PRINT December 2004

Daniel Birnbaum


1 “Louise Lawler and Others” (Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel) Says Lawler in the catalogue accompanying this splendid exhibition organized by Philipp Kaiser, “Art is always a collaboration with what came before you and what comes after you.” Somewhere in between the before and the after, something seems to emerge that we want to call the present. Theorists have questioned whether there is such a thing, and Lawler’s art could easily be read as a confirmation of a philosophy of difference claiming delay and displacement as more original than immediacy. And yet the clashes in Lawler’s work—sometimes subtle, sometimes violent (and often funny)—no doubt create radiant sparks of an ever-new Now.

2 “Sturtevant: The Brutal Truth” (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt) Clement Greenberg once expressed his doubts that humor could ever play a major role in art. Too bad he couldn’t have lived to witness the confusion produced by two go-go dancers (one black, the other white) performing in Frankfurt’s modern art museum during the opening of “The Brutal Truth”—one dancing according to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “original” instructions, the other to those of Sturtevant (which couldn’t have been too different). As John Waters says in the catalogue, “Cutting out all the stuff that doesn’t matter. Down to the bone. [T]hat is what I admire about Sturtevant’s work: no messing around. Very brutal.” MMK director Udo Kittelmann and curator Mario Kramer devoted all of their galleries to this brutality, thus staging Sturtevant’s largest exhibition to date and the year’s most daring curatorial experiment.

3 Michael S. Riedel Repetition, replication, displacement. This German artist is giving rise to a quasi world of distorted mirror-images and new takes on things that we already know, or so we thought. The white flower he placed on Sturtevant’s table at the opening of “The Brutal Truth” seemed to me an original. Otherwise, everything has been doubled. Riedel offers us a twin universe: The artist himself exists in different versions.

4 About Café (Bangkok) This café/gallery/ library has managed to attract many of today’s most interesting artists, not just locally but from around the world. I spent a number of great July afternoons in the cool and pleasant reading room. Downstairs they were installing a piece by Daniel Buren.

5 Ayşe Erkmen (Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt) Erkmen moves things around, provides a new context for things. Over the years she’s recontextualized statues, ships, and animals. This time it was something rather formless: a muddy landscape of puddles, dirty water, and irregularly distributed islands. You could jump from one to another, but your boots would get soaked through anyway and you might even have got stuck. This is an everyday experience in many places in the world, but not at the heart of Europe’s financial capital. Thank you!

6 Pan Sonic The electronic duo’s new box set, Kesto (234:4:4), is their magnum opus and sure to go down as a milestone in the history of electronic music. It goes without saying that nearly 235 minutes of sound means lots of listening. The tracks I’ve heard so far are frightening and sublime.

7 Philippe Parreno Having at this point published essays on most of the key artists of his generation—Pierre Huyghe, Olafur Eliasson, Jorge Pardo, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Doug Aitken, Liam Gillick, even Björk—Philippe Parreno can no longer be thought of as the covert center of today’s discourse on art. I’ve always felt that in his own art we get a glimpse of the future, not only because of such science fiction–like titles as The Boy from Mars, 2003, but because he shows things I’ve never seen before. In a recent essay on Anri Sala, Parreno writes of a film that doesn’t exist but that somehow emerges in the creative critic’s mind: “This is a film that Anri will never make but that he projected in my head. I dated it 2010.” Then follows the most horrifying story. Parreno has seen the future.

8 Towers Not since Vladimir Tatlin’s times have artists been so keen on building towers. Anselm Kiefer is back with a vengeance as the builder of monumental, otherworldly palaces in Milan; Rirkrit Tiravanija has constructed a strictly antimonumental wooden tower in the bombastic “Hall of Honor” in Munich’s Haus der Kunst. Younger artists like Michael Beutler and Tomas Saraceno are building vertically all over the globe: in Germany, Italy, Argentina, and Russia. In Saraceno’s case, the architecture is heavenly in a literal sense. With lighter-than-air technology, he will soon make structures that fly (he says).

9 “Phonorama” (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe) The day I read about the death of Jacques Derrida, the first thinker to discuss the full implications of phonocentrism in Western metaphysics, I happened to see this massive, fascinating exhibition (organized by cultural historian Brigitte Felderer) subtitled “A Cultural History of the Voice as a Medium.” Works by Valie Export and Joseph Beuys, for example, are juxtaposed with bizarre machines—scientific and occult instruments by figures like Friedrich Jürgenson, who communicated with the dead via radio, and Wolfgang von Kempelen, who in 1790 constructed an impressive machine to simulate human speech. Death really does have a voice.

10 Second Deaths Beginning with his 1981 essay “The Deaths of Roland Barthes,” Derrida, whose philosophy always forwarded a critique of a certain Metaphysics of Life, brought the genre of the obituary to new speculative heights. His remarkable essays occasioned by the deaths of Deleuze, Foucault, Althusser, Levinas, Gadamer, and many others, evolved a novel kind of writing about finitude, a kind of thanatography, which somehow seemed to anticipate his own demise. Now that Derrida’s death has happened, it seems a repetition, just as with Janet Leigh, who had already died so violently that it left a mark on several generations of artists. Reading her recent obituary in the International Herald Tribune, I can only think of Derrida and Douglas Gordon. A strange thing, this second death.

Artforum contributing editor Daniel Birnbaum is director of the Städelschule art academy in Frankfurt, cofounded its new institute for art criticism, and heads its Portikus gallery.