PRINT December 1996

Christoph Blase


1996 was not a year for significant shows, but rather a time of searching and hoping. Two shows offering promise for the future stood out: JASON RHOADES at the Basel Kunsthalle and JÖRG SASSE at the Cologne Kunstverein. Both evidenced—in exemplary fashion—the emerging effect of new technologies on contemporary art. Rhoades’ work is a system of associations (here he drew on references from Car Wash to male genitalia) that are apt, genuine, and relevant, neither forced nor affected—and it’s the system that made for the show’s quality. The viewer entered into precisely that reality that occurs between mass media and everyday life. The eye clicks over a network of objects, and each click yields a mental image that links up with the next. The power of Sasse’s work, on the other hand, lies entirely in the single image. His digital productions meet photography’s verisimilar demands while overcoming the limitations inherent to photographic technique. What’s new—and decisive—is that Sasse eschews typical digital-surrealistic effects. A generation after Jeff Wall, work like Sasse’s marks a reinvigoration of the realistic image—long ago the province of painting, before being discredited by Socialist realism. The ever-increasing normalcy of the computer as a tool creates a new freedom to supersede those traditions and thus to produce an image never before seen, through a virtuality appropriate to our digital world. This will trigger a boom of new images, a boom whose onset can be precisely dated 1996.


The worst show in quite some time was “LES CHAMPS DE LA SCULPTURE” (Fields of sculpture), organized by l’association Paris-Musées on the Champs-Elysées. Large-scale sculptures by artists ranging from Rodin to Calder to Tinguely were rotely lined up, under the glare of spotlights, as so much window dressing for the boulevard. Never before have sculptures been so lovelessly mounted on pedestals, and most in the same plastic fencing found wrapped around Paris construction sites. France’s official artists were made to outdo each other in megalomania. What could have been a fascinating event remained only a painful spectacle cynically geared to cultural tourism.

Christoph Blase is an art critic who lives in Cologne. He contributes to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Kunst-Bulletin, and Blitz Review.