PRINT December 2003

Robert Rosenblum


1 “Art Deco 1910–1939” (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) As time travel back to the World of Tomorrow, this theatrical tour de force digs up the lost and giddy civilization of our modernist roots, a Machine Age fantasy covering everything from cigarette lighters to Busby Berkeley film clips. Léger and Brancusi make brief appearances, too, looking even more at home next to Chanel and Rolls-Royce than they do in MoMA’s pantheon. And the global reach of Art Deco couldn’t be more topical, with over-the-top items from India, Mexico, China . . . Whether culled from factories or Aztec ornament, this total environment of zigzagging geometries also sounds a death knell for our long infatuation with Art Nouveau’s vinelike grip. Hail now the right angle and the clean slate!

2 Damien Hirst, Armageddon (Gagosian Gallery, New York) The dark side of this old-fashioned vision of utopia is Hirst’s Apocalypse Now. From a safe distance, the nineby- twelve-foot monochrome expanse of bluish black might be mistaken for a branch off Serra’s tree; but up close, it turns out to be a carpet formed by a nightmare infinity of dead flies, preserved for eternity as our civilization’s hideous tombstone. This may be the scariest prediction yet of the whimper, not the bang.

3 Ellsworth Kelly, Ground Zero As for postapocalyptic resurrection, Kelly’s ultragreen project for the WTC site couldn’t be more rejuvenating. At once a vast burial mound, some thirty feet high, and a verdant pasture of awesome dimensions and simplicity, Kelly’s plan not only distills everything that need be said about life and death but adds a new Central Park where Manhattan most needs it. Of course, real-estate speculators and architects may not see things this way.

4 The Murakami Empire Murakami keeps upping the ante with his international invasion of signature products. London families rushed to the Serpentine to see the post-Disney outdoor sculpture that announced his show. And the Rockefeller Center installation, with its Buddha-like “Mr. Pointy” and its opportunity to sit on magic mushrooms in a superflat universe, was competition even for Koons’s happy-making Puppy, which once presided there. Murakami’s franchise has put smiles too on both the luxury-market accessories he created for Louis Vuitton as well as on their black-market, populist rip-offs that turn up from Canal Street to Seoul.

5 Patricia Cronin, Memorial to a Marriage (Woodlawn Cemetery, New York) Henry James might wince, were he to see this pathbreaking update to what he called “the white, marmorean flock.” After total immersion in nineteenth-century tomb sculpture, with an ear to the gossip about a colony of American lesbian sculptors who chiseled neoclassic nudes in Rome, Cronin resurrected these fantasies in a fresh offering to the supernatural: a monument to herself and her lover, the painter Deborah Kass, entwined like Victorian babes-in-the-wood. The supine half-naked bodies and classical draperies transcend mortal fact to become a lesbian Liebestod. Even more amazing is that this project found a home not in Woodstock but in Woodlawn, side by side with the tombs of all those straight, wealthy, tight-laced WASPs.

6 “Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne” (Philadelphia Museum of Art) A perfect capsule history of modernism versus postmodernism, Michael Taylor’s scholarly survey of de Chirico’s six-decade fascination with the classical Ariadne marble set up a seesawing balance between what used to be considered the great early de Chirico and the late charlatan who made bad copies of his glory days. But contemporary attitudes, propelled by Warhol’s de Chiricos, replication art, and revisionist rebellions, may have shifted the sands, so that Part II might even look much cooler than Part I. But why choose?

7 Saatchi Gallery (London) As for new museums, it’s tonic to see what can be done not with a warehouse or a factory but with a right-wing example of Edwardian architecture. In 1908, the barely known Ralph Knott won the competition for the County Hall building that has long reigned with stodgy, imperial grandeur on London’s South Bank. And now, its abundance of neo-Georgian columns, pediments, and molding has been renovated by RHWL and invaded by wild young Brits. Both the airy central spaces and the rows of small private chambers house everything hot, from Hirst to Emin, but they also include an overdue revival of the 1950s Kitchen Sink School. The clash of rebellious art and traditional containers makes everything seem newborn. Patrons of future art museums should take a long, hard look.

8 Paul McCarthy (Hauser & Wirth, London) The same collision of Edwardian antimodernism and twenty-first-century counterculture can be found in Hauser & Wirth’s brand-new gallery in Piccadilly, where Sir Edwin Lutyens’s Midland Bank (1922), renovated by Annabelle Selldorf, has been inaugurated with a show that would have made the architect of the British empire call out the Royal Guards. McCarthy’s mayhem, with its kindergarten chaos of hacking and smearing, of blood, guts, and chocolate syrup in industrial quantities, reaches new heights here. Trashing Lutyens’s interior from top to bottom, this allconsuming installation is like an id with a bulldozer.

9 Jenny Saville (Gagosian Gallery, New York) For those who think painting has died again, here’s the spirit of Rubens resurrecting it at hurricane force. Saville’s giant, in-your-face nudes make you feel like Gulliver, fording rivers and climbing mountains of British flesh. Both invigorating and repellent, overscaled and minutely mapped, these monumental canvases reinvent art’s most venerable theme, the human body.

10 “Picasso: The Classical Period” (C&M Arts, New York) Anybody who ever thought Picasso’s dalliance with antique sculpture was a retrograde cop-out should pause before this ravishing anthology of ancient Galateas transformed by Picasso’s Pygmalion. Not only are they visually extraordinary, with their complex back-and-forth between classical ideals and Cubist compressions and distortions, but their overt serenities are often fraught with such petrified anxieties that we sense they must conceal the artist’s own psychodramas. And John Richardson’s catalogue essay is crammed with so many new facts and ideas that our reading of these years may have to start from scratch.

Artforum contributing editor Robert Rosenblum is professor of fine art at New York University and a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. His traveling exhibition “Citizens and Kings: Portraiture in the Age of Goya and David” is currently on view at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.