PRINT Summer 2002


A New Monthly Diary by David Rimanelli

In Arts magazine from 1976 to 1990 critic, art historian, and onetime Artforum contributing editor Robert Pincus-Witten's vivid and frequently contentious missives recorded his comings and goings in the overheated art world of the ’80s. Beginning in this issue Artforum reprises the name and spirit of Pincus-Witten’s column with “Entries,” contributing editor David Rimanelli's new monthly diary chronicling his own adventures in the world of art today.


JULIAN SCHNABEL opens at Gagosian. A jolly, gaudy, back-to-the-’80s affair. Pretty people, ornate people, ridiculously dressed people. Hustlers and men who like dressing like hustlers. I met a nice woman who adorned her forehead with a spiral of Swarovski crystals.

The “Big Girl” paintings are really big, from 122 by 110 inches to 162 by 148. More than one person said “Ah, size does matter,” indulging their vin ordinaire vulgarity. The Big Girl works are based on a thrift-store painting Schnabel acquired in 1987. A broad swath of paint obliterates the eyes of each Big Girl. Robert Rosenblum, in his essay for the exhibition catalogue, mentions Baselitz's practice of painting the figure upside down so that you would concentrate on the painting itself rather than the image depicted. I was more forcefully reminded of Martin Kippenberger, who also took “junk” sources and repainted them, often subjecting the original images to all sorts of delightful, painterly assaults on taste and dignity. The art-historically minded may also catch a whiff of CoBrA/Situationist artist Asger Jorn.

Dinner at Pastis. The hors d’oeuvres movement of this Symphonie Fantastique featured lavish trays of the cuisine of concupiscence, fat shrimp and fleshy, scary oysters. Delicious, actually. Schnabel held court, the Picasso placeholder of our time. Al Pacino and his girlfriend Gina Gershon were ensconced at the table of honor. I was seated nearby and had to restrain myself from staring. Willem Dafoe came, but he’s a downtown fixture. Ben Gazzara, so great in those John Cassavetes films, was also in attendance, but he doesn't really look like a movie star; he looks like a guy in a suit. Even so, movie stars make better visual spectacles than art stars. Schnabel’s art aside, I think people respond to the largesse of his persona. He comfortably occupies the Great Artist role. And, unlike other ’80s-era artists who made movies (Robert Longo, David Salle, most recently Cindy Sherman), he really has gone Hollywood.

Lisa Dennison from the Guggenheim introduced me to “Jim” Rosenquist. Aside from “Nice to see you,” what could I say? “I love F-111”?

April 16

The galleys of the 100TH ISSUE OF OCTOBER, a special issue devoted to “Obsolescence,” arrived today. A hefty volume, some two hundred pages. Anniversaries are often hateful no less than joyous, with the psychic undertow of recrimination sometimes breaking through the manicured surface of celebration. For some two decades the journal—founded in 1976 by Rosalind E. Krauss and Annette Michelson (along with Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe) in part as a response to their dissatisfaction with the direction Artforum was taking—reigned supreme as the “resistant” organ of dense, theoretically driven art history and criticism. It was and remains distinguished also by its absence of gallery advertising, the parsimony of its strictly black-and-white reproductions, and its adherence to a mostly unchanged (and nevertheless quite stylish) black, white, and red cover design, a design that proclaimed its serious tone just as the name announced its revolutionary intentions. Perhaps inevitably, October has experienced its own graying over the past twenty-six years. The sense of excitement has dimmed considerably; many of the articles are less than must-reads; its founders and many of its contributors have themselves become thoroughly institutionalized. Strange, then, that in an issue taking obsolescence as a theme the continuing vitality of the journal itself is only scarcely addressed.

October 100 includes twenty-one artist responses to the question of obsolescence; a roundtable on “Obsolescence and American Avant-Garde Film”; essays by T.J. Clark and others. It also contains Rem Koolhaas’s “Junkspace,” a lengthy text without paragraphing by the radical architectural genius behind such recent masterpieces as the $40 million Prada store in SoHo. With no doubt unintentional humor, this piece is followed by Hal Foster’s “The ABCs of Contemporary Design.” But the most attention-getting element of October 100 is its concluding roundtable on “The Present Conditions of Art Criticism,” a double-double-toil-and-trouble pot of pointed critiques mixed up with a certain lack of reflexivity that seems odd among this group, and, for extra spice, a dash of bitterness and unrepressed hostility.

The roundtable included Krauss and fellow editors Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Hal Foster, and George Baker, who sort of acts as chair. Also in attendance were various art historians—David Joselit, James Meyer, Helen Molesworth—the artists John Miller and Andrea Fraser, and critic and MoMA curator Robert Storr. Early on Buchloh states his case about the decline of art criticism quite well: “Once the traditional assumption that artistic practices supposedly generate a critical if not utopian dimension of experience had withered away, we were left with a sense of the primacy of institutional and economic interests. . . . Now, all you have to have is the competence of quality judgments and high-level connoisseurship that serves as investment expertise. My exaggeration—and admittedly it is an exaggeration—serves to say that you don’t need criticism for an investment structure, you need experts. You don’t have criticism of blue chip stocks either.”

