PRINT December 2006

Daniel Birnbaum

1 Cerith Wyn Evans (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) This year belonged to Wyn Evans, unparalleled collector of striking references and creator of spaces that convey a sense of total weightlessness. In the presence of his art, you begin to think that the sky is thin as paper (as one work’s title states) and that if you shot a hole in it, everything you believed to be solid would be exposed as a fabrication. A dilettante par excellence, Wyn Evans often takes literary and historical texts and images as his starting point—among them works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pierre Klossowski, and John Cage—and uses light and space to reconfigure their presence in the world. Plants, fireworks, LEDs, mirrors, and slides are brought together to produce emptiness and beauty. The adventurous journeys Wyn Evans invites you on are pure joy, even when you end up face-to-face with a frightening headless figure representing pure desire—as in Acéphale, 2001. I’m grateful to the ICA London for staging “take my eyes and through them see you,” and full of admiration for Suzanne Pagé, who for almost two decades ran an extraordinary program at the Museé d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, where one of her last shows was the Wyn Evans exhibition “. . . in which something happens all over again for the very first time.”

2 “The Vicious Circle” (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London) This show, organized by Sarah Wilson, was installed as a cabinet of curiosities, focusing on affinities between Pierre Klossowski and Hans Bellmer, and featuring their extended family, including Brassaï, André Masson, and the incomparable Unica Zürn. There was a lot of reading to be done: One could get lost in Nietzschean speculation or in the erotic labyrinths of the Marquis de Sade, but in the end the artists’ most riveting objects and images—for example, Bellmer’s 1934 Die Puppe (The Doll) which was on view in the Whitechapel’s concurrent Bellmer survey—remained as inscrutable as they had been before one knew what the artists might have read beforehand.

3 “Dada” (Centre Pompidou, Paris) Organized by Leah Dickerman of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and Laurent Le Bon of the Pompidou, this was the richest, most extraordinary historical exhibition I’d seen in years. Sometimes when shows are so dense, one thinks it would be better to read a book on the subject instead, but here I wished for one or two more days to spend in the Pompidou’s mazelike display.

4 Wade Guyton, “Color, Power & Style” (Kunstverein in Hamburg) “The real problem,” writes Scott Rothkopf in this year’s best-looking German exhibition catalogue (Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König), “is not so much saying there’s no such thing as an original image, but knowing full well that it’s not a very original thing to say.” That an entire generation of artists from Europe as well as the US shares Guyton’s strategies of appropriation should perhaps make us look closer at the images themselves rather than go on about strategies of citation. As Rothkopf writes, Guyton’s work reflects his being “late not just to modernism’s party, but to postmodernism’s, too”—but we shouldn’t forget that arriving late can create great liberty: In this show, curated by Yilmaz Dziewior, I was struck by how the evidence of production mistakes and technical accidents in Guyton’s works makes them not only retro-chic but also tremendously visually extravagant. They are explosive; they are on fire.

5 Michael S. Riedel, Tirala (Schlebrügge.Editor) Riedel would probably agree with artist Seth Price’s claim that “sampling is not concerned with repetition. Its purpose is the creation of new, discrete events. Each reproduction is an original and a new beginning.” Riedel has created many such new, discrete things that look a lot like objects or situations we already know. Parties are repeated, publications are duplicated, entire shows happen again. Tirala presents documentation of the artist’s own work in the same square format as the publication you are holding in your hands—playing on the idea of “an internationally known art journal” (to quote the Schlebrügge catalogue) as a hefty signifier of legitimacy. The obesity of today’s art market has an unmistakable weight.

6 Carl Michael von Hausswolff Both von Hausswolff’s music and his artistic interventions are incredibly reduced, yet his sound interventions and audio recordings—such as this year’s Topophonic Models (Feld)—leave me convinced that no other artist today can create an atmosphere so threatening, at least not without actually resorting to violence. In recent years, von Hausswolff has flooded old architectural structures in Eastern Europe in an ominous red light, among them the Kaliningrad Zoo (Red Zoo [Kaliningrad 2006]) and an imposing old building in Croatia (Red Empty [Rijeka 2006]). These works are like real-life trailers for a sublime horror movie.

7 Yang Fudong, Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest: Part 3 The third part of Yang’s ongoing (and wonderfully titled) cinematic cycle is the best work I’ve seen from the nation that will take over the art world next year—and the rest of the world soon thereafter.

8 Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Parc Central This collection of films from cities across the globe provides further evidence of Gonzalez-Foerster’s unmistakable sense of urban ambience and tropical melancholia. In a conversation between the artist and Jacques Rancière published in Art Press, the philosopher, reflecting on the dialogue between East and West in her work, observes, “What is interesting is what they over there have done with what they borrowed from us here. You don’t get that here, maybe because we have the idea that there are no more journeys left.” That may be the case, but after seeing Gonzalez-Foerster’s films I want to go places: Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Taipei, and of course Japan, though I’m not sure if her Japan really exists or whether it’s a semiotic fantasy after Roland Barthes.

9 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics (paperback) (Continuum) I get depressed whenever I think about what horrible taste “major” philosophers tend to have when it comes to art. I’ve been to Jacques Derrida’s house, and I have listened to Jürgen Habermas talk about the avant-garde: How sad. And then comes Rancière, whose Politics of Aesthetics reads like an elegant theorization of the most advanced French art of the last decade. What a relief!

10 “Fischli & Weiss: Questions & Flowers. A Retrospective” (Tate Modern, London) “It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing.”

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 the Hafnarhus, Reykjavík Art Museum, Iceland.