PRINT December 2000

Katy Siegel


1 Can-Do Art I’m with Stephen King: In art as in writing, the active construction rules. Artists like Chuck Close and Paul Etienne Lincoln prove that, despite the bad name that the likes of Damien Hirst have given the word, it is still possible to be ambitious in the Baudelairean, Greenbergian sense—wanting more not just for your career, but for your work. Close and Lincoln both put on big shows at Pace and Alexander and Bonin, respectively, filled with meticulously rendered yet broadly conceived visions of us and our world. Fine art may no longer be the dominant culture, but it’s not a crummy job or a drunk boyfriend either.

2 Make-Do Art Cousin to the can-do. Richard Tuttle, Sarah Sze, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Tom Friedman, and Vik Muniz take the leftovers of our throwaway culture and make our nothings into something else. Their skillful use of sugar cubes, plywood, beer cans, and clip lamps provide an antidote to extravagant production values and installation as shopping spree. Both the strong and the weak versions of the latter—from Jeff Koons to Barbara Bloom—made you think you could be an artist if only you had enough money; these guys make you think you could be an artist if only you had enough ideas and time. (You have a trash can, don’t you?) A big improvement, in my book.

3 Walker Evans/Andreas Gursky The greatest artist of the twentieth century more than earned both his excellent retrospective at the Met and a very nice MOMA exhibit that could only hint at the breadth of Evans’s influence. The surprise was his beautiful show at Andrea Rosen, which revealed the Polaroid’s status as heir to the daguerreotype. Whereas Evans gave a face to poverty and a specificity to vernacular culture, Gursky does the inverse, pulling back to picture phenomena so big (e.g., the stock exchanges and public architecture of global capitalism) we usually can’t see them. Both photographers made the right images—in form and content—at the right time.

4 Stuff In the ’80s, we were told we lived in an “image world,” a culture dominated by pictures—and needed more images to critique it. But we still live in a world full of stuff (you know, that famous “commodity culture”), and art often examines and tests its nature. The master is Donald Judd, whose late work shown at Pace earns the get-it-right prize; these pieces aren’t furniture, but even more than his early reliefs, they reveal sculpture’s closeness to the everyday experience of objects in space. His Plexi proportions read like a commentary on our sloppy world (move that ashtray two inches to the right, please). More obviously connecting the stern phenomenology of the ’60s to design, Jorge Pardo decorated Dia, and Josiah McElheny presented an opaque, sculptural grid of vases at Brent Sikkema. They indulge in whimsy more than Judd—then again, who doesn’t?

5 Island Life No, not that one, although Andrea Zittel’s A-Z Prototype for Pocket Property touches many of the same nerves. Zittel built a forty-ton concrete island between Denmark and Sweden, and this summer she inhabited the hollow structure with a group of friends. Zittel’s mobile landmass is the most extreme of the artist’s experimental living situations; it combines the desire never to leave the house with the fantasy of getting away from it all.

6 Millennium Madness As an event, the millennium was a bust, but at least it put museums in a reflective mood. For most, straight-up chronology wasn’t good enough to mark this once-in-a-lifetime calendrical moment. Theme-happy shows included MOMA’s “ModernStarts,” the opening installation at Tate Modern, and the Whitney’s “American Century.” The best of the bunch was Robert Rosenblum’s “1900” at the Guggenheim, a synchronic slice reminding us that the art world was—and is—a place where disparate generations and conflicting interests contest differences in taste, style, and worldview.

7 Lucian Freud (Acquavella, New York) Freud’s show was great, totally overshadowing the terrible Picabia offering down the street, which many perfectly intelligent people urged us to rush out and see. Freud’s paintings were gorgeous and purposeful, much better than his last few exhibitions. In today’s kid-dominated culture, any artist who just gets better and better (see also fellow Brit Bridget Riley) deserves to ride around town on a purple pillow.

8 Leo Steinberg Our best art historian celebrated his eightieth year by publishing a bravura lecture on Rauschenberg, an object lesson in both writing text and reading art. He also finished a book (forthcoming this spring) on Leonardo’s Last Supper, the greatest painting that you’ve never really seen, revealing its extraordinary complexity and shaming the either-or polemics too common in the discipline. Steinberg is proof positive that smart people used to study the humanities.

9 Adolph Reed, Jr., Class Notes (New Press, New York) Incisive and original, Reed’s radical discussion of politics, race, and class is so well written that even we visual types will understand it. His essay on the black public intellectual, “What Are the Drums Saying, Booker?” is worth the price of admission alone. Reed takes on academic politics as well, both the celebration of unconscious modes of cultural “transgression” like channel surfing, and the fatalist shrug in the face of global capital, arguing that these positions negate acts of real-world resistance. Guaranteed to make you rethink assumptions near and dear to your flabby liberal heart.

10 Time Flies The era of the glass box has passed, but the buildings are still around, and Jeff Wall, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, and Jennifer Bolande seem to have noticed something about modernism and its monuments. All three linked cleaning to classic modernist architecture: Wall, at the Carnegie International, and Manglano-Ovalle, at the Whitney Biennial, both showed maintenance staff at work on buildings by Mies; at Alexander and Bonin, Bolande filled the windows of the Lever House with old washing machines. The point of all three may be a bit obvious, but it is a worthwhile reminder that modernism wasn’t timeless or autonomous. Nor has it disappeared; like everything else, it just grows older.

Katy Siegel is assistant professor of contemporary art history and criticism at Hunter College, CUNY, and a frequent contributor to Artforum.