PRINT December 2001

Daniel Birnbaum


1 Dominque Gonzalez-Foerster New pieces this year by the French artist underline her unique sense of atmospheric space—whether urban, cinematic, or architectonic. She moves deftly between genres, always conveying an unmistakable mix of ambience and light melancholy. Taking leave of the world of galleries and museums to put in an appearance at the Cannes film festival, she showed two new works. This year she also debuted her movie Plages, shot in Rio de Janeiro, which documents an enormous public artwork, the several-miles-long “drawing” by Roberto Burle-Marx on the sidewalk along the Copacabana. The strange imagery—partying throngs on the beach, fireworks, and heavy rain—reminds me first of Andreas Gursky, then Turner. Gonzalez-Foerster completed her first major public work in September at the Bonne-Nouvelle Métro station in Paris. With subtle materials (various forms of theatrical lighting, a monitor here and there) she transformed a subterranean piece of architecture into a giant cinematic fantasy. The platforms, with rows of lurid spherical lamps, are pure joy. It’s like a small-town amusement park. Who cares if the train is a few hours late?

2 Frankfurt and Beans After a year in the city on the Main and several heaping helpings of artist Thomas Bayrle’s risotto, I now know Frankfurt’s true contribution to contemporary art: food. Austrian artist Peter Kubelka’s two-course meal of film and experimental cooking established a Frankfurt Städelschule food-as-art (or art-as-food?) tradition, which lives on not only in the school’s regular seminar-cum-cookoff but in the wider art community as well. This year’s Cook’s tour: Sebastian Stöhrer’s Cockery Workshop on the fine art of producing Swabian noodles, at the Kokerei Zollverein in the city of Essen; and Hocine Bouhlou’s daily sensations at the Städel cafeteria, like the astonishing wildschwein I am digesting as I put pen to paper

3 Olafur Eliasson, “Surroundings Surrounded” (Zentrums fiir Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany) The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I knew many of the works,but the overall effect of these meditations on perception, science, and nature somehow amplifies the significance of the artist’s individual interventions, which, as we know, sometimes verge on the invisible.

4 Luc Tuymans (Venice Biennale) What makes Tuymans’s rather modest form of image-making so forceful and effective, I honestly can’t say. What I can say is that the Belgian painter’s fuzzy canvases have a severe impact. In Tuymans’s hands, the simplest of means—oil on canvas—becomes a weapon. Lumumba, his portrait of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s first prime minister—assassinated in 1961, a year after the former Belgian colony’s independence—forms the center of this ruthless one-man interrogation. A welcome contribution to the anachronistically nationalist art event.

5 Carsten Höller, Light Corner (Schipper & Krome, Berlin) The Germany-based artist’s aggressive and hallucinatory wall of blinking light bulbs not only produced a shock of luminosity so forceful that viewers had to shield their eyes; it also radiated incredible waves of heat. The force of the pulse itself produced perceptual effects I still can’t explain. That some of the lamps nearby were rigged to mysteriously blink on and off seems clear, but how come streetlights miles away suddenly seemed to flicker? Maybe my brain has been permanently altered.

6 Yayoi Kusama The simple mirror ball, adequately displayed, opens unknown universes of distorted perspective. Installed in my tiny apartment, the artist’s recent edition makes everything look not only larger but also baffling. Thanks to Kusama I now live in a state of anamorphosis. And all for a mere twenty bucks.

7 Maurizio Cattelan Normally one can’t miss a work by the Italian artist—the pope flattened by a meteorite, a little version of Adolf Hitler praying in an otherwise empty kunsthalle. But the piece he realized for the Yokohama Triennale was hidden next to a bank of elevators that visitors had no reason to use. A liliputian replica of the real thing, complete with automatic doors, sound system, and so on, it was the most playful thing around. Pushing the tiny button over and over again, I couldn’t help hoping for a Mini-Me Maurizio to appear next time the doors opened.

8 Jonas Dahlberg In the the artist’s smart video installations and architectural models, elevators travel upward without reaching the top and hotel corridors extend infinitely. Some of Dahlberg’s works give a mist to that staple of the new century: surveillance footage and realtime imagery. Big Brother is surely watching—not you and me but his own miniature fantasy worlds. Recent shows in Stockholm, London, and Karlsruhe make me curious. More, please.

9 Tacita Dean (Museu d’Art Contemporani Barcelona) The survey of Dean’s recent works made it clear to me that this artist, known for her 16 mm projections, is just as much a sound artist as a filmmaker. Her acoustic spaces are seemingly unbounded: dreams of the sea, of distant harbors, long-dead sailors, and the crash of storms.

10 Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, Memorial Project Nha Trang, Vietnam—Towards the Complex—For the Courageous, the Curious, and the Cowards (Yokohama Triennale) In saluting a generally awful year, I thought to reduce the list to nine, but I could not forgo mentioning this Japanese-Vietnamese artist’s strange underwater video, which conveys an unlikely fantasy of human life at the bottom of the ocean: an army of rickshas pedaled through the water. It made my trip to the first Yokohama Triennale worthwhile.

Daniel Birnbaum, a contributing editor of Artforum, is director of the Städelschule art academy and the Portikus gallery in Frankfurt