PRINT December 2004

Alison M. Gingeras


1 Jonathan Horowitz’s Art Engagé The world has changed since Sartre coined the notion of l’art engagé, but a constellation of Horowitz works from the past few years offers the most convincing and poignant incarnation of “engaged” art today. A few examples: a glittery Rainbow American Flag for Jasper in the Style of the Artist’s Boyfriend; Official Portrait of George W. Bush Available for Free from the White House Hung Upside Down; talking without thinking (in the state of George W. Bush c. 1980, i.e., drunk and coked-up); Portrait of Chrissie Hynde (I Hope the Muslims Win). And then there are the Minimalist Plexiglas “Contribution Cubes” (think Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube [1962–65] with a money slot), which sport the logos of organizations such as the Democratic National Committee and Greenpeace. These works maintain an incredibly satisfying balance of visual force and deeply relevant yet humorous content, without the demagogic trappings that make most of today’s self-styled political art rather unbearable. Given the devastating results of the American election, Horowitz’s presence is all the more crucial.

2 Pawel Althamer (Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht) While “Drunk vs. Stoned” at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise at Passerby in New York was one of the best group show titles (and concepts) of 2004, it would have been a better subtitle for Althamer’s solo exhibition in Maastricht. He prepared his show in situ with the help of his two teenage sons and their friends—a motley crew of troubled youth from Warsaw’s housing projects—who took advantage of Holland’s liberal social mores to create several works while both drunk and stoned. Angry, utterly vulgar, brutally funny graffiti covered the walls of some of the galleries, along with other, more “conventional,” works. The writing on the walls by these young New Europeans was celebrated and fetishized by the bourgeois patrons of one of Holland’s most pristine museums. A perfect encapsulation of the recently expanded European Union.

3 Richard Prince’s Gender Studies Flipping through the twin artist’s books Women (Regen Projects, Los Angeles) and Man (Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich) should provide an instant cure for anyone still suffering from a bad case of the politically correct ’90s.

4 “Nach Kippenberger” (Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven) Even for the Kippenberger aficionado, this well-curated retrospective delivered rarities, surprises, and an eclectic orgy of delights. Focusing on the architectural tropes in his oeuvre, the show included major installations such as Spiderman Atelier, 1996, Memorial of the Good Old Time, 1987, and the 1985 series of sculptures and paintings “Rest Homes for Mothers,” as well as an almost exhaustive presentation of Kippenberger’s infamous self-promoting/ self-mocking exhibition posters. As artist Lucy McKenzie concludes in her superb catalogue contribution, “[Kippenberger] shows that letting dissidence have dissonance is as powerful as anything overtly political.”

5 Guy Bourdin (Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris) Many people are familiar with Bourdin’s oeuvre without even knowing it. This show proves that a recent flurry of high-profile rip-offs—such as Madonna and Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s obvious plagiary for her “Hollywood” video—have not succeeded in banalizing the significance of this maverick (fashion) photographer. This show and accompanying catalogue (with an outstanding essay by Rosetta Brooks) give Bourdin his posthumous due as a master of composition, a luscious colorist, a social iconoclast, and an accomplished shoe fetishist.

6 Franz West: Scatological Humor as Public Sculpture (Public Art Fund at Lincoln Center, New York) Made of roughly welded aluminum and painted in an eclectic palette of yellow, pink, blue, and green, West’s gang of seven monumental sculptures served as a perfect foil for the modernist austerity of Philip Johnson’s New York State Theater. Viewers of all ages were beckoned to crawl, lounge, and perch on these lumpy, intestine-shaped objects. A crowd-pleaser with polymorphous punch.

7 Anthony Burdin (Frieze Art Fair Music Program, London) Far from the wheeling and dealing of Regent’s Park, Showroom Kook (aka Burdin) delivered the most riveting live show in recent memory. His “voodoo vocals”—Burdin’s term for his practice of singing over his own prerecorded songs—entranced the crowd with his striking voice, psychedelic instrumentals, and autistic stage presence. Not to be confused with run-of-the-mill karaoke, Burdin channels the acute social observations and sense of alienation that animate his visual practice into his stage act.

8 “Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance” (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) Curated by Geoffrey Batchen, this exhibition (along with its scholarly publication) presented a fascinating and meticulous selection of embellished photographic objects from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that have until now escaped mainstream photographic history. Scouring attics, flea markets, historical society archives, and junk shops around the world, Batchen has thrown light on various vernacular practices—weaving the hair of departed loved ones into the frames of their pictures—that enhance the emotional and mnemonic power of ordinary photographs. These beautiful objects bear witness to the age-old struggle to spare photography’s subjects from oblivion. Thinking outside the box, Batchen once again combines an innovative curatorial practice with a provocative brand of art-historical writing.

9 Jerry Saltz, “The Super Paradigm” (The Village Voice, Sept. 10, 2004) Sometimes Saltz really hits the nail on the head. We are living in the era of a “super paradigm.” So-called termite art, new figuration, neoabstraction, the political, the apolitical, the lo-fi, and the overproduced happily coexist and are “equally” considered. Saltz is right to bemoan the promiscuous consensus that reigns supreme (even if he is guilty of perpetuating it), and his musings raise some important questions: Where are the auteurs when we need some critical and curatorial conviction? Who’s afraid of gravitas? Was it fear of breaking consensus that made the last crop of international biennales a string of duds?

10 Bruce Nauman, Raw Materials (Tate Modern, London) The anti–Weather Project.

Alison M. Gingeras is an independent curator and writer based in Paris and New York. She is currently working with a team of curators on a solo show by Daniel Buren opening at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in March 2005.