PRINT December 1996

Dave Hickey


In an art world full of “strong artists” getting fat at the trough of weakness and abjection, KAREN CARSON is the healthy exception: a drama queen who kicks butt. Think Bonnie Raitt meets Dorothy Parker, Fabergé graffiti, Dostoyevsky writes Jane Austen—that general area. A witty, worldly feminist with her heart on her sleeve and the world in her eye, Carson operates with the anxiety meter posting in the red. From the wry, striptease minimalism of her early zipper pieces, through the gaudy smoke-and-mirrors of her abstract “hot flashes,” to the flashy graphics of her recent Vegas koans, Carson’s work has always had that rock ’n’ roll thing—a passion for elegant noise and transient sentiment that makes fashion out of a contempt for it. La Carson’s great subject is the glamorous sensuality of everyday desperation, the visual spectacle of the dissolving self. Her three-venue retrospective “Karen Carson: But Enough About Me”—at the Otis Institute of Art, the Santa Monica Museum, and LACE, Los Angeles—confirms the staying power of her commitment to the fleeting moment.


HALL OF MIRRORS: ART AND FILM SINCE 1945,” MoCA, Los Angeles. Yikes! If this heartless, mindless, techno-chic deconstruction of everything interesting about art and film since 1945 had exhibited half the ebullient diversity of Karen Carson’s one-woman show, it might have been a little less depressing, though it would still have been as boring as its dubious premise: that the collective labors of artists and filmmakers in the twentieth century have necessarily culminated in the grisaille banality of ’80s critique. Curator Kerry Brougher apparently sees himself as a soldier of history, invading the dream factory to remind the moral idiots who toil therein that art and film traffic in illusion for financial gain. (Who knew?!) To this end, works by Andy Warhol, Edward Ruscha, and numerous others are subjected to hilarious misprision, based on the risible premise that works of art either “critique” or “seduce.” The possibility that they might do one in the guise of the other—or simply do both—seems not to have come up. Major oversight. Minor show.

Dave Hickey is a freelance writer who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.