PRINT December 2004

Hamza Walker

1 “Sons et Lumières” (Centre Pompidou, Paris) Breaking the mold of hackneyed exhibitions addressing parallels between visual art and music (think of the tired example of painting and classical music—or worse, jazz), this exceptional show, curated by Sophie Duplaix and Marcella Lista and on view through January 3, instead examines relationships between light and sound. Broad? Yes. But generous enough to survey the whole of the twentieth century—from František Kupka to Pierre Huyghe—proposing it as a period of open-ended experimentation rather than ever-narrowing medium specificity.

2 Albert Ayler, Holy Ghost (Revenant Records) Released the first week of October, this nine-CD treasure trove of previously unissued and rare recordings by legendary free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler was the perfect antidote to Halloween’s spiritual bankruptcy. The haunting transcendence of Ayler’s music aside, his career is rightfully the stuff of myth, from his travels throughout Europe to his mysterious death by drowning in 1970 at the age of thirty-four. At times I mistook my stereo for a Ouiji board.

3 Christine Tarkowski, “proposals for indestructible living” (mn gallery + studio, Chicago) Under the reign of Daley II, Chicago has undergone a dramatic renovation, culminating this summer with the opening of Millennium Park, which features a flashy bandshell and bridge by Frank Gehry. By instead paying tribute to the sorrowful postwar housing vernacular that stretches for miles along the city’s north- and southwest corridors, Tarkowski’s metal bas-reliefs, cast from distressed vinyl siding of the type found on any Chicago bungalow, are a reminder of just how much of this town is immune to hoopla.

4 Kim Fisher (Shane Campbell, Chicago) An initial encounter with Fisher’s paintings left me uncertain as to whether I was dealing with a wild card or a crazy diamond. I now see it was the latter, which I can only bid to shine on. Fisher has concentrated the wacky energy of her previous body of work into smaller, shaped canvases where geometric abstraction as an allegory of modernism (a proposition indebted to Peter Halley) crystallizes into unabashed jewels.

5 Rodney Graham, Rheinmetall/ Victoria 8 (Donald Young Gallery, Chicago) Designed to extend a narrative fragment indefinitely, Graham’s cinematic works often induce in me the uncanny sense that I am trapped in a particular chapter of modernity running as a film loop. This of course is their strength. Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 has the feel of a requiem cut from the same anachronistic cloth Graham has been weaving for the past fifteen years. As the dust or snow settled on the pristine vintage typewriter, I didn’t feel as though my soul was being released so much as gently rested.

6 Albert Oehlen (Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York) Having staked out a middle ground for painting, Oehlen can be counted on to deliver a batch of canvases every few years with neither justification nor excuses. Designations like good, bad, or ugly are secondary to their simply being paintings whose quality, for what it’s worth, is allowed to ebb and flow. In this instance, the surf was up.

7 Charles Burns, Black Hole (Fantagraphics Books) Burns’s ability to hit the proverbial psychosexual nail on the head made the inclusion of pages from his magnum opus, the twelve-issue comic-book series Black Hole, a must in Robert Storr’s investigation of “the grotesque” in this year’s SITE Santa Fe Biennial. With a noirish sensibility that harks back to the golden age of the horror genre and a story line following a group of plague-ridden teenagers in ’70s Seattle, this staunchly black-and-white glossy never fails to tap into those libidinally based fears commonly known as the willies. As its last installment is released this month, I can finally praise this macabre gem as a whole, or hole, as the case may be.

8 Lee Bontecou (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago) Unlike, say, Paul Thek, Bontecou was not overlooked as much as she was frozen in time. If the permanent collection at the Art Institute of Chicago is any indication, then Bontecou’s metal-and-fabric reliefs never wholly disappeared from sight. In the context of that installation, her works have a constant funk factor, meaning they are as funky now as they were in the ’60s, making them truly unruly period pieces. But seeing these signature sculptures contextualized within her oeuvre in this retrospective, curated by Elizabeth Smith of MCA Chicago with Ann Philbin of the UCLA Hammer Museum, one could make sense of a broader trajectory that incorporated naive ecological motifs à la Jacques Cousteau, entirely apart from either strictly feminist or formalist concerns.

9 Catherine Sullivan, Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land (S.W.A.P. Polish Army Veteran’s Association, Chicago, Apr. 2) This freaky slag-heap of performance-cum-escapade had no choice but to be grueling for audience and actors alike, given its nested source material—Two Captains, the 1939 novel by Soviet writer Veniamin Kaverin, which in turn served as the basis for Nord-Ost, the play being staged when Chechen rebels took an entire Moscow theater audience hostage in 2002. For Sullivan’s detractors who simultaneously decry the lack of politics in contemporary art, the only words I have are, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco.”

10 DNA, DNA on DNA (No More Records) As a young punk in Baltimore in the early ’80s, I was weaned on the righteousness of DC’s Dischord label. In contrast, the bands coming out of New York were a seriously dark brew whose fans always struck us as creepy if not outright violent. Seminal No Wave bands like Mars and DNA didn’t answer to ideology. Thank God! As a result, I have been spared a sense of nostalgia when listening to this thirty-two-track compilation representing DNA’s total output. As for band members Arto Lindsay and Ikue Mori, beautiful buds made for beautiful blossoms. It’s in the genes, so to speak.

Hamza Walker is associate curator at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago and the recipient of the Walter Hopps Award for Curatorial Achievement.