical obsessions of the last fin de siècle, moved forward through the disembodiments of World War I, and concluded with a spectacular detonation of totalitarian and “degenerate” figurative art from the 1930s and 1940s.

Intermixed with great and obscure works of art were such riveting documents as turn-of-the-century French police-blotter records and asylum case studies diagnosing “female hysteria,” and a Caligari’s cabinet–ful of phrenological diagrams and taxonomical charts. To find one of Degas’ little bronze-and-tulle ballerinas—so coolly accurate, so ineffably perverse—in this creepy actuarial context was to see the work anew.


It was disappointing, then, that despite the relative ease of having to focus exclusively on a single contemporary artist—not to mention the spade work accomplished in recent years by that artist’s New York gallery—the Guggenheim had so little to tell us about GEORG BASELITZ. No politics, no drawings, no objects of significant influence, no oddities or digressions, with the result that poor Baselitz must, for the moment, remain the most visually accessible yet emotionally remote of Germany’s best-known living artists.

Lisa Liebmann is a writer who lives in New York. She is the author of David Salle 1979–1994.