PRINT December 2004

Paul Schimmel


1 El Greco (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) At a time when we expect so much from artists at such a young age, David Davies’s El Greco exhibition told us a great deal about what we lack—the sustained nurturing of an artist throughout his entire career. After a long and awkward developmental period, El Greco finally came into his own in his late forties. Today we appreciate him not for his god-given talent or his facility with paint but because, like Cézanne, he created an electrifying and magical language that is arguably more relevant now than it was in his own day.

2 “Jeff Koons: Highlights of 25 Years” (C & M Arts, New York) Go figure. It took a large-scale, secondary-market exhibition for Koons to get the flat-out recognition of the New York Times, which he has deserved since the early ’80s. Rigorously selected and wide-ranging in scope, this quarter-century survey proved to the final doubters that Koons is among the virtuosos of our times.

3 “Chris Burden: Bridges and Bullets” (Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills) The largest exhibition ever of new work by one of LA’s most influential artists was for me dominated by the abstract, thirty-two-foot-long Curved Bridge, 2003, made of over ten thousand parts. Unlike the other works in the exhibition, this one was not based on a real bridge but instead provided a metaphorical bridge between Burden’s performances, installations, and sculptures of the late ’60s and early ’70s and his recent interest in models, engineering, and architecture. Just high enough to walk under, Curved Bridge’s simple, minimalist structure spanned the entirety of the gallery, and its graceful curve resembled a human figure with its back arched.

4 “Paul McCarthy: Brain Box Dream Box” (Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven) This exhibition provided much-needed insight into the most consistent and overlooked aspect of McCarthy’s oeuvre: drawing. Beginning with extraordinarily prophetic works of the late ’60s and continuing to this day, drawing, notes, scribbles, studies, and large-scale presentation drawings have been an essential part of McCarthy’s work. This exhibition treated us to a selection that—when placed in the context of major installations including Tokyo Santa, Santa’s Trees, 1996/1999, and Piccadilly Circus, 2003—resembled diary entries.

5 Takashi Murakami, “Inochi” (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles) Just when the art world thought Murakami had thrown it all away for commercial irrelevance, he returned with the most delicate, poetic, and deeply moving work of his entire career. Inochi, 2004, is an installation comprising a life-size sculpture of an alien boy—part science fiction, part self-portrait—as well as photographs and a video of the figure in various situations such as a school classroom. Intensely personal and uncomfortably revealing, Inochi, meaning “life,” shows us the breathtaking range and ambition of an artist who is doing his best work yet.

6 Lee Bontecou (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago) When Elizabeth Smith kicked open the door for Bontecou scholars with her Focus Series exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 1993, the impact was immediate and palpable. It seemed apparent—even to the reticent artist herself—that the time was ripe for a major reappraisal. Smith’s recent Bontecou show, organized in association with Ann Philbin of the UCLA Hammer Museum, fulfilled that promise by bringing to light significant work from a thirty-year period during which the artist worked in relative isolation. Bontecou’s indifference (at best) to the art world made for a revelatory retrospective that not only examined older iconic works but also more recent lyrical surprises.

7 Dieter Roth (Museum of Modern Art and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York) Not unlike the Bontecou exhibition, “Roth Time: A Dieter Roth Retrospective” offered breathtaking insight into an artist long known but little understood. Originally organized by Basel’s Schaulager, the show provided a sprawling, nonhierarchical take on Roth’s increasingly influential practice, which extends Rauschenberg’s intermingling of art and life and life and art.

8 “Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawing” (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) For many, Janie C. Lee and Melvin P. Lader’s retrospective of Gorky’s drawings was too much of a good thing. But for those of us passionate about the artist’s charged and evocative works on paper, the opportunity to see the largest appraisal of them to date was immensely satisfying. I can think of no other midcentury American artist (with the possible exception of de Kooning) for whom drawing was so central. The works’ virtuosity, as well as their highly subjective nature, made this one of the year’s most fascinating and challenging exhibitions in terms of sheer intensity.

9 “Jennifer Pastor: The Perfect Ride” (Regen Projects, Los Angeles) A long time coming, “The Perfect Ride” was worth the wait. The show consisted of one work with three elements: the “ride,” a projected line-drawing animation of a bull ride; the “ear,” a sculpture of the inner ear emphasizing the ear’s role in connecting the outer world and the inner workings of the brain; and, most magnificently, the “dam.” Unfortunately the “dam” was exhibited for the first time in the Italian pavilion during the 2003 Venice Biennale without the film or the sculpture, and got lost. However, Regen Projects brought all three works together as intended, revealing the unique internal logic of Pastor’s project.

10 “Gordon Matta-Clark: Bingo” (David Zwirner, New York) This exhibition affirmed yet again that Matta-Clark merits another retrospective. (The last one was organized by the MCA Chicago over 20 years ago.) Along with Robert Smithson, Matta-Clark is arguably one of the most influential artists to cross the boundaries of sculpture, installation, and performance—all with a sense of social and political responsibility. Working at a time when many other activists believed they could and would change the world, his vision not only made us aware of the urban ecology, but in fact turned its blight into art.

Paul Schimmel is chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where he is currently organizing the exhibitions “Robert Rauschenberg: Combines” and “Ecstasy: In and About Altered States.”