PRINT November 2002


A monthly diary by David Rimanelli

September 12

“FERUS” AT GAGOSIAN, a tribute to the Los Angeles gallery, epicenter of ’60s West Coast vanguardism. A queue at the door. “Stefania, can we just go in?” At times like this, one really appreciates knowing gallery personnel, even if one feels sucked into a cheesy time warp, as if pathetically cozying up to the doormen at Studio 54 or Area.

Masterpieces, masterpieces. Frank Stella’s D., 1963, apparently the only painting from the “portrait” series—the “D.” in question here being Emile de Antonio—that retains its original purple, the metallic paint of the others having faded to a silvery mauve. Ealan Wingate, Gagosian’s director, explains that D. kept its luster because it’s been in storage for the past thirty-odd years. Irving Blum (a Ferus principal from 1960-67) on Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962: “the best $1,000 I’ve ever spent!” (In 1996, Blum donated the set to MoMA as a partial gift and got a reported $15 million.) Hassel Smith: Bay Area AbEx painter hitherto unknown to this writer. The Triumph of Gargoylism, 1957, looks strikingly prescient with respect to Carroll Dunham’s work. Murderous red/orange palette overall, with hints of figuration, very like fragments of the toothy knife- and gun-wielding thugs in Dunham’s recent paintings.

Perusing the photos in the accompanying catalogue. Why does the past look so much better than the present? Just nostalgia? Everyone looks so cute, glamorous, fun. It helps that most of the art’s really great. I asked Blum what he thought: “It really had to do with the timing. Something was happening on the West Coast, and something was definitely happening in New York. I was lucky to catch the wave.”

September 19

ROBERT WHITMAN’S performance Ghost, 2002, at Pace Wildenstein, provided another opportunity for time travel to the halcyon days of the neo-avant-garde. The performance defies concise description. Suffice to say that it begins with a woman sitting silently in profile, a bit like Whistler’s Mother, while negative-image figures projected on a backdrop walk back and forth. As the performance progresses, the stage is defaced/destroyed/repaired. Sticks project from the walls; a beam suddenly crashes to the floor; a man cuts a door into the wall, through which he then disappears; subsequently another guy plasters and paints the wall shut.

Regarding the putative whimsy of Happenings Whitman tells me: “The artists were deadly serious about their work. Allan [Kaprow], Claes [Oldenburg], and Jimmy [Dine] were trying to get attention for their painting and sculpture, but this was the major effort for me.” On recognition: “You hang around long enough and I guess something starts to happen. One of my heroes is Barnett Newman, and we had studios in the same building in the early ’60s. He used to yell at me, ‘Hey Bob, you just got to outlive the bastards.’” Next year Dia is mounting a major Whitman exhibition: “They’re showing mostly early film pieces from the ’60s, time-based works. They don’t just squat there like a statue—well, maybe a few of them do, but it’s not Henry Moore.”

September 20

YBA WEEKEND in New York. Night one: SAM TAYLOR-WOOD at Matthew Marks. A plethora of spangled, beaded dresses flashing like so many emergency signs, but I didn’t recognize any celebs, though someone told me Elizabeth Hurley was in attendance, and that’s got to count for something. Where was Robert Downey Jr.? The first thing one sees upon entering the gallery is a large film projection of Taylor-Wood cradling the loin-clothed, crash-and-burn actor in the manner of a pietà. Pain and suffering: Everything about the anti-Tom Cruise defies the twelve-step weltanschauung. He’s got to be one of the most arresting stars of our time. Sir Elton John didn’t make it until day two, when he and Taylor-Wood signed editions of the artist’s music video (I Want Love), starring Downey Jr., improbably, as Sir Elton. Proceeds go to gay youth via the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

The festivities were interrupted by a jaunt uptown to JEFF WALL at Marian Goodman. Priceless Wall quote in the October W. “I saw Robert Gober at an art fair one time, and he said to me, joking, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the one who’s responsible for all this bad photography now.’ I didn’t want to say to him, ‘Yeah, and you're responsible for all this bad installation art.’ But I should have.”

Characteristic color transparencies mounted on light boxes as well as black-and-white photographs, which Wall describes as “examples of my interest in what I call ‘near documentary.’” Unlike the theatricalized tableaux that first won him fame, these pictures more closely approximate “real life” encounters. Wall, however, dismisses the notion that there is some kind of rift within his corpus: “I’ve always done near documentary; I just feel a stronger preference for that kind of picture these days. A picture like The Vampires’ Picnic was an experiment with or an attempt at a comic allegory. That was a direction, or an impulse, which I value but which I don’t feel I’ll go much further with, unless the mood strikes me again.”

