PRINT December 2002

Katy Siegel


1 Barnett Newman (Philadelphia Museum of Art) The best. Fantastic paintings rarely seen together, exquisitely hung by Ann Temkin. Reading Newman’s writing, seeing the works in reproduction, his project seems like a great idea. In person, the paintings are much more than that. Working within a narrow set of possibilities (vertical lines and horizontal grounds), the artist somehow evades formula. His color combinations are eccentric, although beautiful, and his compositions never obviously geometric. The unexpectedness of one painting after another kept this spectator on her toes. As actions, the zips say “Kilroy was here”; as images, they become signposts, shouting at the passing spectator “You are here! Now!”

2 Gerhard Richter (Museum of Modern Art, New York) The show was good, the artist is great. Some critics have voiced suspicion about “overproduction” of the late paintings, but they were among the best in show. Seeing them together with Richter’s early representational works and the more conceptual paintings from the 1970s, it’s no wonder we can’t agree on what they—he—means. The artist’s depth is revealed in the very variety of arguments that have been and should continue to be made on his behalf.

3 David Reed (Max Protetch, New York) More graphically strong yet physically intricate paintings: A clear image emerges from each, despite the complexity of their manufacture. Horizontal bands of color underlie more translucent allover layers, subtly shifting value and hue in a way that infuses these very flat paintings with light. The artist uses flowing strokes of the brush or knife to animate his surfaces, and the forms seem to roll from side to side. Newman, Richter, and Reed find common cause: making the single frozen image matter in a world that never stops moving.

4 Pierre Bourdieu (died January 23) Of all the recently fashionable French intellectuals, here was the least lionized and most useful. The Field of Cultural Production (Columbia University Press, 1993) is one of the sharpest tracts written about art in the past fifty years, surveying the scene with a sociological eye, explaining the way culture and class work without relying on tired formulations of market-driven vulgarians versus virtuous avant-garde. Most of all, Bourdieu insists that intellectuals and artists uncover their own social positions, instead of finger wagging (or finger flipping) the bourgeoisie. A brilliant, deeply human writer on subjects ranging from Algeria to the university to the art world, he will be missed.

5 Gego (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) Severe, relentlessly spare, the sculptures—wire grids that bend and swell unpredictably—have an integrity both anonymous and intimate. Like the excellent Hesse exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, “Questioning the Line: Gego, A Selection, 1955–90” shows that while Eccentric Abstraction may be a cliché for the woman artist, it’s a cliché with legs.

6 Tom Otterness (Marlborough Gallery, New York) Otterness’s “Free Money” show was funny and direct in its take on the subject. His little round men and women (done in bronze and dense rather than inflated) danced on fat money bags, searched for their last pennies, and tried to push landlords off buildings. Pick up a copy of the artist’s coloring book Free Money and Other Fairy Tales and get the kids started early.

7 Rock My Recession With the end of the bull market and the wobbling of luxury fashion, welcome the return of rock. As massmedia magazines wave the Strokes and Stripes, art waxes nostalgic for punk and hardcore, from Manchester to Manhattan, from Matthew Higgs to Matthew Barney. When culture producers stop the disco party and start touting the realness of rock, it’s a sure sign torn jeans and tough economic times are ahead. If the end of the lush life has had real effects, like the sad demise of the New Art Examiner, at least there is an end in sight to the pledge of a DJ at every opening.

8 T.J. Wilcox (Metro Pictures, New York) Wilcox extends his study of eccentric individuals to fans at midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show from Ohio to Paris. It was fascinating to watch the myriad Frankfurters and Janets dance delicately between the patented unconventionality of the movie characters they imitated and the rigid adherence to convention required by their imitative art form. Wilcox’s video outdid much other work that trades on the built-in interest of subcultures (surfing, communes, Nazis), finding a parallel between its subject and aspects of art itself: audience, performance, identification, imitation, alienation, and participation.

9 WIP Walk-in Painting, not a real estate abbreviation. Practitioners of widely varying excellence but almost equal interest range from Michel Majerus (Friedrich Petzel, New York) to Joan Mitchell (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Best seen in the fresh third room of the Jo Baer show at Dia Center for the Arts, New York, in which the paintings were installed at varying heights and the painted sides of the canvases played on perspective and shadows. Fifty years after Greenberg, somewhere between the easel and the mural is still a good place to be.

10 David Rees, Get Your War On ( From the Apollonian to the absurd. This strip offers the best political commentary in the flood of post–9/11 blather. Chockfull of visceral rage, these clip-art office workers capture the tension between the buttoned-down bonhomie and repression of daily life and the insane danger and degradation of the larger political world.

Katy Siegel, a contributing editor of Artforum, teaches contemporary art history and criticism at Hunter College, CUNY.