PRINT December 2001

Katy Siegel


1 Photojournalism Even if 2001 hadn’t gone down as a generally so-so year for cultural production, art would have been hard-pressed to compete with the papers—especially post-September 11. In the past few months, New York Times photographers (as well as those from the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and Al-Jazeera) have turned the front pages into an ever-changing gallery of history painting: airplanes, fallen towers, grieving firemen, grim National Guardsmen, Pakistani police beating demonstrators, Afghani refugees fleeing famine and American bombs, grinning airline execs and lobbyists feeding at the Capitol trough. These brilliant photographers responded to extraordinary events; the results were real, immediate, wrenching.

2 Gerhard Richter (Marian Goodman Gallery, New York) Room upon room of paintings that, at first look, seemed either closed off or intricately ugly; over time, the sophisticated palette opened up, and the paintings proved masterworks of touch. Richter mixed his familiar blurring and scraping with strokes and gestures that were always surprising, never gimmicky: swooping arcs, short, incisive cuts, unpredictable, off-center compositions. Although many of these works recall the artist’s gray paintings, the current pictures are decidedly more involving. The conceptual apparatus is strong, but more than that, Richter just paints better than everybody else. Who could believe he doesn’t believe in painting?

3 Harriet Korman (Lennon, Weinberg, Inc., New York) Perfection. Maybe these stunning abstract paintings don’t get talked about because they’re too difficult to talk about. Seeing them at Lemon, Weinberg was an experience curiously out of time—these are pictures neither burdened with nostalgia nor obviously beholden to current discourses of modernist revival or rejection. Absolutely new, yet as if they’d always been there. Perversely, for a critic, it’s nice on occasion to see art that not only doesn’t need you, but doesn’t even seem to want you.

4 Andreas Gursky (Museum of Modern Art, New York) The MOMA midcareer exhibition confirmed the generally held high opinion of this artist. The broad intelligence behind his encyclopedia of contemporary life was matched in its rigor only by the photos’ sweeping high modernism in all its formal incarnations: grids, stripes, chaotic allover compositions, flatness. Gursky gives our ungraspable, massively mediated modem world form as art.

5 Tom Friedman (New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York) Friedman’s DIY art deeply engages everyday materials: bubblegum, pubic hair, masking tape, toothpicks, shit, construction paper. His concentrated attention and consistent set of concerns can make anything into a serious artistic medium—he gives the same consideration to the physical qualities and nature of a tube of toothpaste that Pollock might have given a tube of oil paint. What will one pound of spaghetti do when boiled and dried? What does a piece of paper look like after it’s been stared at for 1,000 hours? These questions, and Friedman’s art, may seem excessively local at times, but they are one antidote to what can seem like the overwhelming conditions of the past few years: globalism, big theory, bull markets.

6 Vik Muniz, Clouds (New York City) This project, funded by Creative Time, was the best public art I’ve ever seen. Witty, beautiful, accessible—and, best of all, Muniz’s crop duster-drawn clouds disappeared after they were offered, like cotton candy. (How many steel slabs can do that?)

7 Vija Celmins (McKee Gallery, New York) More heavenly visions, in new paintings and prints of the night sky. Like Muniz, Celmins combines the concrete and the abstract (a particular piece of the sky and the image of the sky we all carry around in our heads). Modernism once aspired to address the universal viewer, a character we stopped believing in a few decades ago. But with her skies and stars, Celmins seems to have found subjects that are truly—literally—universal in their appeal.

8 Richard Estes (Marlborough Gallery, New York) After seeing Richter at Marian Goodman one last time, I happily wandered into Richard Estes’s show at Marlborough. These heroic genre paintings monumentalize the street: bodegas, women with baby carriages, and vast arrays of produce share urban space with windows reflecting and distorting enormous buildings across the street. Recognizing the comer of Sixth and Spring where a friend works almost gave me a heart attack. Such powerful illusionism in painting is still shocking after all these years.

9 R. Crumb Placemats (Paul Morris Gallery, New York) Offhandedly brilliant, these works were quotidian in the best sense of the word, without pretensions to being anything else. Crumb and his wife wend their way through Paris, eating and drinking and listening to outdated music—out-cranking even the French. Crumb represents the best of subcultural passion, an investment that cannot result in great art (which depends on a connection to a mainstream tradition), but inspires nonetheless.

10 The Crowd it is the dialectic of the one and the many that powers much of photojournalism, as well as much contemporary art, and this year the crowd shot was everywhere: in Paola Morsiani’s “Subject Plural” at Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum; in John Connelly’s terrific “More Than One,” a show of multiple portraits at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York this summer; in “Everybody Now,” which I curated with graduate students at Hunter College (but I credit the zeitgeist for the impulse); in “Uniform” at P.S. 1; and in the work of any number of contemporary artists, including Gursky and the ubiquitous and excellent Do-Ho Suh. The subject has been around since at least the nineteenth century, from the urban hordes surrounding Baudelaire’s flaneur to Marx’s masses. In today’s world, filled with us’s and thems, it resonates still more loudly.

Katy Siegel, a contributing editor of Artforum, teaches contemporary art history and criticism at Hunter College, CUNY.