PRINT December 2000

Lisa Liebmann


1 “1900: Art at the Crossroads” (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) I haven’t traveled much this year, so without this wonderful show I might not have met my quota of far-flung museum discoveries and strange reencounters in art. The exhibition, curated by Robert Rosenblum, Norman Rosenthal, MaryAnne Stevens, and Ann Dumas, inspired some remarkable off-the-record reactions. One normally sanguine colleague confessed at least half-seriously to feeling that certain people shouldn’t be allowed to see it: too dangerous for the uninitiate. “Maybe Alfred Barr was right,” she added. (An enormous triptych, The Stream, by Léon Fréderic—an avalanche of cavorting Aryan cherubim in picturesque sylvan settings—was the acid test of critical tolerance.) In truth, the show, with its textbook themes and its dependence on the 1900 Exposition Universelle as a fulcrum, was perfectly cogent and mannerly. Canonical masters, furthermore, usually prevailed in runoffs: Monet’s remain by far the best blurry bosks in the business. So fear not, all ye faithful—although gavels were best left behind. On a grand tour like this one, constant judgment clouds the eye.

2 Sol LeWitt (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) He’s on my list at all times. Conceptually and visually the grandest, most nearly perfect artist alive.

3 Francis Picabia (Michael Werner, Inc., New York) Absolute, drop-dead, delirium-inducing chic.

4 Jonathan Schwartz (WNYC-FM) By noon on Saturdays, when Schwartz beams in with his four-hour musical séance, I’m often in my car, perhaps parked outside a Chelsea gallery with the engine on, listening for all the world to see. Long known for his love of Sinatra, he also plays a lot of Sondheim—which is good. He has some poignant fixations, for example, the late Nancy LaMott, a soulful sledgehammer of a vocalist, with whom he closes every show. But he’s eclectic: He has reawakened me to the intricate pleasures of Steely Dan and gotten my husband to run out and buy Carly Simon’s new album, The Bedroom Tapes, for which I am grateful to all three. (Don’t ask, just play cuts 4 and 9.) If you need a hit of mid-cult, baby, Schwartz is your man.

5 Damien Hirst (Gagosian Gallery, New York) The best showman around since Jonathan Borofsky, circa 1980, but with a bigger point. This preposterously lavish exhibition, a science fair gone steroidally bonkers, made babies squeal with joy even as it made (nonichthyological) life itself look obsolete. The lab-technician automaton was a tour de surprisingly subtle force, and Hirst’s deadpan, pillbox-label-style deployment of the word vongole, part of a frieze of medicinal logos, made my day, maybe my week.

6 Joan Jonas (Dia Center for the Arts, New York) On a very cold night in late September, the forces gathered on the rooftop of the Dia building, as if reporting to graveyard-shift duty in the gulag. We huddled wherever we could, mostly against the glass walls of Dan Graham’s mean gazebo, and were treated to a magical display of son et lumière (well, mostly lumière: the sound technician’s problems led to a lot of reminiscing about the ’70s). Jonas’s rarely seen films and videos from 1968-76, projected onto two screens and atmospherically supported by a Greek chorus of giant illuminated billboards—stars of the Chelsea night—were both literally and poetically elemental. My favorite was Wind, 1968, in which a little bundled-up band of performers, shot by Peter Campus on a wintry Long Island beach, wage stoic battle against gusts and their own blustering clothes. Evocative, like many of Jonas’s works, of silent movies, it lent credence to my suspicion that this great, grave sprite of the North is a spiritual daughter to Buster Keaton and a fairy godmother to Björk.

7 Max Fäberböck, Aimée & Jaguar (Zeitgeist Films) Speaking of Björk, Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, wherein she looms large, hovers anxiously above this item: The freight-train musical sequence alone (not to mention casting Catherine Deneuve as an American factory worker and calling her “Kathy”) guarantees it a screening in heaven. But my heart belongs to the beautiful and reckless Jaguar: Maria Schrader’s is the most stylish and affecting portrayal of an offbeat wartime hero—a Jewish lesbian intellectual resistance worker in saturation-bombed Berlin—since Steve McQueen did his wheelies in The Great Escape. Great cast. Great costumes, too. And the incredibly good story is apparently true.

8 Pipilotti Rist (Luhring Augustine, New York) Another charmed sprite—the new Rebecca Horn: So far I’ve liked everything Rist’s done, but I worry this too could end.

9 Matali Crasset, Digestions I’ve long been wondering when someone would do something fun or interesting with those globally ubiquitous, plaid plasticized-paper carryalls. In any currency they cost under two dollars, and they definitely have a look. So three cheers for Crasset, who’s come up with something interesting and fun: an edition of modular furniture, each set comprising sixteen of these things, foam-stuffed, that you can toss around to form armchairs, couches, tables, beds, even whole conversation pits. (Four basic colored plastic trays are also included.)

10 Laurie Simmons and Peter Wheelwright, The Kaleidoscope House (Bozart Toys) Children today need to learn that life’s not just a big chintz cushion. Nor is decorating. This late modernist structure has sliding panels of colored plastic and a batch of accessories that includes miniature artworks by Cindy Sherman, Mel Kendrick, Simmons herself, and her husband, Carroll Dunham. A nuclear family of four, modeled on the dollhouse designers and some of their respective offspring, can be yours if you don’t already have one. (A gaggle of “Kaleidoscope Kids,” based on actual children, is also in the works, and my two-year-old daughter, Juno, will be among them.)

Lisa Liebmann is a writer based in New York.