PRINT December 2003

Isabelle Graw


1 Francis Picabia (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) For me, painting is interesting only if it shows an awareness of its own sheer meaninglessness and ridiculous claims. This well-curated exhibition demonstrated how Picabia not only reacted to the artistic conventions around him (Impressionism and Cubism, for instance) but also effectively changed their direction. The show’s ambition was to present the “whole” Picabia, revealing how each of the artist’s “turns” was about communicating with his peers as much as taking a unique position as a cultural producer. My favorite works are the mechanical drawings, which represent, as far as I know, the first reconciliation between automatism and expression.

2 Galerie Meerrettich (Berlin) Run by artist Josef Strau, the Galerie Meerrettich is housed in a small pavilion set next to the Volksbühne, the hippest theater in Berlin. Since its repurposing in late 2002 (the building was once the theater’s ticket booth), many fine shows have been staged here, each engaging the space in unexpected ways. In January Josephine Pryde added a wall, on each side of which she hung a photograph of a multi-headed hen—a kind of exercise in anachronistic montage techniques. The hen seemed to stare at you, providing the space itself with an uncanny gaze. Jutta Koether’s summer intervention was equally successful—the gallery was divided this time with curtains of gold and silver streamers, behind which hung a painting showing traces of a face with huge eyes. After the opening, Koether led us to the Royal Pawn Shop bar to hear the girl band Cobra Killer. The gig was intense (much red wine was poured) and very brief.

3 Giorgio Agamben, Die kommende Gemeinschaft (Merve Verlag) Published in English in 1993 under the title The Coming Community and issued just this year in German, this small book by Italy’s most prominent contemporary philosopher offers a challenging reflection on a modus vivendi that accepts the fact that one is foreign to oneself (Uneigentlichkeit). In essence, the coming human being lacks self-mastery. As artists are often expected to be in control, to produce a lot, and to “deliver” on time, it seems advisable to consider not mastering the situation and not delivering, and to integrate this stance into one’s production.

4 Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle Without a doubt, the most “artsy” movie I’ve seen in a long time—every shot more extreme than the last, self-consciously over the top, making fun of its excessive effects, sometimes even betraying its rudimentary Photoshop techniques. Most unforgettable is the beachfront face-off between Demi Moore and Cameron Diaz, a battle between two historical types—the lonely fighter of the ’80s who wears red lipstick (Moore) versus the contemporary “team player” girls who wear lip gloss. Both options present problems: The lonely fighter tends to overestimate her exceptionality, while the team-girls conform too much to neoliberal calls for “networking” and “flexibility.”

5 Cosima von Bonin (Galerie Neu, Berlin) Entering the exhibition space, one found a sculpture consisting of two swinging doors that opened onto a kind of tiny, claustrophobic changing room often found in boutiques. This temporary construction commented not only on the boutiquelike situation of many galleries but also on this space in particular, with its bright lights and shiny floor. When paintings are presented here, they tend to evaporate; not so with von Bonin’s huge fabric works, which proved that an artist can pursue her own idiosyncratic language even under the glare of commerce.

6 Madonna, American Life (Warner Brothers) Possibly Madonna’s most underestimated record. The German critics who called it boring overlooked at least three great songs: “Hollywood,” “Mother and Father,” and “I’m So Stupid,” which experiments with neo-punk gestures. When Madonna sings “I,” she makes it sound as annoying as egocentrism really is. Sure, she pulled the anti-Bush video from the MTV playlist at the last minute, and her makeover machine occasionally goes into overdrive, as with her recent Deitch Projects show or her children’s book. But my sympathy for Madonna is steadfast.

7 Heimo Zobernig (K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf) Abandoning chronology, the third installment (after Vienna and Basel) of the Austrian artist’s midcareer retrospective was the most successful. As always, Zobernig used what he found: in this case a set of wooden constructions left in the space from a previous Rodney Graham exhibition, which served as mounts for Zobernig’s geometric paintings. Some elements of Zobernig’s former installations were rearranged, others reconstructed—always in a playful way that signaled how different it all could have been.

8 Dogville No filmmaker since Hitchcock has illuminated his leading actress so well—Lars von Trier’s Nicole Kidman is constantly aglow. With its Brechtian setup, Dogville is formally ambitious, visually exciting, and wonderfully scripted: a complex investigation into the fatal consequences of absolute devotion.

9 Apartment (Berlin) At the Prada and Gucci palaces on Berlin’s Kudamm and Friedrichstrasse, you rarely see any customers. The reason is simple: Few Berliners can afford Prada or Gucci. Apartment, a boutique that reopened last summer in a new space in Berlin-Mitte, takes a different approach. From the outside, it looks like all the neighboring empty storefronts. There’s no sign: Only a few designer names written on a white wall give it away. For fashionistas with a taste for the laid-back, this basement grotto is the place to be (if you can find it, that is).

10 Miss Kittin (Amnesia, Ibiza, Aug. 18) Invited by German techno veteran Sven Väth to his weekly “Cocoon Club,” Geneva DJ Miss Kittin spun a set that was wide-ranging, precisely conceived, and infinitely surprising. Switching smoothly between different genres—electronica, techno, and Chicago house—and occasionally singing herself, Miss Kittin kept us dancing euphorically late into the night.

Isabelle Graw, founding editor of Texte zur Kunst, is professor of art theory at the Städelschule art academy in Frankfurt and cofounder of its new Institute for Art Criticism. She is the author of Die bessere Hälfte (The Better Half; Dumont, 2003), a study on twentieth-century women artists.