PRINT January 2002


“THEY ARE CONFRONTATIONAL, TOUGH,” says Cady Noland about the artists she brings together here. “WHUT CHOO LOOKIN AT, MOFO?” asks Adrian Piper’s alter ego in Self Portrait as a Nice White Lady, 1995. It’s a question of who’s welcome, who’s allowed in and who’s not. It’s a question of “hosts” and “guests.” The viewer may not be the only one who feels uneasy—the artists themselves take considerable risks. Chris Burden’s early performances, for example, posed obvious dangers to the artist—aesthetic, physical, and moral. Willing to break a “‘fourth wall”—in Burden’s case, his own skin—these artists are also keen “to get the last word,” Noland says. Burden’s collages consist of reviews of his work bearing the artist’s marginalia. He’s shooting back—even, as Noland puts it, at the risk of “shooting himself in the foot.”

In Konrad Klapcheck’s work, the machine is host. Here Noland sees “the weight of German historical machinery, both literally and figuratively.” These painted machines are silent and smooth, hiding their secret behind a “well-oiled” perfection. Like Burden and Piper, Lorraine O’Grady operates at the edges of performance art, “defining its tense and bitter borders.” Breaking the fourth wall rids us of all sense of fiction. In the course of O’Grady’s disruptions—crashing an opening, for instance—she would spit out poems about art and race. “This work reclaims dignity at the cost of making the artist so difficult as to court the possibility even the probability, that she’ll be ignored altogether,” Noland observes. “The irony is that dignity can be reclaimed through such nondecorous means.” In Kathe Burkhart’s inhabitation of Elizabeth Taylor's persona, we get the late Liz, the full-bodied connoisseur of “food, dudes, ’ludes, and booze.” Here the host appears as self-sufficient consumer; as, in Noland’s words, a “living repudiation of the fallacy that appetites are the province of men.”

Daniel Birnbaum