PRINT December 2000

Vince Aletti


1 Saul Fletcher (Anton Kern Gallery, New York) Fletcher’s third show of unfashionably small color photos was his knottiest, most personal, and most resolved yet. Working within the very real confines of a parlor room in his London house, the artist imagines another, stranger world and peoples it with members of his family, theatrically transformed into black-comic figures. Fletcher himself appears as a hunchbacked ogre whose left leg ends in a long piece of shattered wood—a character in a fairy tale too frightening to tell. No less ominous were the still ides, arranged against a ruined plaster wall in a light just this side of sepulchral: an immense tangle of withered flowers, a row of tiny nooses, an obsessive cross-hatching of thread, dead birds in flight. In each of these oddly moving images, Fletcher stops time, then bends it like a magician.

2 Peter Hujar (Matthew Marks Gallery, New York) The nearly one hundred photographs on display were all from Hujar’s last years, and they read as a summing up, the cap to a body of work as dark as it was luminous. Hujar approached the world like a wary lover, eager to connect but primed for pain, so his pictures tend to spill all kinds of emotion without ever breaking a formal sweat. Hujar’s elegance is bare-boned but ravishing, maybe because it’s not a look, it’s a feel—not a way of framing his subjects, but a way of touching them and bringing them fully to life.

3 Walker Evans & Company" (Museum of Modern Art, New York) The Metropolitan Museum’s Evans retrospective was terrific, but Peter Galassi had something more radical in mind at MoMA. Without being in the least didactic, his show placed Evans at the center of a vast network of stylistic allusions ranging backward and forward in time from Atget to Ruscha, Sander to Struth. Leaping decades and eluding pigeonholes, the installation’s juxtapositions were not only apt but exciting. It’s a long way from Berenice Abbott to Andy Warhol—and even further to Robert Gober—but this show closed the gap.

4 Stephen Shore & Company some of the year’s best photography—by Danny Lyon, William Gedney, Walter Chappell, Bruce Conner, Robert Adams, Pierre Molinier, and Joel Meyerowitz—turned up in shows pitched as timely rediscoveries or revivals of work that had been neglected or unseen for years. None was timelier, though, than Shore’s show of ’70s landscapes at 303 Gallery, and not just because they provided a historic context for the Gurskys across the street at Matthew Marks a month earlier. Even kicked up a notch in size, his prints have a modesty that’s all out of proportion to their beauty, wit, and impact. Sometimes smaller is better.

5 Thomas Ruff (David Zwirner, New York) Big works just as well. Gursky’s LA supermarket, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Fidel Castro, and Catherine Opie’s larger-than-life-size Ron Athey as St. Sebastian all earned their magnificent scale, but Ruff really got under our skin. His enormous blowups of porn images, downloaded from websites and computer-manipulated into near oblivion, were nasty and almost nightmarish. At once chilly and overheated, an illusion within an illusion, they’re cybersex on the rocks. Cheers!

6 Steven Meisel Even more insidious than Ruff’s “Nudes,” Meisel’s fall ad campaign for Versace was the only one that mattered. Featuring nearly identical helmet-haired blond matrons posed primly in their exquisitely hideous homes, it’s the ill spin-off of a California series he’s been doing for Italian Vogue since March. The July issue’s bored young housewife story was Joan Didion by way of Lee Friedlander and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, yet somehow pure Meisel: brilliant and a little scary.

7 Cindy Sherman (Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles; Metro Pictures, New York) Not as scary, however, as the weird, witchy synergy between Meisel and Sherman this year. Her California girls look as if they might have appeared in one of his Vogue tableaux just before they finally fell apart. Impersonated with more affection than malice, they were fabulous grotesques—and a welcome return to metaportraiture after years of increasingly savage sex-toy torture. How could you not fall for these deluded babes with their painted faces and ratty wigs? Didn’t you almost run one over on Sunset Boulevard last summer?

8 Tim Gardner (303 Gallery, New York) Gardner’s little watercolors, all based on snapshots, have the same sort of longing, cunning, and offhand gorgeousness I like in pop songs. The pictures are about boys and the exuberance of boy things past—parties, pranks, pissing on the lawn—but these dumb anecdotes are so lovingly rendered that they look misty, almost mythic. Gardner, whose subjects are mostly friends and family, seems to be both of and outside this guy world, basking in its remembered glow but wary of its carelessness and dead-end glamour.

9 Vik Muniz (Brent Sikkema Gallery, New York) Muniz’s sophisticated but head-over-heels romance with media (sugar, string, dirt, wire, Bosco syrup) and mass media reached fever pitch with “Pictures of Ink.” The show’s centerpiece was what appeared to be a huge, magnified news photo of the Hindenburg explosion, though its pointillist web was rendered dot by dot in a mixture of ink and glycerine and quickly photographed before it dried. The sliest, shrewdest image in the series was a version of Sherman’s hitchhiker film still, so atomized it looked like it might evaporate. Icon to icon, dust to dust.

10 The Face The cover of the year may have been the Alexei Hay photo of Eminem sucking on a bong on the June issue of Dazed & Confused, but the magazine of the year was this brash ’80s relic that refuses to grow old. Now designed with a hard rain of typographic blocks splattering its covers and plenty of freehand script, The Face always looks sharp, and it still has some of the best fashion pages in a nonfashion magazine (the sex bomb: Sean Ellis samples Lisa Yuskavage). The clincher is photographer Sølve Sundsbø’s regular presence here. The way he tweaked the models into android perfection for the shell-sleeved twentieth-anniversary issue makes this year’s best-cover contest a photo finish.

Vince Aletti is art editor and photography critic of the Village Voice and a frequent contributor to Artforum.