PRINT December 2006

Chrissie Iles

1 “The Secret Public: The Last Days of the British Underground 1978–88” (Kunstverein München) History will prove that the artists in this intelligent show—among them Michael Clark, Derek Jarman, Stuart Marshall, Neil Bartlett, Stephen Willats, and Richard Hamilton—were the UK’s hidden cultural force and the last generation to be defined by themselves rather than by the market. They are rarely mentioned in “official” accounts of contemporary British art, but this exhibition (organized by Stefan Kalmár, Michael Bracewell, and Ian White) made it clear that they were the real heart of British culture in that era.

2 The Wrong Gallery For their Berlin Biennial, Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick (aka The Wrong Gallery) abandoned the tired curatorial thesis model for an intimate, experiential theater of the absurd that took place in venues including apartments, a cemetery, a former school, disused stables, and the street. And the work they organized for the Frieze Art Fair—a version of Gino de Dominicis’s 1972 Venice Biennale performance, The Second Solution of Immortality: The Universe Is Immobile, in which a man with Down syndrome sat on a chair and contemplated a ball, a stone, and an imaginary cube—raised serious questions about both the original piece and the problems of re-presenting historical performances.

3 Stuart Comer at Tate Modern and Ian White at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London Consistently superb film curating by Comer and White has ensured that film occupies center stage on the British contemporary art scene. This year, veterans such as Norman McLaren, Charles Atlas, Stuart Marshall, and James Benning were programmed alongside German independent director Fred Kelemen, a documentary of a performance by the band Throbbing Gristle, and a film series celebrating BUTT Magazine. Long live the subversive dark space of the cinema!

4 “Fast and Loose (My Dead Gallery)” (Fieldgate Gallery, London) This show, organized by the Centre of Attention, dealt with now-defunct alternative spaces that came and went in London from the 1950s to the 1990s. Held in a warehouse in the East End, “Fast and loose” was an important work of archaeology, bringing forgotten spaces such as 2B Butler’s Wharf, B2, Gallery House, and workfortheeyetodo back into focus. These spaces nurtured an alternative practice that has remained largely invisible due to its ephemerality, yet they were enormously important for the development of artists such as Derek Jarman, Peter Doig, Anthony McCall, Stuart Brisley, David Medalla, Yoko Ono, and the Neo-Naturists.

5 “Jürgen Klauke: Works from the Early ’70s” (Ritter/Zamet, London) Klauke’s staged photographs and performances were pioneering in their questioning of the body and gender roles, and made breakthroughs in the use of photography as art. This jewel of an exhibition underscored Klauke’s historical importance and reminded us that in the 1970s camp existed in art as well as behind the microphone.

6 Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait To watch this film on a gigantic screen installed on the pitch of the Basel soccer stadium (designed by Herzog & de Meuron)—during the World Cup—was to experience site-specificity perfected. Succumbing to art-world ADD, many viewers left before the dramatic climax of the lengthy film, which captured Zidane being carded— prefiguring his red-card head-butt drama in the final match a few weeks later, and turning the incident into a case of life imitating art imitating life.

7 “Allan Kaprow: Art as Life” (Haus der Kunst, Munich) This long overdue survey of one of the key figures in American art (co-organized by the Haus der Kunst’s Stephanie Rosenthal and Eva Meyer Hermann at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven) should be applauded for its attempt to create an alternative exhibition model based on Kaprow’s insistence on impermanence. Environments were re-created by local students working with artists Magdalena Jetelová, Hermann Pitz, and Stefan Römer, and iconic happenings, from Household, 1964, to Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts, 1959, were reenacted to create a living exhibition that unfolds across time.

8 “Polke—Bernstein—Amber” (Michael Werner Gallery, New York) Installed as a “modern Wunderkammer,” a hitherto unseen group of Sigmar Polke paintings was shown together with a selection of Renaissance and Baroque amber objects. This intimate, scholarly show, curated by Gordon Veneklasen at a gallery that kept the flame of German art burning in New York during the many years when virtually no one else was taking notice, revealed much about Polke’s thinking and about the material and mystical importance of amber for his work.

9 Cerith Wyn Evans, “take my eyes and through them see you” (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London) Organized by Jens Hoffmann and Rob Bowan, this show stood out for its subtlety of form. For the first time that anyone can remember, The Mall— the grand avenue in front of the ICA, along which all royal processions pass—was visible from the otherwise empty ground floor gallery. With this simple action the ICA’s space seemed to breathe again, as if no longer hunkering down against the forces of pomp and splendor. In the upstairs galleries, venetian blinds opened and closed, sending out fragments of literary texts as Morse code signals, and the work that lent its title to the show, a projected loop of exposed black 16-mm film, shifted our eyes from the dust on the windows to the accumulated dust on the projector gate.

10 “Mel Bochner: Language, 1966–2006” (Art Institute of Chicago) and 0 to 9: The Complete Magazine, 1967–1969, edited by Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer (Ugly Duckling Presse) Two important moments in Conceptual art finally got their due this year. James Rondeau’s concise, beautifully installed survey of Mel Bochner’s language works included many rarely seen pieces and revealed the depth of his contribution to American art. And Acconci and Mayer’s self-published magazine, 0 to 9, is accessible again, all its mimeographed issues republished in a single doorstop volume. On a wildly unlikely group of contributors, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Novalis, and Hans Christian Andersen rub shoulders with Lee Lozano, Morton Feldman, and John Giorno, among many others.

Chrissie Iles, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz curator of contemporary art at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, co-organized the 2004 and 2006 Whitney Biennials and is currently preparing a show of artists’ films made for the cinema.