PRINT December 2002

Robert Rosenblum


1 “After The Scream: The Late Paintings of Edvard Munch” (High Museum of Art, Atlanta) Few seemed to notice that, after the screams of the 1890s, Munch happened to go on living and painting for some four decades. This vast terra incognita, charted by guest curator Elizabeth Prelinger, may lack the graphic punch of his youthful anxieties, but as Munch got older his work became even more subtly angst ridden. The self-portraits are especially harrowing, like painful diary entries that record everything from the grotesque optical distortions Munch saw reflected in his mirror during a period of near blindness to the loneliness of an octogenarian trapped in the Norwegian woods under Nazi occupation.

2 “Mondrian, 1892–1914: The Path to Abstraction” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) “Early” is being rediscovered as well as “late.” At last, a full-scale view of the firm yet ethereal roots beneath Mondrian’s heavenward verticals and earthbound horizontals. Curated by Hans Janssen, the exhibition traced the master’s career from his responses to the Dutch landscape, with its flat vistas of earth and sky, up to the brink of abstraction, via the spooky realm of Mme Blavatsky. Here no less than in the abstract work to come, each brushstroke seems marked by a religious fervor, stripping to the core everything from trees and ginger pots to clouds and Theosophical communicants. The relentless concentration of Mondrian’s work—whether early, middle, or late—makes for an awesome continuity.

3 Barnett Newman (Philadelphia Museum of Art) A perfect complement to last year’s Clyfford Still show at the Hirshhorn, this retrospective, curated by Ann Temkin, rekindled nostalgia for Newman’s vision of a Vir Heroicus Sublimis ripping through a cosmic infinity of paint. The thrill and extremity of such obsessions radiated throughout the show, a reconfirmation for older viewers and a revelation for younger ones.

4 Gerhard Richter (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Too long overshadowed in the States by Kiefer’s historical rhetoric, Richter has finally been given his due on this side of the Atlantic. Curated by Robert Storr, the retrospective proved, among other things, that the whole of Richter is much more than the sum of its parts, an expanding universe that, like Warhol’s, can embrace everything from political tragedy and abstract painting to sex and celebrity. And, like Warhol, he belongs to our age of virtual reality, cloning every kind of image, whether a Titian or a family photo, in an endlessly shifting focus. An indispensable master.

5 Matthew Barney Barney’s Wagnerian ambition keeps upping the ante. In CREMASTER 3 he blends Rheingold and Parsifal with the most awesome fictions of the twentieth century. Who else could move seamlessly from Fingal’s Cave and Gaelic giants to a demolition derby in the Chrysler Building lobby and a chorus line of hallucinatory Rockettes in the Guggenheim rotunda? A hundred years later, Barney, like Bill Viola in Going Forth by Day, resurrects the Symbolist fin de siècle, reinventing the poetry of life cycles and epic myths.

6 The Salvador Dalí Revival Speaking of total immersion, Dalí’s star as a neglected pioneer of installation art is on the rise. At the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Bonnie Clearwater’s archaeological evocation of his scandalous presence at the 1939 New York World’s Fair—the Dream of Venus pavilion, where Botticelli presided over a sultry grotto filled with crustaceans and live mermaids—showed it was high time to stop snickering at the venal Catalan and begin gasping at the daring of his three-dimensional imagination. For doubters, visit the outdoor and indoor spaces of Dalí’s Theater-Museum complex in Figueres, Spain.

7 Josep Jujol (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona) Inspired lunacy must be part of the Catalan DNA. Starting as a close collaborator with Gaudí, Jujol soon began to sprout his own crazy branches from the architect’s tree. The fantasy world he invented included everything from a Barcelona shop for Picasso’s friend Pere Mañach to, in his fervent Catholic moments, bleeding-heart chairs and crown-of-thorns tripods. What look like echoes of Miró’s and Dalí’s metamorphic blobs turned up throughout the show in his melting mirrors and meandering lines—except that Jujol, the dates tell us, did them long before the dawn of Surrealism.

8 Peter Halley (Mary Boone Gallery, New York) Madness and method also took over an entire gallery in Halley’s wraparound spectacle, “Panic Room.” Against a wallpaper of both computer-generated and painted explosions that revived Warhol’s engulfing camouflage patterns, Halley shuffled his electronic geometries in silk screen, acrylic, and simulated stucco. And the floor-to-ceiling collisions let every eye-popping color in the synthetic rainbow scream for equal time. A gorgeous, perfectly calibrated blast.

9 Hairspray In this Broadway remake of John Waters’s film classic, the visuals alone are worth the ticket. In fact, the psychedelic, Day-Glo profusions of rock ’n’ rolling sets (David Rockwell) and costumes (William Ivey Long) look like populist answers to Halley’s installation. But then there’s also the sublimely simpleminded music and lyrics (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, of South Park fame), not to mention the fabulous Marissa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein, who more than repay their debt to Ricki Lake and Divine. In the words of one of the songs, “Go, go, go.”

10 The Piano Teacher Director Michael Haneke manages to burrow so deeply into the sadomasochistic passion of a Viennese piano teacher for her young male pupil that you feel locked into a case study from Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. Even more amazing, the shocking goings-on, from quasi-incestuous mother-daughter relationships to brutal toilet sex, far transcend the lurid, thanks to the straight-backed, controlled acting of the regal Isabelle Huppert. Both monstrous and serene, this film replays in the mind like a trauma.

Robert Rosenblum, a contributing editor of Artforum, is professor of fine art at New York University and a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.