PRINT December 1999

Editor's Note

Jack Bankowsky

Enough About You
It must be something about round calendar numbers. Over the past ten years I've kept my editorial cards pretty close to my chest, but as we prepared this special issue of the '90s—a period that happens to line up neatly with my tenure at Artforum—I couldn't resist throwing my lot in with our thirty-plus contributors and conducting my own desk-chair tour of the decade. After all, everyone knows all critics want to be artists, and all editors, writers . . . Now there's a mea culpa for the guilty-me decade.

1. We're Not Worthy
As long as we're indulging in parsing the decade's art and culture into tidy ten-point hit parades, I'll confess that, for me, the '90s became the '90s when the PR-perfect '80s turned abject. The “loser thing” (the phrase comes from Rhonda Lieberman's article in the September 1992 issue, my first as editor) seemed to happen everywhere and all at once: Vik Muniz's “stuttering” opened in SoHo; “Just Pathetic,” Ralph Rugoff's West Coast roundup, made its way from LA to New York; filmmaker Richard Linklater's sublime driftwork Slacker showed up in theaters; and Karen Kilimnik, taking dictation from a chorus of unlikely superegoic voices—teen idols, demi-nobles, and supermodels opened her first SoHo show. Of course, culture doesn't stick to best-of-decade rules; by the time we officially signaled the temper change in that first issue, the loser thing was cresting for those of us who had caught it as it swelled. To me, the '80s were already going slack by 1988, the year that Cady Noland wheeled a cart of junk into John Gibson's Broadway gallery. Noland always said she liked Minimal sculpture, but only in poor condition—a Flavin with a nice dinged-up mount? She redeemed her anti-finish fetish when she laid out a grid of ornamental panels à la Carl Andre, named it Dirt Corral, and explained its purpose: to gather dust.

2. Formless: A User's Guide
Meanwhile, Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois (did they feel the undertow even in those ivory climes?) were making high theory of equivalently lowly . . . “operations.” While sternly disavowing any connection between art-world abjection and their rereading of the century's art through Bataille's informe, the 1997 English-language volume that followed on their revelatory 1996 Pompidou show became obligatory reading even as the misrecognition left us all a bit—scattered.

3. The Hours and Times
What makes us abject, which is to say, what makes us low? The good? The great? In the '90s, mostly the famous. Then-twenty-nine-year-old director Christopher Munch turned out this 1992 jewel of a chamber piece, in which John Lennon (Ian Hart) and his manager, dandyish Brian Epstein (David Angus), spend a brilliantly fictionalized weekend in a Barcelona hotel suite. Set against the incipient rise of Beatlemania as Lennon joins the firmament, leaving the worldly Epstein to his mortal lot, this sexually charged elegy to unconsummated fascination is surely the decade's subtlest meditation on celebrity and desire.

4. Andy's Calvins
Because wherever we go, he's already been there. Because in the '90s, when much that is art is Pop art (and all of it's neo), he reminds us why he invented the idiom in the first place. When Calvin sent Andy the first pair of briefs from his debut underwear collection way back in '82, Andy promptly stretched them up, signed them, and presented them to Madame Schlumberger. In short(s), with one preemptive stroke he put his signature on the branding miracle of the '90s. Remember when men's briefs were Jockeys, the way photocopiers were Xerox machines and canned soup, Campbell's? Well, we know now that Calvin changed all that, but Andy knew it back then. Damn! Why didn't we think of that?

5. La Terrain Vague
Prehistory again: If the '80s were dominated by those twin headliners, Neo-Ex and Neo-everything-else, the quieter promise of that decade would be answered in the next by those poets of the peripheral, photographers Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall chief among them, who made the dead zone, the non-place, the in-between their curiously affecting focus. The artist of this decade as he was of the last, Wall made art out of the new art history (one of that revived discipline's deans, Artforum contributing editor Thomas Crow, returned the favor in his 1993 feature), but more important—Crow again—in anticipation of its discoveries. If Wall has laid “secure claim to having discovered the suburban terrain vague as a diagnostic feature of modernity”—but one revisioned motif among many in his work—he has done so via the technological possibilities of his medium, and it is by way of the evolving interface between the photographic and the art historical that he, like Gursky, has made that modernist “moment” adequate to our own.

6. Gerhard Richter, David Reed, Bernard Frize, et al.
Photography about painting—but also the other way around. I don't care what people say, I like paintings that look like photographs—'specially when they're abstract.

7. “The One Thing That Can Save America”
In his 1975 poem, John Ashbery (with Warhol, the other necessary imagination of our quotidian present) puts the afterlife question this way: “Where then are the private turns of event/Destined to boom later like golden chimes?” When I heard the news of Dieter Roth's death, I knew the artist only as the maker of the endlessly fascinating forty volumes I had thumbed nonstop as a clerk at Printed Matter early in my New York tenure; in the US at least, his reputation remained little more than cultish rumor—Jason Rhoades's drive-around homage, trunk full of cheese; the long-lost Soft Nippets, thirty-three plastic containers of fromage. (Paul McCarthy tracked the multiple to a Hancock Park garage where it had languished undisturbed since 1970 in order to photograph it—just under the wire, as it happened—for our special October '98 issue.) By the time I visited Europe for the Venice Biennale, almost a year to the day of his death, Roth's ascension was absolute. Represented there by Solo Szenen, his final multimonitor installation, the artist presided over the international event, an eccentric and beloved paterfamilias.

8. Pulp Fiction
All symptom—and perfect Pop. Not that approval matters: We honor Tarantino just as much when we refuse his art as when we embrace it. Plus, who can resist a guy who rolled the credits for his previous bloodbath to that Nilsson tune “Put the Lime in the Coconut and Call Me in the Morning . . . ”?

9. Revision Quest
Even in our extended ironic present, where indulging in perversely sectarian tastes can seem the real thing, I know I'm going to regret this one: Color Field painting, long scapegoated after Greenberg's Reign of Terror, has been my favorite guilty pleasure in the '90s. Imagine my surprise to find this heretic taste confirmed by the likes of Laura Owens, Monique Prieto, et al. The prize in this category goes to Jeffrey Deitch's Green Mountain survey, and a handful of welcome revivals: Nicholas Krushenick, Joan Semmel, and Harold Stevenson at Mitchell Algus; Paul Feeley at Lawrence Markey; and Robert Overby and John Wesley at Jessica Fredericks.

10. Editorial License
Honorable mentions to Gabriel Orozco for putting those oranges on the window sills of that beige brick apartment building across from MoMA (we've all looked out over the sculpture garden at those rounded bays, but Orozco's discreet intervention made the everyday strange and left us at once more self-conscious and somehow lighter on our feet); to Catherine David, who, after much predictably reactionary huffing and puffing by the press, made the Documenta she wanted (and with a checklist to return to: Ed van der Elsken and Robert Adams, anyone?); to Matthew Barney for breaking the mold (I'm still not sure what I really think, but I wouldn't miss an episode); to Nan Goldin (who started as a demimonde paparazza and turned herself into an adjective); to Todd Haynes for Velvet Goldmine (and for the return of glam); to T.J. Clark for his inspired 1994 October essay, “In Defense of Abstract Expressionism,” and its triumphal “vulgarity.” And finally to Tony Korner, the publisher who has sustained Artforum for the past twenty years (this special issue marks his 200th) with integrity and restraint, allowing the publication to evolve and reinvent itself even as it maintained a standard that is very much his own. This issue is dedicated to him.