PRINT December 2007

Jack Bankowsky


1 Panama Pavilion (Venice Biennale) Richard Prince’s Nancy Spector–curated Guggenheim Museum retrospective was the undisputed center of gravity of the artist’s annus mirabilis, but as ever in the Princeian scheme of things, the museal main event was half the story. First, he raised the Body Shop on a freshly cleared upstate lot; then, with the help of a bodacious babe, he turned an art fair (Frieze) into an auto show. Let’s admit it, the runway debut of the artist’s customized handbags for Louis Vuitton seemed a dead-tired alternative—until the all-nurse lineup unmasked to reveal Naomi, Stephanie, et al., and the number one fan of the “Publicities” joined the “girls” onstage for the traditional couturier’s bow. My own nomination for the brightest star in a starry year? Prince’s self-commissioned tour de force for the 52nd Venice Biennale. Too bad they don’t give out Golden Lions for four-color posters.

2 “© Murakami” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) I showed up in LA the morning after the three-ring gala that launched the MoCA retrospective, and Takashi Murakami, it seemed, was everywhere: on the think-pink billboard as I drove in from LAX; on the arm of more than one fashion victim of means lunching on my hotel terrace; in the real Louis Vuitton boutique nestled at the installation’s heart (Andy would have been proud, the bags and key chains and tiny leather agendas were moving at a brisk pace), and, yes, even in the Paul Schimmel–curated galleries. As I sat cross-legged on the floor of a darkened, daisy-carpeted room, the projected visages of those branded munchkins Kaikai and Kiki drifting dreamily across the wall, I closed my eyes: I’m old, I’m occidental, but this really is, as one flushed gala-goer put it, “the first show of the twenty-first century!”

3 Kai Althoff and Nick Z., “We Are Better Friends for It” (Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York) Is there a single truly significant “painter” under, say, age fifty who confines his or her practice to the art of painting (and/or the medium’s traditional handmaiden, drawing)? Take this year’s demands-to-be-dealt-with painting show, which was also an unruly installation—a bursting-at-the-seams collaboration between Althoff and graffiti artist Nick Z. that inspired many to ask why Althoff felt that his jewel-box, eclectically expressionist tableaux required a double dumpster of detritus to keep it real. Well, to start, the show reprised the fraternal bonding and filial agonism that remain the artist’s abiding thematic. Plus, Althoff’s intuition that the best way to make a picture today is to put it to work in a larger performed economy aligns him with some none-too-shabby company (see above, 1 and 2).

4 “Hammons” (L&M Arts, New York) David Hammons has been skewering the art world for as long as I can remember, but this year he effectively upped the ante by hijacking the bluest-chipped of blue-chip emporiums and fitting out its parqueted premises with a half-dozen artfully defiled furs. The “contradictory” experience of consuming critical art in an über-posh gallery is admittedly a sitting duck. Well, in theory, anyway; in practice, Hammons’s bull’s-eye made his public squirm. What—repeat after me—becomes a legend?

5 Charles Ray, Hinoki (Regen Projects, Los Angeles) Time in a bottle—or, rather, in an enormous decaying tree. As an artist whose work consists in a dependably unpredictable and yet decidedly single-minded meditation on the sculptural body, which is to say, on our own bodies as embodied in art, Ray must have savored the spectacle of living, breathing bodies crawling about the floor of his Hollywood gallery: peering up the knotholes, down the hollow trunk, and getting lost in the ocean of tiny carving marks. Over the next several centuries, the artist warns, the tree will settle, go into a sort of metabolic crisis, blacken, stabilize, and in due course enter a gradual but steady decline. . . . An Ozymandias for the city of glass. Please don’t touch the poetry.

6 John Kelsey, critic
Favorite Kelsey title: “My Other Painting Is a Car” (Richard Prince) • Favorite Kelsey epigraph: “Some sculptures seem to want a pedestal, others obscene graffiti . . .” —Michel Leiris (Rachel Harrison) • Favorite stroke of genius: too many; can’t pick.

7 Rachel Harrison (Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, and Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich) I did not know that Arnold Palmer drinks Lite Green Tea Lemonade Half & Half—that is, not until I first saw Tiger Woods, 2006, in Harrison’s indispensable spring show at Greene Naftali. The sculpture, which is also a pedestal (with a sculpture on it and a television in it), features a can of said beverage endorsed by the senior sports celebrity. The syntactical wild style that brings together golf and graffiti (the pedestal appears to have been vandalized—presumably by the artist herself), sculpture, and an offstage cameo by Tiger Woods, with a can of tea, is typical of the managed serendipity—lexical, but, just as important, formal—that makes each Harrison work not merely a fierce and funky object but a meditation on meaning in the making.

8 Matthew Monahan (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) Where most Monahan apologists wax poetic re: the mysteries of the ancient and olden, all I can think about is Anthony Caro! Remember the maneuver whereby the famous formalist dipped an arm of steel below the pedestal top and put the art of sculpture on high alert? Monahan’s sculptures climb up and down their Sheetrock perches or swallow them whole; his fractured figures bust from their Plexi vitrines or plop themselves atop them; a face begins as a drawing and, with a crumple, becomes a 3-D sculpture. As Ari Wiseman’s miniretrospective makes abundantly clear, this artist is as much the formal virtuoso as his forefather; but where Caro pared his art down to a few discrete relationships, Monahan’s roiling improvisations draw on everything that sculpture has ever gotten up to, which includes the human figure and face, most often depicted in extremis.

9 Seth Price and Kelley Walker, Freelance Stenographer (The Kitchen, New York) If you’ve ever found yourself listening to a cover of an outmoded pop anthem (or even just an outré oddity) and wondered why it is that a modestly inflected makeover speaks more loudly to you than the boomingest by-products of authorial agon, you are the target audience for this so-casual-it-almost-didn’t-happen event. Artists Price and Walker joined forces, at the behest of Kitchen director Debra Singer, to screen a video and to muse in public on a couple of matters relevant to the context—and near and dear to their individual practices. But the infra-thin art of the matter hinged on a “live” stenographer, an onstage Bartleby who dutifully recorded the proceedings. At evening’s end, the transcript was copied on a Xerox machine and distributed (with beer) to the satisfied crowd.

10 Jason Rhoades, Black Pussy (David Zwirner Gallery, New York) There was a party in his sculpture and guess who came?

Jack Bankowsky is a critic and editor at large of Artforum. His essay “Ciao Rensselaerville” appears in the catalogue for Richard Prince: Spiritual America, currently on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.