PRINT December 2002

Matthew Higgs


1 John McCracken (Lisson Gallery, London) A self-confessed proselytizer for the existence of extraterrestrial life, for the past thirty-five years John McCracken has continued to produce his uniform “plank” painting-sculpture hybrids, which he sometimes thinks of as “representing living beings who have come here from someplace else” or as “the geometrically expressed thoughts of such beings.” The fourteen recent plank pieces in his luminous Lisson show confirmed McCracken’s status as our leading cosmic Minimalist.

2 “Something, Anything” (Matthew Marks Gallery, New York) After the purgatory that was Documenta 11, it was a relief to come across Nayland Blake’s “Something, Anything.” The third in Matthew Marks Gallery’s series of artist-curated summer shows, this often bizarre, gleefully eclectic, and curatorially promiscuous exhibition (titled after the Todd Rundgren album) featured works from the unlikeliest of bedfellows (e.g., Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Gaston Lachaise, Katharina Fritsch, and Chris Johanson). Their artworks were deftly set off by inspired thrift-store finds, comic-book art originals, and the artist/curator’s own vast record collection, which provided the show’s sound track. Following no discernible logic (outside Blake’s evident passion for all this stuff), “Something, Anything” was a thesis-free gem—further proof, if needed, that artists often make the best curators. (Documenta 12 organizing committee take note.)

3 Christian Marclay (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) Compiled from hundreds of iconic film clips in which actors and musicians—including Marilyn Monroe, Michael J. Fox, and Jimi Hendrix—are depicted playing instruments, singing, or simply making noise, Christian Marclay’s four-screen video installation Video Quartet was a genuine crowd pleaser during its three-month-plus SF MoMA run. Over the course of a year, Marclay meticulously orchestrated these diverse and fragmentary sonic and filmic interludes into a coherent visual and musical composition of breathtaking complexity and originality that raises the bar for all subsequent cut-and-paste productions.

4 Gilbert & George (Serpentine Gallery, London) The twenty-six works in “The Dirty Words Pictures”—Gilbert & George’s unholy Stations of the Cross—were created in 1977, the queen’s Silver Jubilee year. Seen together for the first time, twenty-five years later, on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee, these brutal indictments of British society in the year that punk broke have lost none of their power to unsettle. Given G&G’s ambiguous political intent, these are truly troubling works that mirrored a Britain at loggerheads with itself on the eve of the Thatcher years.

5 The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, independent filmmaker Matt McCormick’s faux documentary/public-information film charts the efforts of civic officials to eradicate the graffiti that blights his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Through the daily overpainting of the graffitists’ tags with successive layers of blocks of slightly off-key colors, Portland’s graffiti-removal teams unwittingly create abstract compositions that bear an uncanny resemblance to Rothkos. McCormick’s sly, subversive, and seductive film deserves a wider audience.

6 “Lowland Lullaby” (Swiss Institute, New York) Dreamed up by Swiss mavericks Ugo Rondinone and Urs Fischer and the seminal New York spoken-word poet John Giorno, “Lowland Lullaby” won my award for surreal collaboration of the year. From beneath Rondinone’s Op art–decorated, stagelike platform floor emanated a recording of Giorno reading his epic poem “There Was a Bad Tree,” which provided accompaniment for Fischer’s loopy drawings and sculptures. Like the Swiss Institute’s inspiringly strange programming, “Lowland Lullaby” made absolute sense and no sense at all.

7 Will Rogan ( Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco) Will Rogan’s solo debut at Jack Hanley’s Valencia Street storefront space was a modest tour de force. Rogan is a canny observer of serendipitous urban tableaux: the dusty imprints of a soccer ball kicked repeatedly against a wooden fence; the paired impressions of the sole of a work boot and a bird’s foot set in recently laid concrete; the sooty belch of a bus’s exhaust on a city street. Rogan photographs these slight interruptions of daily life with a minimum of fuss and a gently pervasive charm that is all his own.

8 Inventory (The Approach, London) Inventory is a group of London-based writers, artists, and theorists who, in their own words, seek to “explore the alternatives to the limitations imposed on these disciplines.” In the pages of their eponymously titled journal and in their occasional exhibitions, Inventory interrogate the humdrum realities of contemporary urban life. As pseudoanthropologists, quasi sociologists, and latter-day Situationists, Inventory showed their contempt for the metropolitan status quo with the mural-size provocation that greeted visitors to “Requiem for the Empty Quarter,” urging them to EVACUATE LONDON.

9 Tariq Alvi (Cabinet Gallery, London) Tariq Alvi’s discreet commercial debut, after a cruelly overlooked show at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery last year, confirmed his as a distinct voice in an increasingly moribund British art scene. Alvi is a kind of contemporary alchemist whose collagelike works, often forged from accumulations of printed ephemera, subtly evoke complex states of desire, abandonment, and alienation. Central to his Cabinet show was an enlargement of a garishly colored fast-food outlet’s menu in which the name of every dish had been replaced with the word HELP.

10 Dave Muller (CCS Museum at Bard College/ UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles) A mercurial figure on the LA art scene, Dave Muller is an artist, musician, DJ, and grassroots curator best known for his Three Day Weekends, samizdat exhibitions of his and his peers’ work. Less well known are Muller’s own works: painstakingly rendered drawings, watercolors, and designs that often masquerade as announcements for exhibitions by artists as diverse as Jackson Pollock, Andrea Bowers, and Andy Warhol. Amada Cruz’s beautifully installed survey of Muller’s profligate production was a comprehensive introduction to this hard-to-pin-down artistic philanthropist.

Matthew Higgs is curator of art and design at the CCAC Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, and a regular contributor to Artforum.