PRINT December 1999

Jan Avgikos

1. Cady Noland The Queen of Goth. Elegant, but with edge to spare. No one taps into the perversity of late-twentieth-century culture with such relish for the seamier side of “everyday life.” In Noland’s postapocalyptic cosmology, abjection registers on a sociological scale: The individual is but a symptom, a mass-market mirage. Referencing everything from white trash to the White House, her installations gather the wreckage of an American odyssey gone wrong, a macabre road trip motored by the death drive—in overdrive.

2. Hannah Wilke Another kind of spectacle, another kind of death. As a ’70s “babe” serving up alternative cheesecake, Wilke made critique while she made love to the camera, performing her complicity, her conflict, as an “object of desire”—that always was the issue. In the mid-’90s, she inaugurated a new body of work; it would be her last. A Medusa who knew that the sight of her body ravaged by cancer and chemo would have the power to arrest, Wilke exposed herself a final time as she performed her own death. Upping the ante in the current vogue for “body gore,” with these powerful (and poignant) photographs, Wilke had the last laugh.

3. Kara Walker Enough true stories, enough steppin’ up to battle the big white institution of art, ready to forgive its sins. Challenging the accepted iconography for representing “black experience,” Walker stirs up identity politics by inhabiting racist stereotypes with utter insouciance, rendering silhouettes of black folk in the Old South with rococo lightness and fancy, as though there were only carefree play in the lives of the li’l pickaninnies. A flash point, a modicum of risk, Walker tests art’s capacity to get under our skins.

4. Pruitt • Early It’s one thing if you’re black to act flip with black cultural property. It’s another thing when a couple of white guys think they’ve got equal rights to play fast and loose with “black” representations. Guess what? Wrong! Pruitt and Early were riding high when they staged their big “black experience” event at Leo Castelli in 1992, with authentic Black Power posters, dashiki cloth, and tapes of soul music they picked up in Harlem. Well, they got kicked straight out of the art world for their “problematic” license. In retrospect, their double blaxploitation show, which deftly exposed the limitations of “acceptable” critique, was way ahead of the PC times.

5. Felix Gonzalez-Torres Conceptual art in drag, that’s what he called his work. “Contaminating” austere Minimalist form with over-the-top romantic content—the paper stacks, the candy spills, the illuminated strings of light all appropriated postwar vanguard forms—Gonzalez-Torres transformed “empty” art-historical signifiers, filling them up with personal meanings that exposed them as the “ideological vehicles” they always were. In parenthetical titles, in blue monochromes that “imaged invisibility,” in art that was “free” (and tested the limits of freedom), he created a subtlely poetic, resolutely visual language with which he addressed and celebrated gay life and love. What you see is what you see—and so much more.

6. Roni Horn She’s never been one to show her hand. Maybe that’s why I’ve never wanted to know what her art is “about.” A slab of slightly frosty, deep blue glass of a particular shape and size; large grainy photographs of sand and sea: There’s little subtext here. And yet, there is suppleness and subtlety, a palpable sense of attraction, a suggestion of ecstasy. Call it visual pleasure, an “erotics of art,” as Susan Sontag once defined (and defended) the antithesis of interpretation. Not to think about what a thing means, but, instead, to feel and see and sense our way to another kind of intelligence.

7. Andreas Gursky Commodity culture and the global continuum—it’s never been as visible nor looked so good as through Gursky’s lens. He photographs a Pollock “hanging in state,” or a product-display wall at Niketown, and shows us a radiant world in which seminal drips and corporate swoosh are interchangeable as emblems of dominant culture—and equally sublime. We still believe in the evidentiary power of photographs, that they are true representations of the real world; but we also believe in the virtual world—the one that’s better-looking than life could ever be. Gursky does the cross-referencing and plays them back as one.

8. Mariko Mori What’s more seductive? The state-of-the-art technology Mariko Mori deploys, or the cyber-glam babeland she conjures forth? The look is postpolitical “pure entertainment,” the special effects as good as any. Her visual languages, borrowed from “screen culture,” are readymades for the digital generation. So is her persona, a supernatural, multidimensional, mantra-chanting superheroine.

9. Martin Kippenberger Kippenberger’s “Metro Net” show at Metro Pictures felt unexpectedly personal; that it was posthumous supplied the edge he always cultivated. The outsized aluminum Transportable Subway Entrance (Crushed), 1997, so comically estranged from function, had to be compacted a bit to fit inside the gallery. Some guy in Brooklyn with a backhoe did the job—so well that it was barely recognizable as a subway entrance. That’s what Kippenberger loved, all the incidental stuff that goes on in and around the art.

10. Rirkrit Tiravanija We will remember the art of the ’90s for, among other things, its myriad acts of staged disappearance into the larger cultural landscape. Tiravanija de-emphasizes the art object in favor of events for which “art” becomes a host site. A drum kit and guitars (play if you will); a dinner party featuring his native cuisine; an “apartment” built, lived in, and “viewed” at Gavin Brown’s during the summer of ’99: Tiravanija’s performative social spaces may come to be seen as prototypes of interactivity for the decade ahead.