PRINT December 2000

Ralph Rugoff

1 “100 Days No Exhibition” (Salzburger Kunstverein) While the overriding tendency among museums was to kick off the millennium with a publicity-grabbing bang, Kunstverein director Hildegund Amanshauser decided to darken her gallery spaces and host a hundred-day series of symposia questioning the basic assumptions underlying current curatorial practices. At a moment when the international circuit is glutted with cloned exhibitions and pseudosensational shows, “100 Days” was exemplary—offering hope for a future beyond the knee-jerk reflexes of standard institutional fare.

2 Tom Friedman (Feature Inc., New York) Friedman’s splatter-film self-portrait as eviscerated corpse was one of the year’s indelible images. Meticulously fabricated from colored construction paper, the sculpture read like a metaphor for the violence of aesthetic experience. Looking at how works of art can tear preconceptions to shreds has been Friedman’s stock-in-trade for years, though the deceptive impact of his pieces is typically engineered with plenty of humorous ingenuity and a playfulness almost scientific in its precision.

3 Louise Bourgeois (Tate Modern, London) When Tate Modern opened last spring, the big attraction wasn’t the collection but the former power plant’s spectacular Turbine Hall, undoubtedly the most capacious museum lobby in the world. As a space for showing art, it is practically useless, however—unless an artist happens to possess the imaginative bravado of Bourgeois. Her triad of towers—I Do, I Undo, and I Redo—didn’t impress at first sight, but their vertigo-inducing stairways and distorting mirrors offered a nervy response to the hysteria generated by Tate Modern’s space. And by accommodating just one person at a time, Bourgeois’s structures insisted that art is also a private event, and a rewarding one for those willing to reciprocate the artist’s risks—not to mention wait in line.

4 Paul McCarthy (Hannover Expo 2000) McCarthy’s contribution to Expo 2000 has to be the most fantastically weird and utterly disconcerting public sculpture ever to grace a world’s fair. Boasting a vaginal mouth in addition to a jiggling phallic proboscis, the gigantic inflatable Chocolate Blockhead Nosebar Outlet towered above the surrounding attractions and national pavilions, suggesting a mutant version of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. The candy-bar vending machines placed under its hindquarters sweetened its monstrous sex appeal.

5 Jean-Luc Mylayne (The Photographers’ Gallery, London) Most animal photography is thinly disguised eco-porn, but Mylayne is an extraordinary exception. This miniretrospective featured color prints from the past twenty years (stateside, a similar range of his work was seen at Barbara Gladstone), almost every one offering a surprising twist to his ongoing meditation on the relationships among time, seeing, and photography. Whether blurring the outlines of his bird subjects so that they assume a shimmering transparency or presenting starlings and robins as camouflaged details in the larger landscape, Mylayne conveys a poignant sense of the precariousness of avian existence while also reflecting on the contingency of our own visual experience.

6 Gregor Schneider (Wiener Secession, Vienna) In his home outside Cologne, Schneider constructed a cunning domestic doppelganger, building duplicate rooms within existing ones and leaving crawl spaces behind the false walls. For the Vienna show, he exported his rebuilt basement, a fire inspector’s nightmare replete with shoddy wiring, dripping plaster, and dirt-smeared lamps. Entering the tiny doorway was like stepping through a Being John Malkovich-esque portal into the ultimate antimuseum space. Nothing else out there matches the obsessiveness and psychological claustrophobia of Schneider’s eerie aesthetic.

7 Michel Blazy (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) Visitors to the reopened Pompidou last January may have been perplexed by a gallery where paint peeled off the wall in blistering bubbles and collected like ashes on the floor. Blazy’s modest yet profoundly resonant intervention could pass for a turbulent abstract wall painting even as it served up an ironic commentary on the museum’s slick refurbishing. And like other ephemeral works in his show, its materials simultaneously surrendered and retained their familiar identity. The results humbly derailed all ready-made responses, persuasively inspiring viewers to leave behind the limits of either-or logic and embrace humble wonders.

8 Anthony Hernandez (Grant Selwyn Fine Art, New York and Los Angeles) Elegantly disturbing and rigorously fierce, Hernandez’s “Pictures for Rome” series was a perfect antidote to the ongoing love affair with the computer-driven architecture of hypercapitalism. Portraying the decaying viscera of aborted and abandoned buildings, these alluring, appalling images carefully observe the formal possibilities of economic collapse, disaster, and neglect. Recalling Smithson’s Hotel Palenque slide show, they uncover a quirky and at times sublime beauty in the distressed urban underworld they catalogue, prompting us to confront our sometimes embarrassing capacity for finding delight in the fruits of loss and ruin.

9 “Democracy!” (Royal College of Art, London) If democracy isn’t exactly the boilerplate issue of the day, this sprawling, anarchic survey of collective work made for a boisterous breath of fresh air. In one of the show’s few ironic gestures, the artists’ group De Geuzen, from Holland, contributed Democracy, a doormat to welcome visitors, but for the most part this decidedly earnest exhibition charted out a hybrid resurgence of ’70s-style activist art. The results weren’t always pretty to look at, but they made for an enlivening and provocative forum on how the fashion-conscious art world might expand its cramped horizons.

10 Martin Creed (Tate Britain, London) Placed above the grand entrance to the rechristened Tate Britain, Creed’s Work No. 232 delivered in muted neon a one-sentence sermon: “the whole world + the work = the whole world.” A stroke of curatorial genius. Has anyone said it better?

Ralph Rugoff is director of the CCAC Institute in San Francisco and Oakland.