PRINT January 2001

International Shorts

Barry Schwabsky, Michael Archer, Rachel Withers

HAVE ALL THE GREAT OLD BODY artists given up on raw, in-person performance? Not really, but even those who have bring a special sense of immediacy to their work in other media. The Arnolfini in Bristol is focusing on a couple of classic American performance artists who have turned their attention to different modes of artmaking. Vito Acconci’s first major British show (Jan. 14–Mar. 4) focuses on his recent work—proposals for public projects on an architectural scale. Their installation will itself be an Acconci project. Next comes the first UK show, period, of Eleanor Antin (Mar. 18–June 6), which will present, by contrast, a broad range of her work (photography, installations, and so on) from the ’70s to the present, thereby introducing the British to her various alter egos, such as the black Russian ballerina Eleanora Antinova. For veteran Actionist Hermann Nitsch, making a painting is a kind of performance in itself; his fortieth “paint action” in 1997 resulted in the vast floor work that will undoubtedly contrast spectacularly with the Baroque decor of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna (Feb. 15–Apr. 29).

Jumping from the Dionysian abandon of an artist like Nitsch (a normally level-headed reference book informs us that the Actionists “represent the most unsavory, sadomasochistic trends” in performance) to the coolness of commercial logos might seem unwarranted, but performance and design are really two sides of the same coin: Both blur the boundaries between art and daily life. One link is the commodity, and its celebratory poet is the adman: Among the best is Italy’s outstanding graphic artist, Armando Testa (1917–92). A retrospective at the Castello di Rivoli (Feb. 21–May 13) will show how he spun out his extraordinarily fertile visual gift in the realms of advertising, book illustration, and television. At the Stazione Leopolda in Florence, “Uniform: Order and Disorder 1950–2000” (Jan. 11–Feb. 18), curated by Francesco Bonami, Maria Luisa Frisa, and Stefano Tonchi, focuses on a single category of clothing as it has been reflected in art, fashion, film, and pop culture. If the liberating transformations that this “prototype of men’s clothing” has undergone in the last half-century make you want to go out and blow a month’s salary on new duds, you might be able to sublimate your urge by taking a trip to Vienna, where the Generali Foundation will present “Shopping” (Jan. 24–Apr. 15), an examination of our civilization’s great pastime, curated by Anette Baldauf, Katharina Weingartner, and Dorit Margreiter. Although part of the show will be devoted to “Shopping and Artistic Practice,” including artists from all over the world who explore the theme with photographs, objects, installations, and videos, its point of departure is an ethnographic examination of shopping as an everyday ritual.

Constructed space—rooms, buildings, cities—on the other hand, brings aesthetics into daily life. In “New Settlements” at the Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center (Mar. 23–May 6), curator Jacob Fabricius uses the work of artists like John Bock, Chris Burden, and Cady Noland to examine Utopian and mythological presentations of building and dwelling. At the Barbican Gallery, London, the Modern Institute and Lars Bang Larsen present “Pyramids of Mars” (Feb. 8–Mar. 25), in which Dan Peterman, Andrea Zittel, the Danish group Superflex, and others speculate on “real and fictional ways to change lives and lifestyles,” likewise looking back to the Utopian aspirations of the ’60s and forward to “new models of social empowerment.” “Homes for the Soul: Micro-Architecture in Medieval and Contemporary Art” at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (Jan. 17–Mar. 18), may take a longer view of this theme: Curators Stacy Boldrick and John Cherry plan to juxtapose medieval objects from the collection of the British Museum (censer covers, pilgrim badges, a book of hours) with architecturally oriented works by contemporary artists like Thomas Schütte and Mike Kelley, all representing “a symbolic place of safety for the human spirit.” That’s an apt description of the extraordinary sculpture of Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez, which takes the form of fantastic architectural models made of everyday materials like bottle caps, cardboard, and tinfoil. Curator Yilmaz Dziewior, the new director of the Kunstverein, Hamburg, will present about twenty-five works, including several room-filling depictions of entire cities, dating from 1985 to the present (Mar. 3–May 6).

