TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 2000

Daniel Birnbaum

DANIEL BIRNBAUM

1 Doug Aitken (Galerie Hauser & Wirth & Presenhuber, Zurich) With the five-screen installation I Am in You, the final bodily paroxysms of Electric Earth, 1999—arguably the most memorable work in this year’s Whitney Biennial—have disappeared. In its place we enter a harmonious world of divine geometry, children’s plays, and piano music. A young girl whispers: “You can’t stop. You can’t stop.” Bodies fall through space, airliners are sucked into some vortexlike vanishing point at incredible speeds. Everything seems to float freely in circles, like some hallucinated eternal recurrence. Whatever tries to escape this finite cosmos is pulled back by a ruthless gravity—even time itself. Who drives this universe, who turns things over? Who am I and who are You in I Am in You?

2 Matthew Barney, safety curtain for Vienna State Opera House Two seasons after Kara Walker’s politically charged meditation on Entartete Musik, Barney’s work implicitly celebrated freedom of the imagination. Closely related to the artist’s five-part “Cremaster” series, the curtain features two satyrs—one facing the audience, the other turned toward the stage—chasing each other, it seems, in a circular dance. Barney has said that “the architecture of the opera house is anatomical,” drawing an analogy with his works “where the frame or housing for the narrative is a kind of a body.” Through its collaboration with Vienna’s Museum in Progress, the State Opera emerges as one of Austria’s most progressive institutions—which is not exactly what I, or anyone else, would have expected.

3 Koo Jeong-a The Paris-based, Korean-born Koo might be the most actively absent artist in Europe: She’s everywhere yet nowhere to be seen. Her fragile installations—most recently on view in Rome, Ljubljana, and Paris—display total vulnerability and verge on the invisible. Perhaps Deleuze was on to something when he wrote of the (ontologically dubious) “Asian absence of subjectivity” as an attempt to inhale emptiness. Minute landscapes, architectural models, miniature cities appear before your eyes. Exhale and they’re gone.

4 Ceal Floyer Okwui Enwezor’s large group show “Mirror’s Edge” at the BildMuseet in Umeå reminded me how intelligent and funny Floyer’s experimentation with projected light can be. She opens up imaginary rooms, populates them with imaginary people. It’s all an illusion, and one produced through the simplest of means—just a projection recalling the light that comes through a crack beneath a door and the shadows cast when one comes too close.

5 Pierre Huyghe There are plenty of artists out there cannibalizing cinema, but Huyghe’s the gourmet. In The Third Memory, 2000, he restages the bank heist depicted in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 Dog Day Afternoon, which starred Al Pacino as John Wojtowicz—the good-looking young robber who risked his life to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation. In Huyghe’s video installation, we see Wojtowicz, now a heavy man in his late fifties, playing both himself and Pacino in a tantalizing mix that’s all but impossible to untangle.

6 Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset The pair’s ongoing “Powerless Structures” series is, among other things, an amusing and profound meditation on the color white. I guess the myth of the neutral white cube no longer needs debunking these days, but after one experiences a few of Elmgreen & Dragset’s painterly interventions (recently they’ve been seen in Leipzig, Berlin, and Ljubljana), a whole labyrinth of associations with whiteness springs up—from art to sex to politics.

7 Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (Schipper & Krome, Berlin) Walking amid the flashing lights of Gonzalez-Foerster’s strangely empty Berlin installation made me feel as if I were part of a performance, alone on a stage. The artist’s sense of ambient vacancy is unique: Brasilia Hall, her installation at the Moderna Museet’s “What If” exhibition in Stockholm, was an atmospheric plaza—vast and, again, completely empty—conveying, in part through a video documenting Brazilian architecture, the weird kick of tropical moderne.

8 “Samuel Beckett/Bruce Nauman” (Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna) Organized by Christine Hoffmann and Michael Glasmeier, the riveting exhibition was more archive than display—a trove of manuscripts, drawings, notebooks, and sketches. Beckett’s works for television (Ghost Trio, 1976; . . . but the clouds . . . , 1976; Quad I & II 1981) seemed more radical and contemporary than the output of most postmodern artists of the period. The rare show that makes you want to be an art historian, wading through the archives.

9 Öyvind Fahlström (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) A few years back, Mike Kelley wrote, “The issues raised by [Fahlstriim’s] work are more timely than ever, and [he] is now happily starting to be recognized for what he was: one of the most important and complex artists of the Sixties.” Kelley, as usual, was right. The creator of such installations and “variable paintings” as Dr Schweitzer’s Last Mission, 1964-66, and Kidnapping Kissinger, 1972, is enjoying an overdue revival with the large and beautiful exhibition at Barcelona’s MACBA. Fahlström’s moment has clearly come. And this time he’s here to stay.

10 Biennials, Biennials, Biennials Sydney, Lyon, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, Limerick, Berlin, São Paulo, Venice, Turin, Johannesburg, Luxembourg, Mexico City, Ljubljana, Liverpool, London, Santa Fe, Pittsburgh, Istanbul, Moss, Melbourne, Dakar, New Delhi, Montreal ... Such is the current ubiquity of the international art extravaganza that the term “biennial” appended to a roster of artists’ names has about as much cachet as the old-faithful “group show.” Let’s forget the pomp and concentrate on the art.

Daniel Birnbaum is a contributing editor of Artforum and, beginning in 2001, director of Portikus in Frankfurt.