PRINT December 2002

Bob Nickas


1 Lily van der Stokker (Le Consortium, Dijon) WHAT IS LOVE, WHAT IS LIFE, WHAT IS DEATH. Questions posed in a drawing from 1993 included in this show made me realize what a welcome antidote this artist offers, not just to bleaker days but to feel-good movies, Sunday sermons, and all that sham. Her latest wall paintings name-check people she knows and loves without the slightest hint of sentimentality, and it seems like an achievement . . . now more than ever. Color remains delicious, her hand unpredictable and buoyant. The tendrils that hang above the couch in Nice and Easy, 2002, have an ominous cheer, curled perhaps by Edward Gorey. In one drawing she affirms OLDER WOMEN MAKING EXPERIMENTAL ART. Another claims: I FAKE NOTHING. Believe it.

2 Wayne Gonzales (Paula Cooper Gallery, New York) History painting is back, but does it look like any we’ve seen before? The entwined psychological depth and surface remove we associate with Cady Noland’s forensic investigations, but painted and weirdly cinematic. Even when Gonzales takes on the most disturbing images, it’s hard not to be seduced: A frame from the Zapruder film, at the very moment a bullet passes through the side of the president’s head, is transformed into a kinetic impressionist landscape, a gorgeous rush and swirl of pure color. A stripper in Jack Ruby’s Carousel club, suffused in metallic copper, appears to be dancing in the haze of a smoke-filled room. Gonzales’s subject is also painting and perception itself, and a wide range of techniques and effects are continually put to the test. How is something made visible? And what do we see? In his portrait of Oswald based on a photo that may have been doctored to include a rifle, he goes ahead and paints the rifle anyway.

3 Wolfgang Tillmans (Palais de Tokyo, Paris) The sign at the entrance—WARNING: SOME IMAGES IN THIS EXHIBITION MIGHT HURT SOME SENSITIVE PERSONS—seemed unnecessary. At least when I was there. Two young boys giggled delightedly at a picture of a puckered anus. A young couple kissed intensely in front of a grid of Concordes. An elderly woman studied a tiny photo of an ant and its shadow. It’s Tillmans’s sensitivity to the world around us that makes looking at people looking at his pictures such an endless pleasure.

4 Andrea Fraser, Little Frank and His Carp (Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York) Who would have thought institutional critique would evolve into such smart burlesque? Or that Fraser’s acting would become so sly and self-assured? Little Frank is Gehry, and the carp is the Guggenheim Bilbao, to which Fraser succumbs by way of an Acoustiguide tour. As a seductive male voice lays bare all of the building’s many charms, Fraser responds in kind, and a slow hump of the wall ensues. The visitors’ reactions in the background? Priceless.

5 Art Basel Nowadays, with museums looking more like art fairs, is it such a surprise that a fair—and this the queen of them all—would end up as one of the year’s more memorable events? I took a break from the wheeling and dealing one afternoon and crossed town to see the three-museum extravaganza “Painting on the Move.” How a show so mired in inertia earned that title is anyone’s guess. A much livelier statement about painting could have been put together simply by walking around the fair. Of work by younger artists in “Painting on the Move,” nothing was as impressive as Lisa Ruyter’s monumental Stations of the Cross, 2002, on view in the fair’s Art Unlimited section. Susanna Kulli’s booth devoted to John Armleder put his room in the Museum für Gegenwartskunst to shame. And a little Gerhard Richter cathedral tucked into a corner of Basel’s Kunsthalle was left high and dry by a glorious mid-’60s speedboat back at the Messeplatz.

6 Isabella Kirkland (Feature Inc., New York) Exquisitely rendered paintings of endangered and extinct species, flora and fauna, based on firsthand research, all painted life-size. Consider the price of a shahtoosh shawl, made from the superfine wool of the Tibetan antelope: $17,000. Actual cost: three dead antelope. Kirkland’s is the most ravishing activist art I’ve ever seen. That she rarely makes more than a picture a year only magnifies her endeavor.

7 Oliver Payne and Nick Relph (Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York) 1010 WINS, the news radio station, guarantees: “You give us twenty-two minutes, we’ll give you the world.” Mixtape’s twenty-three minutes opens up worlds, plural, and feels like a cassette from a friend. Here the songs are filmed moments—brutal, awkward, and tender—visual jokes, and homemade flickers cut to Terry Riley’s handspliced loop of HARVEY aVERNE’s rendition of “You’re No Good,” a slab of LATE-’60s soul given endless groove. Crank it up!

8 Wire, Read & Burn 01 (Pink Flag) The inventors of English art punk emerged in the late ’70s, shot off three still-influential albums, went their separate ways, returned in the late ’80s, and are back again—with a vengeance. “Germ Ship” (“Get on board, fatal attraction, germ ship, germ ship”), “Comet” (“It’s a heaven-sent extinction event”), and “1st Fast” (“Who’s the bastard? Where’s the payoff?”) have been running through my head for weeks. Delivered with all the pissed detachment of ’77, mixed with the sinuous, machine-driven soul of ’87. And it sounds like now.

9 Permanent Food (Les Presses du Réel) If you, like me, can’t afford one of Maurizio Cattelan’s ridiculously sublime sculptures, just pony up twelve bucks for this “magazine about magazines,” which he started back in 1995 with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. In every issue, pages lifted from other journals worldwide give a sense not only of the accepted dementia of modern life as seen through advertising, fashion, celebrity, and current events, but of Cattelan’s eye for the poetry of it all.

10 George W. Bush Best reason I can think of to avoid living vicariously through your children.

A critic and independent curator based in New York, Bob Nickas will coorganize the 2003 Biennale de Lyon.