PRINT December 2007

John Kelsey


1 Décor: A Conquest by Marcel Broodthaers, 1975/2007 Seminal, groundbreaking, and important are words typically used to describe this two-room artwork by Belgian ex-poet Broodthaers, which was presented for the first time in New York this past summer at Michael Werner Gallery. Dust off the nineteenth-century cannons and stuffed python, unpack the twentieth-century pistols and patio furniture, and see what Mike Kelley was talking about in 1995, when he called Broodthaers’s approach “hokey and obvious,” yet admirable in its way of being so “sincere and insincere at the same time.” The work is like a movie set propped with ready-made stand-ins for Europe’s modern colonial history. Decades before “installation art” became a household term, Décor—an early, more playful instance of institutional critique—went quaintly and deviously to war. The uptown display coincided with a downtown screening, organized by White Columns, of the artist’s strange short films at Anthology Film Archives.

2 Grindhouse Written, produced, and directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, this B-movie double feature is interrupted by trailers for other fictional productions, gaps representing missing reels, and fake print damage. The first part, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, is a schlock zombie apocalypse. The second is Tarantino’s excellent hot-rod picture, Death Proof, a narrative that is also split in two—like a highway, the A and B sides of a record, or a brain. Two ensembles of actresses (including Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, and the stuntwoman Zoë Bell, playing herself) eat up the screen as the film veers between Rohmer-esque conversation and bursts of bodily violence, cut to upbeat songs like “Hold Tight” by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.

3 Relax It’s Only a Bad Cosima von Bonin Show The catalogue accompanying Merlin Carpenter’s exhibition at Galerie Bleich-Rossi in Vienna is one of the most anarchically devised artist’s books in print. Portraits of the artist posing with blank canvases in a hellish art-supply store, slick ads for Mercedes-Benz bicycles (which have appeared as readymades in other Carpenter shows), painters’ easels and paintings of easels, and texts by Carpenter and his sister appear in separate, brochurelike sections with brutally mismatched formats, barely bound by a flimsy white thread. Designed by Non-Format, the book prefers not to come together around its subject.

4 I.U.D. Minimal, pounding, contagious noise-music made by two women—Lizzi Bougatsos (of Gang Gang Dance) and Sadie Laska—on two drum kits and two microphones. Dead Womb, seven inches of vinyl, was released in September on the Social Registry label and was celebrated with shows at Brooklyn venues Studio B and Glasslands.

5 Ode to the Man Who Kneels Following his End of Reality, 2006, a play constructed around a series of monologues and brawls, Richard Maxwell’s new musical is a western set in a town called Grid that deals out strange, stripped-down violence and “basic,” even stranger language and songs. Characters are killed, but they don’t stop singing. Ode was presented at the Performing Garage in New York in early November with a cast of Jim Fletcher, Anna Kohler, Emily Cass McDonnell, Greg Mehrten, and Brian Mendes, and with Mike Iveson on piano and Maxwell on guitar.

6 Freelance Stenographer A sort of antihappening by Seth Price and Kelley Walker was produced on-site at The Kitchen on April 2. It began with a projected video comprising footage of a semifictional New York dance-pop group named the Economist (Cory Arcangel, Emily Sundblad, and Stefan Tcherepnin) at work in the studio, video material from The Kitchen’s own archive (a restaged Oskar Schlemmer performance), an appropriated documentary in progress about the interactive cyber-community Second Life, shots of New York skylines, and rudimentary digital effects—and was followed by a Q&A with the artists. Everything was recorded in real time by a professional stenographer whose transcription was photocopied and distributed as an instant document of its own making. The “event” was a self-recording machine instantly filed away in the no time it took to translate live into archive.

7 Dot Dot Dot, Issue 14 (“S as in SStenographer”), Summer 2007 This issue of Dot Dot Dot, a journal published by Dexter Sinister, appropriates a rejected cover design for Cabinet magazine. Inside is an interview with former Revolver publisher Christoph Keller, who discusses dilettantism, distillation, and his current farm life while serving homemade schnapps to the editors from bottles of his own design. Other highlights deal with modern histories of book design, Richard Hamilton’s Collected Words, and the “aesthetics of distribution.”

8 Evas Arche und der Feminist During their Sunday-night gatherings at Passerby in New York, hosts Pati Hertling, an art-restitution lawyer, and her collaborator, artist Marlous Borm, serve homemade soup and bottled beer while their friends eat, exhibit, drink, and perform. For Sunday #8, which was given over to artist Kerstin Brätsch, they covered the exhibition “New York Is Dead” with sheets of black protective plastic before opening Eva’s doors to a musical act by Ronnie Bass, Jeremy Eilers, and Nic Xedro; Allison Katz and Georgia Sagri (accompanied by Brätsch); and DJ Antek Walczak.

9 “77 Testicular Imprints” To make the works in his exhibition at Roth Gallery in New York, Nicolás Guagnini used oil paint and his own balls for a brush, marking and citing a series of archival documents (including an early, typewritten Dan Graham poem and personal stationery recovered from Hitler’s bunker). A brute, faux-macho gesture of signing and appropriation, but also a critical operation undermining the notions of property, inclusion, and value. The “imprints” are smart and stupid like Broodthaers’s recurring, museological eagles, and as elegant in their conception—until you start noticing the pubic hairs stuck in the paint.

10 The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris George Baker’s book, published by MIT Press, is the first in English dealing specifically with Picabia’s Dada work in Paris and is a serious rethinking of the readymade (the other, Picabian one) based on a study of the artist’s singularly multifarious practice. Once, before an audience of friends, Picabia broke open an alarm clock and used its parts as paintbrushes. He also cut a hole in a sheet of paper and called it Jeune Fille. Baker’s book has a shiny golden cover with a reproduction of Picabia’s Natures Mortes, 1920—a “portrait” consisting of a crucified stuffed monkey surrounded by the names of famous Impressionists.

John Kelsey is a contributing editor of Artforum. He is also a member of the collective Bernadette Corporation and cofounder of Reena Spaulings Fine Art in New York. His text “Sculpture in an Abandoned Field” was included in the catalogue for Rachel Harrison’s exhibition “If I Did It” at Greene Naftali in New York in 2007. Eine Pinot Grigio, Bitte, a screenplay by Bernadette Corporation, was published this year by Sternberg Press.