PRINT December 2003

Kate Bush


1 “The Air Is Blue” (Casa Luis Barragán, Mexico City) Compared with the clutter and chaos of “Utopia Station” at the Venice Biennale, this Hans-Ulrich Obrist curatorial vehicle at architect Luis Barragán’s exquisite home in Mexico City was the epitome of restraint. Twenty-seven artists, local and foreign, were invited to respond to the man and his manse. Their interventions in the house were often as intangible as Barragán’s own subtle fusions of light, form, and color. Rirkrit Tiravanija got his green Cadillac running, and Cerith Wyn Evans played his record collection on old phonographs. But Lygia Pape’s ethereal web of golden threads strung across the light-flooded studio and Anri Sala’s photograph of a white horse impaled on a shiny steel column best apotheosized Barragán’s visionary conjunctions of nature and modernism.

2 “Cruel and Tender” (Tate Modern, London) Tate’s first-ever photography exhibition, curated by Emma Dexter and Thomas Weski, was authoritative, comprehensive, and exhaustively researched. It traced the tradition of rigorously observed, artistically ungarnished photography, bequeathed from August Sander to Walker Evans, onto Lee Friedlander and Robert Frank in the ’50s, and resting, in the present day, with Rineke Dijkstra and Paul Graham. The exhibition was particularly lucid in describing the relationship between the Düsseldorf triumvirate (Gursky, Struth, Ruff) and the US landscapists who preceded them (Shore, Robert Adams, Baltz). Great documentary photography doesn’t just illustrate the world indexically but articulates meaning in it, and this exhibition provided an object lesson for the myriad young photographers and video makers currently appropriating the raw aesthetics rather than the philosophical or political substance of the documentary mode.

3 Laban (Herzog & de Meuron) Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron’s Laban dance center deservedly scooped the 2003 Stirling Architecture Prize. Adjoining a muddy, litter-strewn creek in bleakest South East London, the unpretentious, gently curved rectangular building sets the area alight. Laban’s facade, formed from seethrough plastic infused with color, becomes by day an iridescent skin that shimmers in the changing sunlight and flickers with the half-visible movements of the dancers inside. As darkness falls, the structure transforms into a giant lantern, spilling gorgeous hues onto the wasteland.

4 Boris Mikhailov (Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland) Ukrainian Boris Mikhailov had been relatively unsung in the West before Scalo’s publication of his magnum opus, Case History, in 1999. Winterthur’s retrospective thoroughly excavated Mikhailov’s thirty-year career and its unique vision of a humanity shaped, stamped, and shattered by the ineluctable forces of history. The artist’s oeuvre swings between Rabelaisian burlesque and Dostoyevskian tragedy. With his friend Ilya Kabakov, Mikhailov is surely one of the Eastern bloc’s most compelling artists—and one of the world’s greatest living photographers.

5 Ossie Clark (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and Judith Watt, Ossie Clark, 1965–74 (V&A Publications) In 1970, Ossie Clark was king of the King’s Road, and Mick Jagger strutted in one of the designer’s gold leather jumpsuits. The V&A’s miniretrospective, as impeccably tailored as one of Ossie’s slithery python-skin jackets, reminded one of a time when fashion was about art rather than money. The midiskirts and maxicoats, the bias-cut dresses and sheer chiffons—realized in wife and muse Celia Birtwell’s joyous, effusive prints—still look astoundingly contemporary, but maybe that’s because Clark’s been ripped off by everyone from Marc Jacobs to Miuccia Prada.

6 Jake and Dinos Chapman (Modern Art Oxford) Another eventful year for the Chapman brothers and their tireless crusade against reactionary values and limp liberalism. The Oxford show made its centerpiece Insult to Injury, 2003, a defaced—or in Chapmanspeak, “rectified”—original set of Goya’s “Disasters of War” etchings. Juvenile pranksters or radical provocateurs? It’s hard to be certain, but the Chapmans’ energetic combination of craftsmanship and showmanship could well convert a—many would say belated—Turner Prize nomination into establishment accolade.

7 City of God The breakneck speed of its opening sequence—with beating drum, sharpened knife, and careering chicken—set the pace of this extraordinary gangster movie, directed by Fernando Meirelles, which tells the story of a group of teenagers living in Rio’s favelas during the ’60s and ’70s and follows the collapse of their society into violent, drug-fueled anarchy. Its visceral visuals deliver the most distinctive cinematographic style since Christopher Doyle’s work for Wong Kar-wai.

8 Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project (Tate Modern) You can’t help but gasp as you descend into the Turbine Hall, its cavernous space dissolved in a wafting mist, a giant sun glowing at its far end. It’s an illusion, conjured from no more than a mirrored ceiling, some puffs of smoke, and some two hundred yellow sodium lamps. Yet if the magic of the piece fades quickly, its radiant pleasures, in the gathering fall, linger on.

9 Arnold Odermatt, Karambolage (Steidl) and “Ce qui arrive” (Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain) A book of carcrash photographs by Swiss traffic cop Arnold Odermatt joined Paul Virilio’s exhibition to make “the accident” a refrain this year. Some were outraged that Virilio curated 9/11 into his Ballardian “museum of accidents.” Yet if we redefine the accident as not a chance event but a predictable side effect of technological, social, and political “progress,” then the philosophical terrain shifts. The paradoxical lesson of these tragedies is that they are always inevitable—and always avoidable.

10 David Blaine He was starving—for forty-four days, sealed in a Perspex box suspended thirty feet in the air from a huge crane on the bank of the Thames. But the real spectacle was the Great British Public’s refusal to be impressed by a man apparently willing to die for no loftier cause than self-promotion. As one commentator noted, Why didn’t Blaine attempt a true feat of endurance . . . like following the Hutton inquiry?

Kate Bush is senior programmer at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, where she recently organized concurrent exhibitions on the work of Kyoichi Tsuzuki and Martín Weber.