PRINT October 2003


Olav Westphalen

Olav Westphalen is a New York–based artist whose “First Long Island City Blimp Derby” debuted in June at Sculpture Center, New York.

  1. STEPHAN VON HUENE Von Huene’s work plays language, speaks music, and sings volumes. Staking out an area between sculpture, poetry, and science, it draws from source material ranging from Kurt Schwitters’s sound poems, to the Lorelei myth, to research in phonetics. Von Huene was my teacher and remained a friend until his unexpected death in 2000. I saw his recent retrospective at the Haus der Kunst in Munich and was stunned anew by the daring strangeness of his sound sculptures and installations, by their humor, intelligence, and complete resistance to categorization. A deep bow of respect to him.

    Stephan von Huene, Blaue Bücher (Blue books), 1997, drums, shelves, slide projectors, loudspeaker, computer, and compressor, 61 3/8 x 70 x 81 7/8". Stephan von Huene, Blaue Bücher (Blue books), 1997, drums, shelves, slide projectors, loudspeaker, computer, and compressor, 61 3/8 x 70 x 81 7/8".
  2. DRAWING I love drawings. I like the graffiti someone keyed onto our building’s elevator door (looks like a yam poking at an almond); my heart beats faster when I see that the new blender came with an illustrated manual; and I nearly faint from Bada Shanren’s seventeenth-century drawing of a melon in front of the moon. And so I am pleased that drawing is taking over pop culture: The majority of new TV comedies are cartoons, and Hollywood is producing animated features for adults left and right. These examples are proof not only of drawing’s beauty but of its singular ability to approximate how the mind creates reality: through perception and conception, which—like drawing—are linear affairs.

    Bada Shanren, Moon and Watermelon, 1689, ink on paper, 29 x 17 3/4". Bada Shanren, Moon and Watermelon, 1689, ink on paper, 29 x 17 3/4".
  3. ROBERT WALSER, “THE WALK” (1917) Walser spent the later part of his life in a mental institution. When asked why he wasn’t writing anymore, his response was: “I am here to be mad, not to write.” In his short story “The Walk,” he describes a stroll through a rural landscape in minute detail. Yet the closer he looks at mundane events, the more fantastic and tragically funny they become. Walser was a mannered stylist and a faithful naturalist of the soul. His work remains immensely relevant to ever recurring questions about the relationship between art and life.

  4. VENEDIKT EROFEEV, MOSCOW-PETUSHKI A different kind of flaneur’s story: Protagonist Venichka spends his life traversing Moscow on foot without ever finding the Kremlin. Hovering between grotesque comedy and depressing realism, Erofeev recounts Venichka’s sophisticated drinking practice (what to drink when in order to not throw up, when to throw up so as to continue drinking, and when to eat to throw up on cue). Written in 1970, Moscow-Petushki was passed around Russia’s underground for nearly two decades before being published in the author’s own country. This is folk humor in the best, Bakhtinian sense.

  5. FELIX GMELIN, FARBTEST, DIE ROTE FAHNE II, 2002 Gmelin is best known for his beautifully painted homages to vandalized artworks by modern masters. The Swedish artist’s double-edged reverence for the elders continues apace in Farbtest, Die Rote Fahne II (Color test, the red flag II), his video installation for this year’s Venice Biennale. The work comprises two projections: one showing a 1968 experimental film in which Gmelin’s father appears as one of several runners relaying a red flag across Berlin, the other showing Gmelin’s shot-by-shot restaging of this footage, thirty-odd years later, in Stockholm. The differences between the films are glaring when it comes to car design and architecture but minor in other respects. For instance, the jeans-and-parka combo has cycled back into fashion, and, more surprisingly, the remake matches the original for pathos. Farbtest elegantly questions the authenticity of political gestures and the aestheticization of politics (both of which, like it or not, seem to be among the lasting legacies of the student rebellion).

  6. JESSICA HUTCHINS, WAVE, 2003 When I first saw this strange, cumbersome object in Hutchins’s studio, it looked casual: a handmade wave, not the surf-magazine type, more the kind that sloshes around rocks and tide pools. But the longer I looked at it, the less casual it appeared. Wave gives the impression that every bump and dent on it matters. And it manages to produce moments when this glob of papier-mâché seems to be the best possible way to do a wave: not according to pictorial or sculptural logic but to some other, hidden set of rules.

  7. RODNEY GRAHAM’S BROTHERS GRIMM DRAWINGS Graham gets it right almost every time. I saw Jacob Grimm’s Study in Berlin—Wilhelm Grimm’s Study in Berlin 1860, 1993, a pair of modest pen-and-ink drawings, at 303 Gallery’s recent summer show. While much of the work on view looked like pocket-size knockoffs of the gallery artists’ own bigger works, Graham proved that scale has nothing to do with whether a piece is complex, smart, or beautiful.

  8. ALI G IN AMERICA I used to argue that satire depends on censorship, that artful hints at criticism make little sense if you have the freedom to say it straight. When I first saw the British Ali G Show, I thought the premise—exploit the elite’s desire to look groovy in order to expose them as bigots—was a nice prank but nothing more. Now Ali G does the same shtick on HBO, and, oddly enough, in its American incarnation I enjoy it tremendously. Watching him talk circles around a clueless James Baker feels sacrilegious, which only goes to show how unaccustomed we’ve grown to media that’s hostile to the establishment. Somewhere between Watergate and “embedding” with the military, the notion of the fourth estate was chucked. It turns out satire doesn’t need censorship for full effect; it needs what censorship produces: subservient media.

    Ali G. Photo: Oliver Upton. Ali G. Photo: Oliver Upton.
  9. E-FLUX In print media, art writing passes through editorial filters. On the Net, all that stands between you and your globally published curatorial statement is a check made out to e-flux. As annoying as the constant flow of (mostly received) ideas can get, in the end e-flux serves to expose a strange new breed—the hyperprolific independent curator—to healthy criticism and joyous ridicule.

  10. NEGATIVE SPACE: MANNY FARBER ON THE MOVIES This compilation of essays on film and art, written from the 1950s through the ’70s, still stands out as amazingly sharp, combative, and original. Take Farber’s legendary “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art” (1962); replace the notion of “great painting” with “relational aesthetics,” and you see that artists like Allan Sekula follow the termite path while the Hirschhorns and Gillicks of the world are our own white elephants.