One of the most vivid bad objects is Dave Hickey; Peter Schjeldahl is another. Foster attacks the former, Baker the latter, each making more or less the same point about liberalish belletrism catering to an essentially anti-artistic vulgus, although Baker does so with considerably more rhetorical élan: “Schjeldahl is often involved in baiting the anti-intellectualism of the public that Hal highlighted earlier. That is one of his talents. He is only serious about the corpse of a certain understanding of art, and in keeping that corpse presentable for the public for which he writes.” Well, everybody has to be good at something. The overall anathematization of Hickey and Schjeldahl colludes with a general disapprobation for the glossy art magazines, Artforum in particular. This aspect is curious, given all the shared personnel (one of October’s editors, Yve-Alain Bois, and two advisory-board members, Thomas Crow and Molly Nesbit, are Artforum contributing editors; none of the three was included in the proceedings).

The “Artforum question” creates numerous amusing situations. An interchange between Buchloh, Foster, and Fraser turns on Buchloh’s contributions to the magazine. Fraser asks, “But Benjamin, you made an extreme all-or-nothing statement about the cultural landscape, and I'm just wondering if you see Artforum as part of the cultural landscape that you want to reject.” Answer: “Absolutely.” (Read: I publish in this magazine/I categorically reject what this magazine stands for.) Baker introduces the discussion with a quotation from Paul de Man’s “Criticism and Crisis.” Here might one detect the presence of a favorite de Manian trope, aporia—a blockage, an impasse, no way out?

An interesting rhetorical move occurs frequently during the roundtable: Participants feel the need to return to something said earlier and presumably left unfinished (e.g., “Going back to Rosalind’s comment for a moment. . .”; “But I would like to return to my earlier point about the withering away of criticism . . .”). One thing that is almost entirely excluded in these various “returns” is any form of commentary on the enormous power that leaders of the October group wield within the academy, more power than anybody writing art criticism—belletristic, feuilletonistic, or otherwise—could possibly imagine. Weird. Maybe the journal should be rechristened “December,” after a less glorious episode in Russian revolutionary history.

April 24–25

Invited to a panel discussion, “WOMEN IN THE ARTS,” in conjunction with an exhibition at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art devoted to Sue Williams’s post-filthy talk, abstractish paintings of the past several years. The panel itself did not explicitly address Williams’s art, but I kept wanting to blurt out “You know, the pictures she made about ten years ago looked really different from what you’re seeing here.” There wasn't a single painting representing that period in Williams’s development: no Try to Be More Accommodating, no Are You a Pro-Porn or Anti-Porn Feminist?. (I was pleased to see, however, her artist’s book, They Eat Shit, for sale at the ticket counter.) Instead the exhibition, curated by the Palm Beach ICA’s director, Michael Rush, traces Williams’s “painterly” development, beginning with a hint of Twombly, then progressing through Pollockoid all-overness and the oft-remarked recourse to effects derived from late de Kooning. Flaccid penises and pomegranate-like vaginas rise and swell within the wallpaper skeins of color before giving way, at last, to pure painting. Before I went down to Florida, I dropped in on the show of new paintings by Williams at 303. These feature broad strokes laid down with big brushes. I thought, Now she's doing Bernard Frize. It was all very Support-Surface. Sue Williams has become an appropriation artist, a sort of crypto–Sherrie Levine, redoing in veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) form the work of historic male “masters.” But I doubt very much that anybody cares.

April 30

More mail: VOGUE HOMMES, the Paris-based, soft-porn, handsome-men’s fashion magazine that is written almost entirely in English. Some interesting art coverage; for example, John Waters’s interview with Richard Serra. Question: “Now, I notice that you are very well dressed. I know it’s embarrassing to ask, but do you get a new outfit for Documenta?” Answer: “Come on, give me a break!” Question: “Have people ever had sex in [your sculptures]?” Answer: “Probably.” Waters also comments, “I’ve seen couples strolling hand in hand through the Torqued Spirals and I’ve thought, ‘how romantic.’ Richard, it’s glamorous to imagine being crushed by them. I mean you should jump out at the end and scare them.” Droll.

May 1

The premiere of Matthew Barney’s CREMASTER 3 AT THE ZIEGFELD THEATER, a benefit for special programming at the Guggenheim. At one point during the reception I overheard a sibilant hiss: “More like a benefit for the bankruptcy lawyers.” I saw Stella Tennant but not Björk, Barney’s girlfriend, who, rumor has it, is carrying his child. Before introducing Barney, the Guggenheim’s director, Thomas Krens, made a few remarks, followed by a conspicuous lack of applause. He asseverated that the Guggenheim’s presentation of “The CREMASTER Cycle” had been merely postponed, never canceled. During the intermission, Deborah Solomon, who’s writing a story for the New York Times on the museum’s, uh, difficulties, said that she had been in Krens’s office earlier that day and that they had been talking about my preview for the exhibition, which had just appeared in the May issue of Artforum. Was it true that people had talked about the show being canceled? Well, yeah. I didn’t make that up. It was even reported in the Times. I wish I’d queried Deborah more specifically on what Krens had said. Really, you just can't win, even when you’re delivering (very favorable) press.

The film started with an image of blue sea. There was no sound, but I thought, Well, it’s an art movie. Then Barney got up from his seat and stormed up the aisle. “Somebody turn on the sound!” It’s really amazing how things as elementary as this can get fucked up at such a high-profile event. The film looked incredible on the vast expanse of the Ziegfeld screen. Having already seen a rough cut of CREMASTER 3 on a monitor (i.e., TV set), I felt privileged to view it there. It’s hard to imagine another setting in which it could possibly look more splendid. I guess size does matter.