PRINT December 1999

David Rimanelli

1. Abject Art If abject art wasn’t exactly the miserable stepchild of a market fallen on hard times, its various forms nevertheless found a perversely suitable terrain on which to thrive as we witnessed the overnight disappearance of an art scene that had hitherto nurtured scores of art students on dreams of ’80s largesse. In contrast to the pristine fetish objects of Neo-Geo and the bombast of neo-Expressionism, the art of abjection found its proper forms in a Pop-inflected version of scatter, viz. installations by Mike Kelley, Cady Noland, and Karen Kilimnik. Other artists, e.g., Sean Landers, skidded around abjection’s mutable playing field, theatricalizing the gulf between real and ideal. Abject art also freely colludes with another of the decade’s reigning trends, the ascendance of fashion, as in Kilimnik’s drawings and paintings of various glamour images—works that tear apart the ideal even as they pay homage to it.

2. Nobuyoshi Araki
Having attained fame in Japan in the ’60s, Araki can hardly be called an artist of the ’90s, but his visibility in the West is fairly recent (I for one was unaware of him until I saw his interview with Nan Goldin in a 1995 issue of this magazine). When I began collecting volumes of his photographs, the first I acquired—Bondage—supports the not-universally-admired idea of Araki as an extravagantly aestheticizing master of kink. More recently, I’ve purchased collections in which perversity is recast in a more deliciously underhanded way: volume 10, Chiro, Araki, and 2 Lovers, and volume 17, Sensual Flowers. The former is a compendium of pictures detailing the thoughts and moods of his kitty, Chiro; the latter features images of wilting flowers, many of them providing bowers for desiccated chameleons. New Frontiers in pet photography and ikebana.

3. Alex Bag
Every time I visit an art school, I show Fall ’95, Alex’s diary-cum-evisceration of life as a student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, and every time it’s a hit. In a decade during which New York has been routinely shunned as a merely commercial art center, Alex’s work distills a particular kind of irritated and bemused New York sensibility, one bristling among the young, even as it is memorialized by the erstwhile denizens of the Mudd Club.

4. Matthew Barney
The most important new artist of the decade. If you don’t believe me, ask Michael Kimmelman.

5. Vanessa Beecroft
I still don’t know what to say about Beecroft’s performances and their attendant documentation. I guess I like it, but . . . Certainly her Gucci thing in the Guggenheim’s rotunda gave people something to talk about. But her “collaboration” in San Diego with the US Navy seals won me over completely: In the Photoshop of my mind, I continually paste the heads of Demi Moore and Viggo Mortensen (as they appear in G.I. Jane) over the more ordinary superguys, while relegating the really hot ones to future porn.

6. Andreas Gursky
Gursky’s renovation of both the landscape and cityscape genres is well known, but if I had to select a single strand from throughout this glittering corpus, it would be the photographs of stock exchanges around the world. Nearly identically attired masses of figures contemplate computer screens; some run about nervously, doing Capital’s errands. Plenty of photographers have captured town and country, but who of late has so brilliantly done the portrait of money?

7. Damien Hirst
“Freeze,” the exhibition Hirst curated in a forlorn London docklands site in 1988, sent his career and those of his friends into international orbit and created the mythos of Young British Art, which has sustained many often slender talents right up through the latest “scandal” at the Brooklyn Museum. Only the willfully ignorant would deny the significance.

8. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Is it merely willful perversity to select an artist born in 1780 as one of the most important figures of the ’90s? Sort of, but not utterly. “Portraits by Ingres,” currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not only allows me to dwell on one of my very favorite painters but also permits an excursus on the renascence of the portrait genre in painting (in photography, it never really left us). From the Napoleonic era through the Restoration, July Monarchy, and Second Empire, Ingres left a nonpareil record of the rich and powerful; the wives and girlfriends of the rich and powerful; those he worshipped and those who paid him. Today, in the work of artists as diverse as Karen Kilimnik, Elizabeth Peyton, Billy Sullivan, Jack Pierson, and Jane Kaplowitz, we see the distant reflection of Ingres’s enterprise, one that admits both frank idealization and more psychologically ambiguous homage.

9. Larry Johnson
In many respects, Johnson might seem like a more typically ’80s artist, one initially steeped in “Pictures” and CalArts’s famous program of “skeptical beliefs.” His ’90s work moves beyond appropriation without disavowing it, and melds the seemingly antithetical media of photography and drawing in an utterly singular way. Untitled (Perino’s Front, Perino’s Rear), a 1998 diptych all about the front and back doors, leisure and consumption, and nostalgia and disillusionment, attests to Johnson’s pictorial intelligence and beauty.

10. Teen Movies
In the early ’60s, Susan Sontag prophesied (in “Notes on Camp”) that a day might come when the muscular authenticity of Method Acting would seem as bizarrely stilted as the style of Sarah (not Sandra) Bernhardt. Today’s young stars are no more plucked from Strasberg than they are from the Comédie Française. Hailing from TV melodramas like Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these comets are innocent of the introspective tick; instead, they transmit high feeling with the same sort of otiose languor as the girls in Lichtenstein paintings (“Oh Brad, it’s a masterpiece”). A revolution in form of course necessitates a revolution in content: Movies like Cruel Intentions and The Faculty are refreshingly unburdened of overly italicized moralizing and blunderbuss. In the latter film, an alien force overtakes a small-town high school (big surprise), converting the faculty before moving on to the young. The boy-genius bad boy, so cute he can withstand a dazzlingly ugly haircut, is of course the redeemer: The “tweak” (speed) he manufactures in his home lab turns out to be the only way to reveal and destroy the aliens. Distribution of illicit drugs saves mankind.