PRINT December 1995

Neville Wakefield


Tucked away at Dia, some distance from the stirrings of Soho sediment (or do I mean sentiment?), GERHARD RICHTER’s Atlas was, it seems, too distant, too big, too complex, or perhaps, one suspects, too German, to attract the attention it deserved. Certainly, with more than 4,000 images amassed over 31 years it taxed the attention spans and retinal capacities of those of us fattened on predigested platitudes cased in singular images. But Atlas realized, as the United Nations has not, that there is no representation without taxation. A prism through which perception has been splintered into a thousand frozen moments—into landscapes of fire and ice, compositions of unbearably stilled life, unrealizable projects, pornography both brutal and despairing, alkaline and cheesy—the installation is a review of the declension of pictorial faith that forced so much of the undistinguished art of the last decade to resort to words. With each photograph, and then each photographic panel, the kaleidoscope is twisted; vision is fractured and reassembled in front of our eyes. Like a giant chromosome carrying the visual genetic material of 30 years of preeminence, Atlas winds around you in the life-and-death embrace of a double helix. Everything is here except the key. Richter's babel of representation, the index cards of sea, sky, land, paint, fashion, and death camp, teases us with a vision of order encased and archival, crystalline and majestic. But to attempt to play Boswell to Richter's arcane science is to miss the point, for Atlas reveals the artist in another light. The last romantic, his eyes seem trained not on the cards, but behind them, on a library consumed by fire.


As for the worst, it’s harder to say, but contenders weren’t hard to find. A short trip to THE NEW MUSEUM would usually suffice. Men in gorilla suits and appallingly hung and conceived shows such as “Temporarily Possessed,” an exhibition of the museum’s semipermanent collection, are the sort of thing that gives retailing-space predation in Soho a good name. Welcome the Gap!

Neville Wakefield is a writer and critic who lives in New York and is a frequent contributor to Artforum.