PRINT December 2005

Alison M. Gingeras

1 PAUL MCCARTHY, “LALA LAND PARODY PARADISE” (HAUS DER KUNST, MUNICH) After years of intensive toil in his Pasadena studio, McCarthy delivered an epoch-making exhibition based on his two pet obsessions: pirates and cowboys. All the signature McCarthy elements were present, and then some: monumental installations-cum–film sets (the pirate ship, the houseboat), the conflation of historical trauma and kitsch Americana (US cavalry troops channeling the SS), live bacchanalian performance (a parade featuring horse-drawn covered wagons and a lederhosen-clad Bavarian oompah band), and mindboggling storyboard drawings, as well as a series of new autonomous sculptures (standouts included an anatomically correct mechanical pig). This show was spectacular not only in the scale of its execution and ambition, but also in the dense layering of conceptual conceits, which allowed viewers to get something of a unified-field view of McCarthy’s brilliantly crazy cultural critique.

2 KAREN KILIMNIK’S DOUBLE FEATURE (FONDAZIONE BEVILACQUA LA MASA, VENICE; HISTORISCHES MUSEUM BASEL, HAUS ZUM KIRSCHGARTEN) Together, these two solo shows amounted to the year’s most riveting antiblockbuster. Frequently pigeonholed as a pop-culture groupie and overshadowed in that category by some of her more market-friendly peers (Elizabeth Peyton et al.), Kilimnik, these exhibitions cannily proved, is one of our most subtle yet authoritative commentators on class envy and collective enslavement to celebrity culture. Harnessing the pungent aura of nostalgia that permeated the shows’ antique, jewel-box venues, she filled the galleries and period rooms with delicate paintings, nearly imperceptible sculptures, and deliciously poetic sound installations. In an age of ever-increasing production values and gargantuan scale, Kilimnik’s faux-naive gestures remind us that critical import and aesthetic magic sometimes come in more modest guises.

3 ARTUR ZMIJEWSKI, REPETITION (POLISH PAVILION, 51ST VENICE BIENNALE) Zmijewski’s documentary video, for which he restaged the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, was perhaps the darkest—and most timely—work of art I experienced this year. More than just an exploration of the pathological effects of power, Zmijewski’s film conjured the specters of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay while unflinchingly confronting a host of thorny issues: What does “political art” look like, or mean—and is it even an appropriate term—when every trace of redemptive humanism is extracted from the mix? Is exploitation a valid artistic strategy? How do we reconcile standard ethical conventions with our appetites for violence and drama? Look to Zmijewski in 2006 for answers to these questions and more.

4 TAKASHI MURAKAMI AS CURATOR (“LITTLE BOY: THE ARTS OF JAPAN’S EXPLODING SUBCULTURE,” JAPAN SOCIETY, NEW YORK) No matter how you feel about Murakami’s seductive-yet-virulent oeuvre, he is undeniably one hell of a curator. This exhibition-as-manifesto was one of the most meticulously installed, thoroughly researched shows of the year. The final installment of his Superflat exhibition trilogy, “Little Boy” forcefully corrected the popular misperception that Murakami and his coterie are mere neo-Pop spin-offs. By demonstrating connections between Japanese society’s preoccupation with cuteness (kawaii) and its deeply unresolved attitude toward the traumas of World War II, Murakami convincingly differentiates his engagement with pop and subcultural iconography from that of his American counterparts.

5 CHRISTOPH BÜCHEL Whether draping prayer rugs that celebrate 9/11 all over a beat-up car with Afghan plates (Fliegender Händler [Traveling Salesman], 2005) or staging the forensic investigation of an exploded bus in the pristine galleries of the Kunsthalle Basel (Hole, 2005), Büchel demands maximum (physical, emotional, conceptual) engagement from his audience. Messy, unnervingly humorous, and politically scathing, his ever-ambitious environmental installations provide apt metaphors for our turbulent times.

6 URS FISCHER, JET SET LADY (FONDAZIONE NICOLA TRUSSARDI, MILAN) In the magnificent hall of the Istituto dei Ciechi (Institute for the Blind), Fischer presented one of the most spectacular single artworks of the year. Simultaneously beautiful and ugly, mammoth and intimate, Jet Set Lady is a three-dimensional map of the artist’s mind: an iron tree, thirty feet tall, its trunk and branches abloom with over two thousand high-res color scans of drawings, prints, and paintings Fischer made over the past five years. A tour de force from one of the most consistently convincing artists of the thirtysomething generation.

7 GELITIN, RABBIT (ARTESINA, ITALY) Plopping a giant stuffed rabbit on top of a hill in the picturesque region of Piemonte, the madcap Austrian performance collective managed to add an unlikely stop to the Must-See-Land- Art itinerary. With tufts of hay (to nourish local sheep) poking through its pink yarn skin, their big bunny looks like a creepy toy knitted by a gang of Goliath-size grandmas. Neatly scoffing at the high seriousness of Spiral Jetty or Lightning Field, Gelitin takes another irreverent jab at another macho art-historical genre. Like other great in situ works, Rabbit has designs on posterity: It will be left in place until 2025.

8 “THE PERFECT MEDIUM: PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE OCCULT” (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK) This extremely pleasurable, even revelatory show gathers an array of late nineteenth- through early twentieth-century prints, cartes de visite, and other image-documents purporting to depict all manner of supernatural phenomena, from mystical apparitions to ectoplasmic auras. Like a good Ouija board session at a slumber party, the exhibition coaxes viewers into shelving their skepticism, inviting them to indulge in photography’s capacity to spin marvelously seductive fictions as well as attest to cold hard facts.

9 “BEYOND PAINTING: BURRI, FONTANA, MANZONI” (TATE MODERN, LONDON) This modest exhibition dedicated to the titular Italian postwar triumvirate seemed a perfectly timed history lesson, charting a counternarrative in the midst of the current art market’s amnesiac love affair with all things painted. Whether slashing the canvas, burning it, or soaking it with unorthodox materials (e.g. kaolin), each of these three artists infused his oeuvre with equal doses of anarchy and aestheticism to a degree seldom seen since the late 1950s. Italian neo-avant-garde incursions against painterly convention have never looked so pertinent.

10 CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE, THE GATES (CENTRAL PARK, NEW YORK) They’re gone, but far from forgotten!

Alison M. Gingeras is an adjunct curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and a frequent contributor to Artforum.