PRINT December 1998

Dave Hickey

1. ROBERT GOBER (The Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles) The one-night-stand aspect of museum installations has never been dramatized more poignantly than in Robert Gober’s magnificent tableau at the Geffen. The experience of seeing the piece (which combined aspects of a Bernini fountain with a gorgeous, Thoreauvian Etant donnés) was quite literally haunted by knowledge of its transience. Upon arrival, you immediately wanted to return, and then return again. Leaving the museum, I felt like Bogey watching Bergman fly away into the fog.

2. RICHARD SERRA, TORQUED ELLIPSES (The Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles) The only possible compensation for the loss of Gober’s piece was its replacement by Richard Serra’s pièce de résistance. Early in his career, the richness of Serra’s works was a little cheapened by the whole working-class-hero-invades-wussy-museum-with-raw-steel ambience. Not so with the Torqued Ellipses. They are clearly and unabashedly art on a grand scale, and the kinesthetic bang that Serra’s work invariably delivers is undiminished. Macho transgression wears away. The athletic grace of the high baroque does not.

3. RON NAGLE (Frank Lloyd Gallery, Los Angeles) How far can you get from Serra and Gober and still be super? And still be baroque? Ron Nagle’s tiny, luminous, pseudo-vessels occupy that position. If Fabergé had lived in California, loved hot rods and surfboards, and been blessed with an impudent art-hstorical wit, on his best day he still couldn’t compete with Nagle. No larger than teacups, Nagle’s pieces shine, glow, swoop, curve, and blend—each with its own ghostly presence and haunting silhouette. We don’t know what they are, but, clearly, they couldn’t be better.

4. TAKASHI MURAKAMI (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles) How far can you get from Gober, Serra, and Nagle and still be super? And still be baroque? Takashi Murakami’s exquisite, life-size cartoon sculptures are Bernini all the way. Until I saw Murakami’s My Lonesome Cowboy, I had never seen a contemporary sculpture that could compete with Bernini’s Saint Theresa. Murakami’s works celebrate sexual-spiritual ecstasy with comparable extravagance.

5. MAXWELL HENDLER (Patricia Faure Gallery, Los Angeles) Maxwell Hendler’s modestly scaled paintings are made by pouring resin on rectangular wood panels in monochromes that are never quite the color you think they are. They have a simple readiness about them that defies all abstract pretension—a refined affability that reminds you, every time you look, that nothing in this world with a body and color is ever as simple as you think it is.

6. PETER SAUL (Nolan/Eckman Gallery, New York) In one of Peter Saul’s new drawings, a bare-breasted woman pops out of a guy’s head announcing, in a talk balloon, “Your sexist joke makes me puke,” and pukes on him. The guy holds a sign announcing “I’m sorry,” and we imagine Saul standing before his drawing board, fingers to his lips, with a talk balloon of his own: “Oh dear! It just slipped out!” The adolescent id is always slipping out in Saul’s work, but it slips out pure, healthy as a twelve-year-old, and blissfully unaccompanied by adult brutality and malice.

7. THE ART GUYS WITH TODD OLDHAM: “SUITS: THE CLOTHES THAT MAKE THE MAN” Wherever cognoscenti choose to gather this year, from Times Square to Cannes, the Art Guys will be in attendance, in Todd Oldham suits emblazoned with the logos of their corporate sponsors—thus does performance art meet designer couture meet NASCAR meet upscale marketing. In an art culture obsessed with petit-bourgeois proprieties, the Art Guys flaunt their integrity on the battleground of conflicting interests. Right on, art dudes.

8. PETER CAREY, _JACK MAGGS (Alfred A. Knopf) If you despair of ever coming upon another solidly realized, swiftly paced novel with a great idea, go out and buy Jack Maggs. Peter Carey imagines the Victorian social circumstances out of which Dickens’s Great Expectations might have arisen and tells this story from an Australian perspective. In Carey’s book, the convict Magwitch (Jack Maggs) is the hero, Charles Dickens is an opportunistic hustler, and our little hero, Pip, is an insufferable twit. We read fast to find out what happens.

9. HELEN VENDLER, THE ART OF SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS (Belknap/Harvard University Press) If you are a writer who still uses English words (rather than chockablock bricks of jargon), this is the book for you. Professor Vendler takes Shakespeare’s sonnets one by one and word by word. She talks about what the poems do and how they do it—their architecture, narrative, music, and language—so, along with the aperçus and sharp insights, there are nifty charts and graphs. There is also a CD of Vendler reading the sonnets aloud, lest we forget that words are noise as well as ink.

10. THIS CRITIC’S YEAR I write about artists every day. Once a month, I go out and lecture about them. Three or four times a year, I curate exhibitions of their work, so I must reserve thIs space for all those artists who have occupied my consciousness during the last year, for all the kids in “Ultralounge,” and for Peter Alexander, Mark Burns, Sarah Charlesworth, Sharon Ellis, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Norm Laich, Hung Liu, Josiah McElheny, Elizabeth Peyton, Ellen Phelan, David Reed, Gerhard Richter, Norman Rockwell, Edward Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Christopher Wool, and Robert Zakanitch. Thank you very much.

Dave Hickey is an art writer who lives in Las Vegas. His essays have been recently collected in Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy (Art Issues, 1997).