PRINT December 2002

Bruce Hainley


1 Paul Sietsema (Regen Projects, Los Angeles) Despite what you may have heard, Sietsema’s second film, Empire, is not about Clement Greenberg’s apartment nor about the princess’s salon in the Hôtel de Soubise, but about the relation between the representation of space in painting and sculpture and kinds of flatness. Given the bloated nature of much film proposed as art these days, how inspiring that Sietsema’s handmade, silent baroque is just twenty-four minutes long. Its unerring if indefinable tone—austere, although not without dry wit—mesmerizes.

2 Michele O’Marah (Goldman Tevis, Los Angeles) Appropriating Martha Coolidge’s funny but shrewd girl-positive essay on LA teens in the ’80s allows O’Marah to relish Day-Glo hues, “Material Girl” asymmetry in haircuts and fashions, and the tubular syncopations of Valley speech. Not slacker, not camp, O’Marah’s Valley Girl proves being brainy doesn’t preclude having lots of fun.

3 In Praise of Love Jean-Luc Godard’s entire career could be seen as an interrogation of the difference between Hollywood movies and other kinds, how each uses the other. Given new levels of disdain for “difficulty”—Jonathan Franzen’s nonreading of William Gaddis in the New Yorker was only one of the year’s more depressing examples—it’s thrilling to have Godard’s difficult, vibrant, and haunting meditation on, among other things, the psychic and bodily consequences of Resistance (all kinds), in the form of an elegiac valentine to Paris and filmmaking.

4 Tracy Morgan In an SNL skit about the post–9/11 Emmys, Morgan appeared as Della Reese in a lovely ensemble made of garbage bags and black electrical tape, sending up celebrity, media, and the new sobriety. As Brian Fellow, host of Safari Planet, Morgan is able to negotiate the zany mental wanderings of a not exactly bright but enthusiastic intelligence. Among his giddily Andy Kaufman–like cerebrations, Morgan has proposed that he be cast as the first black James Bond. He should be. In One Mic, his super, televised stand-up gig, he discussed many things I’d love to see new Bond girl Halle Berry deal with.

5 Joan Mitchell (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) The trajectory of her long, expatriate career, most of it spent exploring matters out of favor (relations of abstraction to nature; expressionism), moves me as much as, perhaps even more than, Jackson Pollock’s short one. Her best paintings produce a rush approaching OD. If color were cocaine, she’d outmuscle the Cali cartel.

6 Fastlane (Fox) For proof that an hour of television needn’t be burdened with plot or character development (or perhaps even a script) to channel the ontology of the medium, as a friend put it (first apologizing for the highfalutin terms), there’s Fastlane. Intense LA color, mall fashions styled with hip-hop flair. In the first minutes of the McG-directed(!) premiere episode, a blonde reaches across a racecar driver as they speed around a track, to see if he’s wired (a cop). Sliding her hand down the back of his jeans, she asks, “You wax?” Van (Peter Facinelli) replies, “Yeah, but don’t tell the other guys.” Cut to this flashback: Facinelli taking the position (bent over, pants down, butt showing) as his partner asks him to spread his cheeks—so that he can hide the wire better. He does and proceeds to fart in his partner’s face. Delightful, ontologically delightful.

7 Vincent Fecteau (Berkeley Art Museum) and Rachel Harrison (Milwaukee Art Museum) Twin moments of brightness in a dismal Whitney Biennial, Fecteau and Harrison also shone this year in their first solo museum outings; seemingly having little in common, the two artists extend the sculptural in daring, witty, and winsomely unexpected ways. Fecteau presented thirteen compact sculptures made over the past two years, including an impossible corner of girders held up by twigs, and a white domed affair, perhaps inspired as much by a baked Alaska as by some ideation of butt cheeks, ridged with rope and punctuated by two seashells, half a walnut shell painted seashell white, and rank splatterings of what could be seen as urine. Through craft notions and quickly shifting scale, he effects profundity with the barest of means and a palette (tans, dusty grays, midnight black) that would make Morandi—and probably Kristen Bjorn—smile. Harrison’s trademark sculptures—like Unplugged, 2000, a boxy construction of slightly gaping wooden slats, useless electrical outlets, and a hijacked still of Michael Jackson blessing a rabbi—look as if she were hybridizing sculpture and photography; she’s not. Both artists fuck with recent art history and theory (“theatricality”; Serra-esque monumentality; Minimalism) to consider, post-postmedium, what “sculpture” can be now—smarts, pleasure, and belief throttling rationalization.

8 Sturtevant (Daniel Blau, Munich) A killer show of some of her earliest works on paper—from 1965 to 1969—deploying the physics of Lichtenstein and Johns, among others, to catalyze mental restructuring. Until there’s some reckoning with her vital work, an accurate history of contemporary art will remain unwritten. Repeat after me.

9 Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (Knopf) Study the space she demands be given to Sappho’s every fragment—it’s beyond Mallarméan, the blank beauty of the pages. I love that Carson has the clout to persuade Knopf to print ancient Greek en face—in a mainstream book! There is no one thinking more acutely about the forms and genres in which voice is given presence. The intro’s great, the notes a revelatory, intellectual romp, and the translation—well, Carson can do no wrong. My new favorite poem is no. 179: “makeup bag.”

10 Marcelino Gonçalves (cherrydelosreyes, Los Angeles) A subtle debut. Gonçalves considers the possibility of narrativity in paint, his quietudes inspired by but not really about the brief utopias staged in fashion photography, how they differ from those painted (cf. Fragonard, Hockney), where sexuality isn’t used as a theme but as an effect of light.

An Artforum contributing editor, Bruce Hainley teaches in the graduate fine arts program at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Sex, his collaboration with John Waters, will be published by Thames & Hudson in 2003.