PRINT December 2007

Ali Subotnick


1 “A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s” (Berkeley Art Museum, CA) As a friend of mine remarked upon seeing this show, a lot of Bruce Nauman’s early work is like some of the bad shit coming out of art schools nowadays. But when Nauman made it, it was so cool, so radical. The sculptures, films, videos, photos, and drawings the artist made in the 1960s effortlessly combine his personae as a nerdy art student in the studio (silly walk) and a techno geek (a hologram!) with his inner dork (counting stairs and playing with neon tubes) and, of course, the undeniable macho man (fishing!). The raw and almost organic mood of the show, organized by the Berkeley Art Museum’s Constance Lewallen, also felt right at home in architect Mario Ciampi’s 1970 concrete building, with its meandering ramps and staircases and floating balcony.

2 Erik van Lieshout, “Kunsthaus Hollywood” (Kunsthaus Zürich) A heartbreaking work of staggering genius, and then some. Working predominantly in video and drawing, Van Lieshout laughs, cries, screams, and yells, and unabashedly shares his most intimate thoughts and emotions while exposing the hypocrisies and absurdities of the world at large. One minute he’s bonding with the homeless in East Germany; the next he’s on a ski slope discussing the war with an American who asks, “What war?”; and later he’s bickering with his roommate for being totally depressed and not leaving the house for several days. The show, organized by Mirjam Varadinis, was a lyrical roller-coaster ride of emotions and politics.

3 Jeffrey Vallance, “Relics and Reliquaries” (Grand Central Art Center, California State University, Fullerton, Santa Ana, CA) and “Belief System: 1970s Political Work and Reliquary Chapels” (Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles) The underrecognized Vallance continues to celebrate the banal and sentimental treasures of everyday life, with works ranging from drawings and letters the artist exchanged with several US senators (Drawings and Statements by U.S. Senators, 1978, at Margo Leavin) to a Morticia Addams bubble-gum card (Morticia Madonna, 2007, at both venues). He’s a true original, flying under the radar while amassing an encyclopedic inventory of the weird, the absurd, and the overlooked.

4 Nathalie Djurberg, Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs) (Performa07/Zipper Theater, New York) For her first live show, Djurberg brought the raw ingredients of her “fairy tales gone mad” stop-motion-animation videos to the table. With composer Hans Berg and her brother, Pascal Strauss, Djurberg produced the sound track to her video live onstage. She slowly let the air out of a balloon to make the squeals of rats, as her brother squeezed an accordion to ape the wheezing of dogs and Berg played drums with kitchen utensils. On-screen, dogs waged war with a pack of wild, starving children in an over-the-top battle, after which the surviving dogs and people went to a hospital, dripping blood and missing limbs. It’s not always good to see what happens behind the scenes, but in this case, the live action heightened the drama and intensity. It’s a dog-eat-child-eat-dog world gone mad.

5 “Kim Jones: A Retrospective” (UB Art Galleries, State University of New York, Buffalo, and Luckman Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles) Organized by Sandra Q. Firmin and Julie Joyce, this show had visitors taking a trip with the Mudman, Jones’s alter ego, who from the 1970s on trekked around Los Angeles caked in mud, wearing a mask and a heavy backpack made of branches. Wandering through the city with him and through his past as a wheelchair-bound child and Vietnam veteran, you could practically see the mud baking in the hot sun. The cryptic drawings accompanying the documentation on view reminded me of a more recent golden child with a similar loner’s wanderlust, Anthony Burdin.

6 Zac Efron Zac showed up in Venice on a page ripped from a teen magazine, in Raymond Pettibon’s belligerent “not another fucking biennial” contribution to the Biennale. A few days later I saw Zac in Rachel Harrison’s outstanding exhibition at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich, appearing on a sculpture hidden under the stairs, which I might not even have noticed if not for his angelic face staring up at me from a stack of tabloid rags. That neither artist knew who he was when I asked about him made his repeat appearance even more magical. Zac makes the world want to hold hands and smile.

7 “Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone” (Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA) Seeing this show, which was organized by Elizabeth Armstrong, was like spending a day at the beach—one of those perfect days when every so often the bright sun gets muted by a dark cloud and you and maybe two others are the only ones around. She’s a painter’s painter and an art lover’s treasure.

8 “Identity Theft: Eleanor Antin, Lynn Hershman, Suzy Lake, 1972–1978” (Santa Monica Museum of Art, CA) This small, focused show organized by Jori Finkel was a rare gem. Antin’s impassioned videos of a Florence Nightingale–like nurse and an airplane hijacking (plus the cardboard plane and flat cutout figures used to make the latter); Hershman’s documentation of her sort-of-creepy alter ego, Roberta Breitmore, who had an entire life separate from that of the artist; and Lake’s pre-Photoshop photo manipulations, in which she borrowed facial features from friends and morphed them with her own, are all radical works—ahead of their time and absolutely relevant today.

9 Tomoo Gokita, “Vanity Drunko” (Honor Fraser, Los Angeles) This fantastic LA debut by the Tokyo-based artist included an exquisite installation featuring dozens of tiny pencil drawings and miniature paintings, of everything from penises to a headless naked lady, strange aliens, wrestlers, a grid of skulls, Op-art abstractions, and a suburban home, all with handmade frames.

10 Carol Bove, “The Middle Pillar” (Maccarone, New York) This show combined nostalgia, craft, curiosity, and intellect with elegant aplomb. The works on view included concrete slabs leaning on steel supports, a worn piece of driftwood suspended like a hammock, a whimsical bed of peacock feathers, and Bove’s signature witty yet surprisingly unpretentious bookshelf arrangements, plus a fantastic Bruce Conner collage from 1959 and funky paintings by Wilfred Lang. The exhibition’s centerpiece, a 1963 Arnaldo Pomodoro bronze sphere, and the hanging rods in the gallery’s entryway (The Night Sky Over New York, October 21, 2007, 9 PM) provided perfect bookends to a magical mystery tour of the world of Carol Bove.

Ali Subotnick is a curator at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, where she recently organized exhibitions with Jamie Isenstein, Erik van Lieshout, and Kaari Upson. She has also served as a part-time faculty member at USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts in Los Angeles.