Aside from After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Preface,1999-2001, which was shown last summer at Documenta 11, the works in this exhibition do retain a strong connection to a certain idea of “realism.” At the same time, Wall exploits extraordinarily complex and rather labor-intensive means to achieve placid, “empty” scenes, vistas in which apparently nothing special is going on—the rock covered with graffiti, the streetlights at dawn. Lacking the obvious—at this point in the artist’s career, crowd-pleasing?—props of the Invisible Man piece, these quieter works are nevertheless a little further from rather than a little nearer to documentary as these things go. Other than Rainfilled Suitcase, 2001, which Wall says he photographed in ten minutes, the images are built up with the same sort of elaborate preparations as Invisible Man and like works (Dawn, 2001, for example, comprises elements of eight separate shots; to achieve the desired effect, the streetlights were photographed at another time of day and digitally dropped into the daybreak” scene); knowing this, the viewer cannot help but impute a certain narrative or allegorical intention that straightforward documentary doesn’t immediately suggest, and the quality of mystery is arguably only heightened in those pictures devoid of figures. All the same, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Wall continues to rifle through his compendious art-historical and theoretical trousseau for angles of approach in these latest works.

After the opening, a sedate dinner at a midtown trattoria. Wall seated between Michael Fried, who has taken up the artist as one of the few working today worthy of his interest, and Ann Temkin, rumored to be up for Kirk Varnedoe’s position at MoMA. Hmmm. . . . At any given moment, there seems to be a Wall retrospective somewhere around the globe. Still,guess it doesn’t hurt to keep an extra iron in the fire.

Back to Chelsea to catch the end of Taylor-Wood party, but it had already broken up. Regardless, scoured the far West 20s for Bungalow 8, the location of the after event does the party never end?

September 21

TRACEY EMIN at Lehmann Maupin, recently relocated to Twenty-sixth Street. YBA attendees rather the worse for wear after the Taylor-Wood fandango. Regarding the show itself, nice red monoprint of a kitty with text: NOT A HAPPY KITTEN IN FACT I’D SAY IT WAS A DOG. Works in, well, just about all media, including an “abortion quilt.” (Didn’t she do an abortion quilt in her last show?) Kitty aside, terrible. At least the gallery, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is sort of interesting. Plywood walls and a calculatedly distressed-looking plastic curtain drawn across the storefront window, the address spelled out in blocky white letters. Avant-desuetude.

September 25

Arrive in South Korea for MEDIA_CITY SEOUL, the city’s second attempt at a biennial. This time around, the curatorial perspective is more clearly delimited: strictly new-media art. When Cody Choi, an artist who was one of the driving forces behind the show, asked me if I would consider serving as an adviser, I replied that I was flattered but I knew nothing whatsoever about new-media art and didn’t think I liked it regardless. But he persuaded me.

September 26

LUNCH WITH JEAN BAUDRILLARD and various Media_City participants and operatives at a restaurant near the Changgyeonggung Palace, the largest of several royal residences in the environs of downtown Seoul. My conversation with Mssr. Baudrillard was brief and fragmented. What to talk to Mme. Baudrillard about? Oh yes, what do you think of Catherine Millet’s La vie sexuelle de Catherine M.? She expressed skepticism as to the extent and voracity of her exploits. Forty sodomizations per night, every night? We agreed Millet would necessarily be hospitalized—make that dead. And where does she find the time to edit Art Press? Baudrillard hadn’t read the book.

Big deal opening for Media_City that night. A Masterpiece Theater-type baroque fanfare heralded the entrance of Lee Myung-bak, the mayor of Seoul, followed by a son-et-lumière production featuring the opening chorus from Orff’s Carmina Burani—“O Fortuna, velut luna.” Kinda makes sense, as the show’s subtitle is “Luna’s Flow,” the concept being that in eras past people stared up at the moon at night, but today they stare at the tube. But then the theme music from The Omen exploded with satanic majesty. Irony? Hard to tell given the anfractuosities of global (mis)understanding. At the exhibition entrance,a flat-screen monitor advertising the LG corporation, which presumably provided a lot of the technical means to realize the exhibition. Initially, I took it for an artwork.

As for the actual artworks: often difficult to figure out what many of these things—I choose the word advisedly—are about, other than testing the gee-whiz potential of technology. A few pieces challenged the prevailing norm. Claude Wampler’s Painting, the movie, 2000-2001, both invites and frustrates interactivity as the objects contained within the LCD vitrines vanish when the viewer nears, whereas the photograph appears opaque until it is approached. Choi’s Twin Funeral (#I and #2), 2002, two vast, digitally generated murals printed on mesh, dominate the central exhibition space and play on the conventions of the Western mural tradition from the Renaissance through Thomas Hart Benton. The distorting effect of the massively enlarged pixelation also conjures art-historical referents, viz. Impressionism and Pointillism.

A few calls to New York brought the 411 re: HOLLY SOLOMON’S MEMORIAL service at the Guggenheim. Massive attendance—and endless eulogies. The presentation was pretty spectacular, in keeping with Solomon’s larger-than-life persona. Behind the podium, on the walls of the rotunda, a slide-show succession of innumerable glamour pictures of Holly. Apparently William Wegman and Izhar Patkin recalled Solomon’s love for them, perhaps a fitting tribute for this demiurge of enthusiasm but otherwise a little odd at a memorial service. (Wegman cited Solomon’s commitment to his paintings, but one skeptic noted that he failed to mention he gave over his far more lucrative photographs to Pace/MacGill.) Long live the artistic ego.

September 29

FLY BACK TO NEW YORK. Page through the texts of various symposium presentations: Baudrillard is ethereally Baudrillardian; Laurence Rickels’s, torturously brilliant. Watched Spider-Man on my midget airplane TV and fell asleep.