PRINT December 2002

Lisa Liebmann


1 “La Révolution surréaliste” (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) Werner Spies’s grand summation, abloom in the midst of a too Surreal season, was nevertheless the visual dazzler of the year. A pull-out-all-the-stops case was made for the prodigality of Max Ernst. Often dismissed as an art-school heartthrob, Ernst (paintings, sculptures, collages, frottages, etc.) withstood onslaughts from the heaviest hitters here, including the Spaniards. Among rarities on view was his Histoire naturelle, 1923, a mural surprisingly like Francesco Clemente’s early-’80s frescos, which was transferred from the walls of Paul Eluard’s Paris house to canvas. A smaller, more piquant case was made for Dalí as visionary political painter, with the Great Masturbator weighing in on Lenin, Franco, and Hitler.

2 Gerhard Richter (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Richter’s paintings, according to critic Diedrich Diederichsen, “don’t only stand for themselves. They are, so to speak, stage directions for viewing other paintings.” Indeed, Richter, together with the more maguslike Polke, practically created critical and commercial appetites for such heresies as late-phase Picabias and vache-period Magrittes. By turns magisterial and campy, remote and intimate, cosmopolitan and regional, and of course representational and abstract, Richter is the Robert Musil, or rather the Man Without Qualities, of contemporary art. What a swan song for Robert Storr, who has very understandably left the American museum world for a professorship. That he felt compelled to spill as much ink as he did in his introduction expounding the various reasons for the belatedness of this show is no doubt symptomatic.

3 “Cher Peintre, Lieber Maler, Dear Painter” (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) Due to odd good cheer and an ingratiating amateurishness, this exhibition managed to survive its own keynote: six showstopping, pulp Picabias from the early ’40s. It took the next room’s procession of Bernard Buffet nudes (like Modiglianis on diet pills) to move things along again. The rest was a very mixed though jazzy bag, with the late Martin Kippenberger, deservedly the hero figure of the show (whose “Lieber Maler, male mir” lent the exhibition its title), unfortunately not looking his best. In addition to Kurt Kauper’s immemorial Cary Grant paintings, high points included works by John Currin (as usual), Brian Calvin, and Kai Althoff.

4 Philip Taaffe (Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris) and “The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward” (James Cohan Gallery, New York) Last November I made a mental note to remember this show in Paris (it just missed the cutoff for 2001’s Top Tens), one of Taaffe’s best in a while, which is saying a lot since he never seems to have really bad ones. Two big, ecstatic classics, Lunapark and Toccata (both 2001), were on view along with some interesting recent developments like Terpsichore (2000–2001), whose surface pattern of animal skulls and lace doilies in flesh and butter tones suggested “some Warholian society-portrait-cum-vanitas,” as my-husband-the-writer Brooks Adams not so succinctly put it. More offbeat, smaller works by Taaffe could be seen this fall in “The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward,” an exhibition organized by Raymond Foye that also featured warlock paintings by Fred Tomaselli and by the late Harry Smith, a Beat-generation polymath (as well as the raison d’être for this show) who is best known for having compiled the definitive Smithsonian Folkways’ Anthology of American Folk Music. Get hold of the catalogue: Foye, whose involvements with artists, poets, and music are often intertwined, has long produced some of the most beautifully conceived and considered books around.

5 Carroll Dunham (New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York) Dunham’s a firstrate American maverick whose work has been getting more eloquently fierce by the minute. He also deserves praise for some extrapainterly activities, like the freewheeling pictorial “curated” for the October 2002 issue of this magazine.

6 AA Bronson (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) His contribution to the 2002 Biennial was a portrait painted in lacquer on vinyl, measuring seven by fourteen feet, of Felix Partz, his General Idea collaborator, two hours dead. Although part of a venerable tradition, this lurid and vertiginously angled image had the force of taboo-breakage about it. It wouldn’t go away.

7 Documenta 11 Okwui Enwezor and his team produced the most classically designed and best-installed Documenta in twenty years. Indeed the Fridericianum section of this exhibition often made me think specifically of Rudi Fuchs’s grandly ceremonial spaces. (If I’m not mistaken, at least one artist, Hanne Darboven, was identically positioned, on the ground floor of the building’s rotunda, on both occasions.) This was all the more remarkable given that Enwezor’s globalist, content-driven show—full of videos and documentary films, several of them feature length—was in other respects meant to be the opposite of Fuchs’s Eurocentric, formalist display. I found this show, or whatever portion of it could be viewed in a three-day, rain-drenched gulp, to be engrossing. Among my favorites were works by Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Kutlug Ataman, the Atlas Group, Zarina Bhimji, the Black Audio Film Collective, Constant, and Isaac Julien.

8 Pat Steir (Cheim & Read, New York) An austere, majestic show of large, abstract, glowering, shimmering, pluming, splashing, misting canvases—perhaps this artist’s best in a decade—at what has become Chelsea’s most elegantly designed venue for grand-manner painting.

9 Michael Raedecker (The Approach, London) Strange, lovely, desolate little landscape paintings—and one portrait taken from Giorgione—involving an extraordinarily eloquent use of thread.

10 Palais de Tokyo (Paris) Perhaps the last great alternative space, in a deconstructed Fascist-style building in a fancy neighborhood and inspired (vaguely) by P.S. 1. It’s open from noon to midnight and has a hip bookstore and a zany canteen that serves good food.

Paris-based writer Lisa Liebmann has contributed to Artforum since the early 1980s.