Once you start looking at how porous the boundaries are between art and the everyday, you see the leakage everywhere. It’s in the video and installation works of Kim Soo Ja, who unfolds and arrays her bundles of used, brightly colored clothes and sheets differently in each situation (Kunsthalle Bern, Feb. 3-Mar. 18); in the conceptual and site-specific works of William Anastasi, whose aesthetic of chance allows him to turn any undertaking, even a ride on the subway, into an occasion for artmaking (Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, Jan. 7–Mar. 11); and in Luisa Lambri’s photographs and videos on modern architecture, in which unexpected details and evocative atmosphere show familiar spaces in unfamiliar ways (Kunstverein Ludwigsburg, Jan. 21–Mar. 11). Most of all, perhaps, it’s in the work of two great artists being shown posthumously in Barcelona this season. The enigmatic literary and visual constructs of Catalan avant-gardist Joan Brossa (1919–98), too little known abroad, parallel the work of contemporaries as distinct as Marcel Broodthaers and Brossa’s compatriot Antoni Tapies. The exhibition at the Fundació Joan Miró (Feb. 23–May 6) will be the most comprehensive presentation to date of his work. And MACBA will show the work of Dieter Roth (1930–98), the peripatetic German who used every medium imaginable to make art out of the quotidian—as anyone knows who saw his swan song, 128 video screens worth of passing time at the last Venice Biennale (Apr. 12–June 6).

—Barry Schwabsky

Ocean Views

Tacita Dean’s films, drawings, and sound pieces are at once highly structured and intensely lyrical. Their subject is film and the conventions of the medium, yet they are full of the imagery of yearning and escape: seacoasts, oceanic journeys, drowning. She will show two new films this season: one as part of her first major exhibition in England, a survey of her work of the past five years at Tate Britain, London (Feb.15–May 6); a second in Barcelona, alongside sound pieces, video, drawings, photographs, books, and eight other films (MACBA, Jan. 25–Mar. 26).

—Barry Schwabsky

Modern Days

As Britain’s millennium effort at the ill-fated Dome peters out, the Barbican Gallery remembers a conspicuous success for the scepter’d isle: the 1951 Festival of Britain, at which Robin and Lucienne Day decisively established “Contemporary” as the style of the moment. Guest curator Lesley Jackson will present the full range of the Days’ activities from the ’40s to the present, including Robin’s furniture and graphic, exhibition, and media design and Lucienne’s textiles, wallpapers, and silk mosaics. Chances are you know Robin’s furniture already: His ’60s molded-polypropylene designs made for the most widely distributed chairs—ever (Feb. 8–Apr. 15).

—Michael Archer

Take 2

“Sometimes, as I watch a film,” says Pierre Huyghe, “I find myself unable to tell the storyboard from its representation. Instead of seeing a film, I experience a transcription.” And in fact “transcriptions of films” might best describe Huyghe’s works—which are not always themselves intended for the screen, though his best-known projects are essentially reworkings of features (Dog DayAfternoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The American Friend). This spring, ten multimedia installations at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (Feb. 24–Apr. 22) will provide the opportunity to observe the poignant or provocative differences produced by his antithetical transcriptions.

—Barry Schwabsky

On the Map

In the 70’s, Li Yuan-chia turned his home in the small town of Banks into the LYC Museum, a venue for local and international artists. Discovering the artist’s own work, however, has not been much easier than locating the tiny Cumbrian village on an English road map. Curator Guy Brett’s show promises to point the way where Li’s achievements are concerned. A leader in the development of Chinese abstraction in the late ’50s, Li (1929–94) aligned himself with Bolognese Punto group in the early ’60s. Brett celebrates Li’s vital syncretism, a hybrid of Eastern philosophy and Western avant-gardism (Camden Arts Centre, London, Jan. 26–Mar. 18; Abbott Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, Mar. 28–June 3; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, July 6–Sept. 9).

—Rachel Withers