PRINT December 2001

Robert Rosenblum


1 Santiago Calatrava, Bilbao Airport It couldn’t have been easy, even before September 11, to rediscover the joyous, gravity-defying thrill of air travel, but Calatrava has done it. A light-drenched update of Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK (1956-62), this aviary, with its supersonic wingspread, is perched as if ready to soar, transforming arriving and departing passengers into blithe spirits. Another kudos for Bilbao architecture.

2 Clyfford Still (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC) The least sighted and most ornery of the AbEx constellation, Still was long overdue for another appearance on earth. The swan song of Hirshhorn director James Demetrion, this intense slice (1944-60) of Still’s career rekindled an older generation’s faith in the painter’s craggy genius. And for a younger generation, there were also surprises, not only in the paired presentation of Still’s paintings and his own deceptive replications of them (shades of de Chirico and Warhol!) but also in the discovery that, as Philip Taaffe has shown us, all this rhetoric of cosmic stone and fire might become gorgeous decoration.

3 Frank Stella (Universität Jena) Stella received a well-deserved apotheosis at this venerable university, where Professor Franz-Joachim Verspohl’s huge exhibition focused on the artist’s recent obsession with Heinrich von Kleist, the strangest of German Romantic writers. Slowly, the apparent chaos of these cyberspace eruptions (one of which, The Prince of Homburg, has just landed in front of the National Gallery) yields an inevitable but unfamiliar order that marries method and madness. For these unexpected dialogues between art and literature, Stella has found his ideal reader in Melville scholar Robert K. Wallace, whose just-published study of the artist’s responses to the 135 chapters of Moby-Dick paved the way for his Jena catalogue essay on how this unswerving defender of pure abstraction has re-created Kleist’s fantastic narratives.

4 Takashi Murakami (Marianne Boesky Gallery and Grand Central Terminal, New York) Murakami makes the word two-dimensional sound as obsolete as three-dimensional now is for Stella’s galactic explosions. These psychedelic profusions of free-floating images (Cyclopean eyes and magic mushrooms), defined by cartoon-sharp contours and vivid colors, are set afloat in a vacuum-packed space so thin that the artist had to coin a new word, super flat, to describe this mutation of Japan’s shadowless art. And when, in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall, he set aloft three helium-filled UFOs covered with comic strip eyes, he launched some new ideas for Macy’s next Thanksgiving Day parade.

5 “Spectacular Bodies” (Hayward Gallery, London) We’re all trapped in our bodies, but this vast exhibition, curated by Martin Kemp and Marina Wallace, made us look at our wet insides and dry outsides as if for the first time. A perfect mix of science fair and capsule history of art, the displays moved from Leonardo and Rembrandt to Bill Viola and Marc Quinn, embracing en route everything from obstetrics and wax anatomical models to theories of hysteria and cryogenics. It was a lesson not only about the body’s infinite mysteries but about how often in the last five centuries art and science have been one.

6 Ron Mueck (James Cohan Gallery, New York) Speaking of bodies, the legacy of Duane “Frankenstein” Hanson keeps growing. Mueck’s creepy variations on the waxworks theme turned us into modem Gullivers. A Brobdingnagian head, worthy of Goliath, lay on its side, permitting us to peek into its slightly open mouth and glimpse a bit of gum and spittle; while over in Lilliput, a naked woman appeared stunned by the miracle of birth while staring at the infant crawling up her belly from her bloody loins. May Mueck’s tribe increase!

7 Maurizio Cattelan (Royal Academy of Arts, London; Galeria Zacheta, Warsaw; Christie’s, New York) Another nod to Hanson, Cattelan’s The Ninth Hour announced the end of the world or, at least, of Christian faith. There, right before our eyes, a meteor from godless outer space has struck the surpreme pontiff himself, leaving a fallen idol clutching a crucifix on a floor covered with shattered glass. As credibly real as a news photo, the tableau vivant set off alarms of heresy and, when seen in Warsaw, was even vandalized by two MPs from the Catholic nationalist party. Should the Brooklyn Museum be its next venue?

8 “Picasso Erotique” (Jeu de Paume, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montreal; Museu Picasso, Barcelona) No one’s better at blasphemy than Picasso, especially when it comes to sex, this exhibition’s engine. In one crucifixion drawing (1938), the Magdalene fondles Christ’s genitals, and in the outrageous variations on Ingres’s Raphael and La Fornarina, 1968, even a Renaissance pope turns into a Peeping Tom who, behind curtains or seated on a chamber pot, watches the divine Raphael paint and fornicate at the same time. For Picasso, as proved by this dazzling, lifelong anthology of everything from schoolboy dirty pictures to bittersweet old-man memories, lust conquers all.

9 Six Feet Under (HBO) As for sex and death, Alan Ball’s HBO series lit up every Sunday evening. In a funeral home littered with freshly embalmed corpses of all ages, the saga of a mortician’s dysfunctional family and its wayward sexual adventures unfolds. A marriage of The Addams Family and David Lynch, this pushes the American grotesque to new extremes.

10 “Vies de Chiens” (Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris) For dog nuts and even sane people, this high-style survey of canine culture, sumptuously designed by Jacques Garcia, was bliss. As if Rococo doghouses and poufs weren’t enough, there were portraits of pampered pooches, Spanish dog armor, and even videos of Karl Lagerfeld’s matching mistress-and-dog clothing. Could Marie Antoinette be alive and well?

Robert Rosenblum, a contributing editor of Artforum, is professor of fine art at New York University and a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.