PRINT December 2001

Lisa Liebmann


1 New York Times Photo Editing Beginning with local shots on September 12 and moving on to Afghanistan, with a steady succession of scenes involving soldiers of the Northern Alliance, refugees at the Pakistani border, and children in harsh surroundings, dire circumstances, and brilliant clothes, the New York Times’s images have been packing the dramatic and chromatic punch of paintings by Delacroix. Needless to say, many photojournalists deserve individual praise, but my year-end kudos goes to the paper’s photo editors and printers, whose decisions concerning scale, tone, and placement have served photographers and readers, as well as the ideals of empathy and reason, with fidelity and an eye.

2 Luc Tuymans (Belgian Pavilion, Venice Biennale) With a group of paintings addressing his government’s legacy in the Congo—the most purely craven colonial enterprise in modem European history—Tuymans transcended his 1997 beau moment at MOMA. Whistlerian in their finesse and faintness, focused on both the ceremonial and the quotidian—a royal leopard skin and a red fez, a man peering out the window of a Third World International Style facade—these works support a lot of queasy cargo. They are based on journalistic images from the ’50s and ’60s, when Belgium was setting about its business of undermining Congolese independence by engineering (and covering up) the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. An epilogue, pained and luminous, to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

3 Shlrin Neshat (Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York) Neshat’s films, in all their rhythmic urgency, live smack in the eye of the global storm. It has become impossible to rid one’s mind of them. There have been signs of impending Koyaanisqatsi-ness: Her recent collaboration with Philip Glass seems to morph into a fifteen-year-old British Airways commercial every now and again. Still, she’s a maestro of mood and imagery and a talented director of actors. Shohreh Aghdashloo, as the crazed woman in Possessed, is an Anna Magnani for this epoch.

4 Judith Linhares (Edward Thorp Gallery, New York) At last! A satisfying show of recent paintings by this fantastic artist. The flowers in some of those small, intense and awkward, almost animistic still lifes seemed to be sucking the water up from their vases before one’s eyes.

5 A Warholian Trifecta We seem to be living in, among other things, Andy’s afterlife. Three Warholian enterprises last year (well, four, if you include the brouhaha surrounding the Fred Hughes memorial and estate sale) have variously reframed the work he made, the life he led, and the one he’s left us with: (a) Deborah Kass (Blaffer Gallery, Houston, TX). Kass is a vigorous, unsubtle artist who over the years has occasionally switched her brand of artillery, but has always stuck to her guns. For the better part of the last decade, she’s been appropriating AW’s image gestalt, minus the off-register printing effects, in the spirit of both homage and polyvalent polemical correction—thus Barbra Streisand as “The Jewish Jackie,” Cindy Sherman in the manner of a Liza portrait; Gertrude Stein as a “Mao,” and the artist herself as you-know-who in his Marilyn/Candy-wig demidrag. (b) Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story. It’s safe to suggest that Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont exercised considerable patience in portraying their intelligent, obsessive-compulsive, pug-loving, but otherwise often rather hateful subject. Now in her sixties, the Factory’s former Big Girl is thin, more or less, in a flinty, the-hell-with-it way, and rarely ventures from the Upper East Side. The emotional climax of the film takes place outside the Chelsea Hotel, where she is overcome by anxiety and refuses to enter. (c) Andy Warhol. Wayne Koestenbaum, as usual, is inspired—especially on the subject of AW’s films, which he rightly exalts to the upper reaches of the canon. He’s exhausting, too, with his dazzling but relentless, psychosemantical associations. Still, how not to love someone who, in discussing the master’s dead cat, Hester, writes: “Pussy Heaven—an insensitive, jocular phrase—sounds like misogynist slang for a brothel or harem, where homo Andy would hardly have felt at ease. Thus when he says ’pussy heaven’—with a mocking, faux-naive pretense that the word ’pussy’ refers only to cats and not to vaginas or effeminate men—he projects an afterlife in which Julia Warhola and their beloved kitties survive, a locale of keen emotion, where there is no need for Pop, the anesthetic for death-by-spaying.”

6 “Alfred Hitchcock et l’art: coincidences fatales” (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) A foyer full of the famous fetishes (the binoculars from Rear Window, etc.) encased and lit as jewels led to a show involving all mediums and just about every conceivable aspect of its prismatic theme—even religion (Hitchcock and Rouault!). Particularly good on The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926) and related, little-known artworks from the 1920s, this was a sprawling, hugely entertaining exhibition, curated by Dorninique Paini and the ever-canny and resourceful Guy Cogeval.

7 Italie 1880-1910 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) An eye-popping array of wonderful, esoteric, and regional stuff. Highlights included a trove of small sculptures by the underestimated Paolo Troubetzkoy, a very large, multifaceted head by the totally weird protofascist Adolfo Wildt, and an enormous painted scene of a peasant rebellion, by Pellizza da Volpedo, which Bertolucci lifted for the closing shot of 1900.

8 Rachel Whiteread (Trafalgar Square and the Serpentine Gallery, London) Elegant, elegiac, weather-sensitive in their translucence—hers are the best grand-manner public sculptures around. Indoors, those old mattresses, cast in wax, looked surprisingly fresh.

9 Tim Gardner (303 Gallery, New York) A beautiful show of small, expertly rendered watercolors on a hip and gently twisted branch of the Winslow Homeric tradition, of (mostly) guys fishing, camping, or hanging out.

10 Lucinda Devlin (“Plateau of Humankind,” Venice Biennale) Exquisitely banal death chambers: a photographic indictment.

Paris-based writer Lisa Liebmann has contributed to Artforum since the early 1980s.