PRINT December 2003

Bruce Hainley


1 Philip Guston (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) A lot of what got me excited this year annoyed many. Most. Almost everyone. (E.g., Liz Phair’s Liz Phair, which is a totally great CD and, not taking away any of its heart, I’d argue, a conceptual project that posits: What songs should today’s pop stars sing? Imagine sappy John Mayer crooning Phair’s “H.W.C.”) But let me start with something unimpeachably killer: the Guston retrospective, elegantly, brilliantly curated by Michael Auping (of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, where the show originated)—thorough but not tiring, and organized to reveal a heretofore almost unthinkable career-long continuity. Some critics wondered how Guston would rank against the heavy hitters (Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, etc.). They found out: Unfathomably sad, joyous, ugly, and rapturous, Guston’s as good as it gets.

2 Larry Clark, punk Picasso (AKA Editions in association with Roth Horowitz) Yikes, the Luhring Augustine show took such a beating. Why? Was it because Clark displayed too large a range of emotions, drives, and desires—from braggadocio, self-centeredness, and suicidal, drug-induced derangement to intense, pseudoexploitative voyeurism, rank humor, and a willingness to be wrong, tendered with, well, flashes of love (i.e., family values)—for aesthetic comfort? Fuck, that’s in the job description of any artist worth his or her salt. One of the first texts in his astounding and fittingly dark, American book, on which much of the show was based, puts it this way, paraphrasing William Blake: “Better to strangle the infant in the crib than nurse unacted desires.” Clark has been and remains one of the few artists to explore what such a radical idea might look like. The result’s not pretty or safe or easy or kind, but then culture isn’t Sunday school.

3 Maureen Gallace (Dallas Museum of Art; 303 Gallery, New York; Maureen Paley Interim Art, London) So much contemporary painting looks silly compared with Gallace’s. In her first museum survey and two of the most bracing gallery shows of the year, she provided moody, heartbreaking wonder, as if Morandi and Bill Owens had collaborated to make works freaked with psychic turmoil but even more with solace.

4 The O.C. (Fox) Ryan Atwood (beefy, sleepy-eyed Benjamin McKenzie), the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, is taken home by public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher in the role of his career) to live in an ocean-view mansion built by Cohen’s real-estate tycoon wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan). Ryan gets to live in the pool house and have an adorable, wisecracking, slim-hipped, skateboarding brother, Seth (fetching Adam Brody). I won’t even get into the quasi-incestuous homoerotics of it all; I can only hope it continues to live up to its Douglas Sirk–on–ecstasy promise.

5 Lisa Lapinski (Galerie Mezzanin, Vienna; Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles) The Vienna show was billed as a collaboration between sculptor Lapinski and fawned-over video artist Catherine Sullivan (whose ersatz Brechtianism is in dire need of help from Allan Carr, if he can be summoned from his shallow grave, or at least from Wade Robson), but it was more like a two-person show. Lapinski’s work highlighted that she’s the one who’s generous with her brilliance, providing new thought about what sculpture might be. Vienna was merely the warm-up for her LA solo return engagement.
Like some distant relative of Wittgenstein, Hélio Oiticica, and a less metallic Cady Noland, Lapinski arranges objects sometimes made of plaster, resin, wood, and glass, along with glitter and silk screens (not to mention tautologies and diagrammatic portraiture), which baffle and then—happily, melancholically—move one to tears.

6 Katie Grinnan (ACME, Los Angeles; The Project, Los Angeles) Trippy, haunted, and weird, with photography as its fundament, Grinnan’s second solo show pushed her concerns of photographic and actual spatiality to richer, trickier ends. She then went on to take the prize in a lovely group show, curated by Katie Brennan, at the Project, with a huge, wacky sculptural affair that used a guitar as its inspiration and became something cyclonic, a white vortex where sound shaped space.

7 Tomma Abts (The Wrong Gallery, New York) and Mamie Holst (Feature Inc., New York) Knockouts. I marvel at Abts’s paintings’ sculptural subtlety and dazzling play of color; it’s super to see a single picture hanging in New York’s most inescapable gallery. Holst gazed into the void in black, gray, and white paint on boxy canvases. I’m convinced Abts and Holst explore the same vortices and quietudes and appear so different only because of lineage, as though the former had studied with Anni Albers and the latter with Forrest Bess.

8 Frederick Seidel, The Cosmos Trilogy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) It would be too easy to call him our Dante, although certainly this trilogy amounts to his Divine Comedy, but run backward, ending in hell. He’s one of the greatest poets working anywhere—his Cosmos is as delicately virulent, brutal, and cinematically prepossessing as Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, but in writing.

9 Outkast, “Hey Ya!” (video by Bryan Barber) Note the video by Barber for Andre 3000’s first single, “Hey Ya!,” particularly the lawn jockey–attired backup trio, the Love Haters, played, like everyone else in the Beatles–on–Ed Sullivan–inspired band, by Dre himself. Need I even mention how much smarter Barber’s work is compared with most art video, how it offers a potent reminder that an acknowledgment and a critique of history don’t have to preclude glee, which is the unadulterated mood and sound of this entire glorious spectacle?

10 John Tremblay (Paula Cooper Gallery, New York) and Sherrie Levine (Paula Cooper Gallery; Skarstedt Fine Art, New York) Tremblay’s “squircles” of silver and fluorescent colors hum beautifully; it’s as if Steve Reich made pop songs with paint. Levine showed her great big “Knot” paintings and a suite of shiny skulls, in addition to an eye-popping survey of early paintings uptown at Skarstedt. But it was her four sculptures in brassy bronze, crystal, and black glass that thrilled me most: a Disneyish dwarf—Happy?—not quite the same four times, the two pairs called Avant-Garde and Kitsch and Repetition and Difference. Well, exactly.

Los Angeles–based Artforum contributing editor Bruce Hainley teaches in the masters of fine arts program at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA. Art—A Sex Book, his collaboration with John Waters, was published by Thames & Hudson in October.