PRINT December 2005

Daniel Birnbaum

1 RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA With a traveling retrospective hosted by three major institutions in Europe—the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Serpentine Gallery in London, and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris—and a key work (made in collaboration with Philippe Parreno) at the Lyon Biennale, Tiravanija had, in a way, his biggest year yet. The artist’s midcareer survey, titled “A Retrospective (Tomorrow Is Another Fine Day),” took a different form at each of its three venues. For the kickoff at the Boijmans, Tiravanija displayed no objects, just empty plywood simulacra of gallery spaces in which he has temporarily set up house. Walking through, audiences listened to sound tracks, including one scripted by science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling: “Imagine living in an art gallery. No, don’t even try. That’s unimaginable.” A conventional exhibition would have been impossible, logic has it, since Tiravanija’s “work” exists only as hearsay. “Like an insane person he builds replicas of rooms and apartments that have been in his life,” Gavin Brown wrote some years ago, in what is still one of the better accounts of the artist’s practice, for the catalogue Supermarket. So what does one take away from a Tiravanija show? Not even the rice and curry remain. “Ultimately,” says Brown, “it is Rirkrit’s melancholia.”

2 ALBRECHT DÜRER’S MELENCOLIA I, 1514 As long as we’re on the subject: In his seminal essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” Sigmund Freud writes that the melancholic suffers from an oral fixation. Appropriately enough, curator Jean Clair’s massive exhibition at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, “Melancholy,” seems to suffer from hyperphagia in its attempt to devour the entire history of Western creativity in one huge, sad bite. But who could ever complain about such luxurious overabundance? Among the myriad contemporary works is Ron Mueck’s famous depressed giant, who lurks in the very last corner of the show. But it is Dürer’s tiny print on the theme that makes a visit worthwhile and which raises more questions (about art, time, bodily fluids, and the occult) than an entire volume of any art magazine could cover.

3 THE LAND, 1998 If one is to praise Tiravanija, then one must praise his collaborators. Kamin Lertchaiprasert’s decidedly nonmelancholic agriculture/art/architecture project in the small village of Sanpatong in northern Thailand, created with Tiravanija, expanded this year with the completion of Swedish composer Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s curious-looking building. Shaped like a star, the wooden structure is an homage to esoteric scientist Friedrich Jürgensen (who claimed to communicate with the dead via radio). Von Hausswolff plans to stage concerts in this strange auditorium with other electronic musicians, both dead and alive.

4 “MOMENTUM 5: PAUL CHAN” (BOSTON INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART) The Hong Kong–born artist’s continuing cycle 1st Light [sic] promises to be one of the major art projects of this decade. In spite of its theological overtones (the typographically playful title refers to the Rapture), there is nothing pretentious about the black silhouettes projected onto the gallery floor. All kinds of objects tumble through space: eyeglasses, human beings, even a train. Everything is falling, but where it will all end up, no one knows.

5 TRISHA DONNELLY (KÖLNISCHER KUNSTVEREIN) The ponderous illusions of solidity and the nonexistence of things are this artist’s materials, someone once said to me. And I agree.

6 “BERLIN BEAUTIES” (GAGOSIAN GALLERY, BERLIN; BERLIN BIENNALE). With its titillating drawings by Dorothy Iannone, the amusing invitation to this show (which I initially considered a hoax) by itself would have warranted a spot on this list. But the exhibition being announced turned out to be a carefully organized display of works by the late Dieter Roth and two of his oldest friends—Iannone and Emmet Williams—and an auspicious beginning for the Berlin Biennale, taking place six months prior to its official opening in an uncharacteristically modest (and therefore clearly fake) “Gagosian” gallery. The legal status of this already infamous action by Maurizio & Co. is still uncertain.

7 ECHOES OF SZEEMANN I happened upon Harald Szeemann’s “Visionary Belgium” at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels just a few weeks after the legendary curator’s demise. All the great Belgian artists were there—René Magritte, Marcel Broodthaers, James Ensor, and Panamarenko—to say nothing of all kinds of other mystifying things I’ve never heard of. The eminence’s American counterpart, Walter Hopps, who also passed away this year, no doubt would have called this Szeemann’s posthumous “One More Once” (after Count Basie’s cueing phrase for his band to replay a passage when closing a concert). But recently, in Berlin, I stumbled on a One More Twice—another show initiated by Szeemann celebrating soccer and art in the Martin-Gropius-Bau: “Rundlederwelten,” (“Round Leather Worlds”).v Romanian artist Serge Spitzer, one of Szeemann’s favorites, has a masterpiece here: A soccer ball rolls back and forth on a moving table, but somehow never falls off. It’s like a Brancusi for the robotic age.

8 TOMAS SARACENO Recent interest in obsolescent media has made art using new technology less fashionable, but Saraceno’s work in Paris and elsewhere in Europe provides proof that it is possible to express an original, utopian spirit if one takes advantage of technological breakthroughs. For example, the artist uses the incredibly buoyant Aerogel for his “lighter-than-air technology” that can theoretically take us beyond the clouds. Saraceno dreams of taking people—even buildings—airborne, and who can argue with that? You never know, he might just show us how to fly.

9 I’VE HEARD ABOUT . . . (A FLAT, FAT, GROWING URBAN EXPERIMENT) Published by Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in conjunction with an exhibition on the architectural group R&Sie, this catalogue was rumored to become legible only in near-freezing temperatures. If you’re bored with the cult of the obsolete (which lately seems to dominate theoretical discourse) you will be happy to participate in this flat, fat plan for a new city whose “fabrication cannot be delegated to a political power that would deny its exchange procedures and design its contours in advance.” No melancholia or nostalgia here. It has finally arrived: the future.

10 MATTHEW BRANNON His posters are the wittiest and most elegant things I’ve come across this year. My favorite: The Disappointed Critic, 2004. I take it very personally.

A contributing editor of Artforum, Daniel Birnbaum is rector of Frankfurt's Städelschule and director of its Portikus Gallery. He is also a cocurator of “Uncertain States of America,” currently on view at Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo, Norway.