PRINT December 2004

Jack Bankowsky


1 Anthony Burdin “Recording artist” Burdin is no stranger to the multicity tour, but the twist is, he never gets out of his car. Forget about three nights at the Beacon Theater: Burdin pops in a favorite CD, sings over the tracks (or over himself, singing over the tracks), and records the results—all the while filming his roadie’s progress out the window with a handheld camera. I duly kicked myself for missing his unscheduled late-night performance at the Frieze Art Fair, but an audience with the artist in Michele Maccarone’s darkened and dead-bolted booth (nothing like a closed door to whet first-in-mymuseum- group appetites!) revealed the live act to be but half the show. What I discovered was a multifaceted play on recording-art conventions (drawings, tapes, annotated album covers) and a trove of “music videos” as real-rock potent as they are MTV impervious. “Mostly,” Burdin explains, “I concentrate on my driving.”

2 Pierre Huyghe, “Streamside Day Follies” (Dia:Chelsea, New York) Streamside Day, 2003, Huyghe’s film-within-an-installation, was winding down its Dia run when the ball dropped on 2003, but its performative daredevilism cast a long shadow across the year ahead. Orchestrated (and filmed) by the artist to mark the opening of Streamside Knolls, a planned suburban tract carved from the forest in Fishkill, New York, the awkward festivities could have come off as merely patronizing, an easy send-up of middle-class values. Instead, Huyghe manages a tricky poise: The proceedings are neither parodic nor protective. What gets “performed” under the pressure of Huyghe’s low-key intervention are the primitive sputterings of human communication—and community. In Huyghe’s framing, this newly minted “utopia” is less drearily familiar than strange and estranging.

3 Los Super Elegantes (Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, New York) I’ve been trumpeting this conceptual duo–cum–cabaret act all year, but this is a “best of,” so I come out again for these globe-trotting emissaries of trash in translation and their refreshing brand of cross-cultural misprision that made Tunga’s House Bar the theatrical sleeper of 2004. In Latin America, Tunga is something of a scared cow, so to make the venerated vanguardist the subject of a full-length, if low-budget, drama is as kinky as it sounds. The bohemian paterfamilias apparently runs a louche salon in a Rio suburb where international truffle hogs can be found nose to the coffee table 24/7. Here the demiurge implodes at his own birthday party as his pious mother does the dishes, all the while wistfully bemoaning her lapsed calling as a theorist of Tropicalia. Talk about a surprise vantage on the touchy elisions of imperialist modernism!

4 Photorealism Revised Can it merely be a perfume of the outré that lends Photorealism such allure these days? I’m not being coy; I don’t fully understand the pull. For this reason, I thank Xavier Veilhan for erecting a pavilion (a work of art in its own right) dedicated to pondering this revisionist mystery at New York’s National Academy Museum. Preternaturally aglow against an all-black interior, canvases by Robert Bechtle, Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, et al. look as proud on their perch between painting and photography as Franz Gertsch’s monumental images of Patti Smith did early this year at Gagosian.

5 and 6 Jennifer Bolande and Rachel Harrison (Alexander and Bonin, New York/Greene Naftali, New York) When Harrison’s tiny photos of a tubby Liz Taylor embedded in a cement bunker showed up at the 2002 Whitney Biennial, I thought Eureka!—but I also thought Jennifer Bolande. Like Harrison, Bolande is not a photographer per se, but photography plays a big part in her “sculpture.” A master gambit of the 1980s, the photo as object has long been central to Bolande’s art, and yet her multifaceted miniaturism was somewhat sidelined by that decade’s more single-minded examinations of art in the age of photography. Sometimes it takes a new talent to teach us how to appreciate an older one, to rescue a difficult voice from the simplifications of period identity. I would not risk reducing either artist by this anxious equation, were it not for a pair of stellar shows this year that let them speak eloquently for themselves.

7 Ed Ruscha (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) When your art is all about economy, greatness accrues a little at a time—which is to say, each time you hit your target. The virtue of Ruscha’s twin surveys of drawings and photographs (organized by Margit Rowell and Sylvia Wolf, respectively) is that they showed this artist hitting his mark virtually every time, from those period-perfect epigrams to early experiments with the camera like Joe’s Plymouth, a 1960 photo of a photo on a stick that looks as fresh today as, well, a Rachel Harrison or a Jennifer Bolande.

8 and 9 Brian Calvin and Mathew Cerletty (Anton Kern Gallery, New York/ Rivington Arms, New York) You know when you say, “It’s good for what it is”? For me, Vincent Fecteau and Nancy Shaver are “good for for what they are” (both are runners-up here for modest but remarkable shows at Feature, Inc.). And what about Richard Tuttle? But now I’m getting confused . . . aren’t these artists just plain good? Calvin, often called the slacker Alex Katz (also good for what he is), makes paintings that are formally inventive, subtly observed, and gorgeously painted, too, in a low-key kind of way. In “Alter Ego,” his second New York solo, Cerletty looked as strong as he did in his 2003 debut. This time we found him doting on a single model until the doctor/dandy’s likeness virtually vibrates with craft—and libido. In one painting the willowy physician’s lips are impastoed pink in a jarring departure from the rest of the facture. It’s as if the artist just wanted to see what would happen to his muse (and his painting) if he dared it. The art of Calvin and Cerletty is “good for what it is,” and I bet it’s a good deal better than that.

10 Charles Ray (Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin) A new work by Charles Ray is inevitably an event. If the unveiling of his life-size, cast aluminum Tractor, 2004, was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the opening of the Flick Collection, a lengthy tour of the sculpture ensures viewers a chance to savor its calibrated contradictions. Aren’t you sick of artists glorifying farm machinery? Exactly. Leave it to Ray to start way strange—and make it stranger.

Jack Bankowsky is editor at large of Artforum and was guest editor of the magazine’s October special issue “This is Today: Pop After Pop.”