PRINT December 2007

Lynne Cooke


1 Mark Wallinger State Britain brilliantly exploited the fact that the galleries of Tate Britain are bisected by the legal boundary beyond which protesters are barred from approaching the British Houses of Parliament. Re-creating in painstaking facsimile a highly charged anti–Iraq War display, Wallinger’s project echoed its prototype’s challenge to Britain’s role in a murderous enterprise, but also went further, questioning the tenability of the publicness of public (that is, state-funded) institutions. In Zone, his contribution to Skulptur Projekte Münster 07, Wallinger again tellingly addressed the role of boundaries, this time in relation to notions of exclusion and identity. Here, by drawing an almost invisible yet tangible circle around the inner city of this staunchly conservative Catholic town, he invoked self-imposed borders. The residue of ghettos demarcated by the pale and the eruv lingers in terms used in everyday speech; today, as these complementary projects intimate, it threatens to go beyond language to once again take the form of action.

2 Zoe Leonard, Analogue (Documenta 12, Kassel) Begun as a chronicle of the rapidly changing Lower East Side, where Leonard once had her studio, Analogue, 1998–2007, documents the demise of small, independently owned businesses by recording their disappearing storefront displays and facades festooned with signage. Focusing in on one of the mainstays of the neighborhood, the secondhand-clothing trade, she traced shipments of these recycled goods to their sales points in roadside stalls and markets in Uganda, where, as elsewhere in the third world, the sweatshops that first produced these garments may also be found. Emblematic of contemporary globalized markets, such transactions parallel on a small scale the traffic in multinational goods and brand names that forms another chapter in this rich ensemble of some four hundred images. What makes Leonard’s project so impressive is the way it addresses the complexities of its vast subject with often strikingly beautiful and affecting images while avoiding a reductive or nostalgic savoring of the aesthetics of decay and loss.

3 Steve McQueen, Queen and Country (Imperial War Museum, London) McQueen has proposed issuing a series of official postage stamps, each featuring one of the nearly two hundred British soldiers who have died to date in Iraq. While paying tribute to the deceased, his ongoing project reflects unavoidably on the validity of the war, on national identity, and on institutional structures of power. At the Imperial War Museum, the 120 stamps the artist has produced so far were displayed in a large oak case alongside Gassed, John Singer Sargent’s epic masterpiece of 1919. Like McQueen, Sargent served as an official war artist. But whereas Sargent radically reworked the heroicizing idioms once thought proper to such a subject, McQueen deploys a more commonplace visual idiom—the head shot—to enter what he calls the “bloodstream” of the nation. Were his stamps to become the insignia of official mail, Britain’s participation in the war might soon come to an end.

4 Ann Hamilton’s Tower project (Oliver Ranch, Alexander Valley, CA) Offering spectacular views of the Sonoma Valley, Hamilton’s concrete tower contains a double-helical staircase that winds from a dark pool filling its base to an open rooftop, the site for Meredith Monk’s riveting performance Songs of Ascension. As Monk’s glorious vocals reverberated up and down the circular structure, she and her company moved along one staircase and the audience the other, their constantly intertwining paths making unexpectedly intimate conjunctions.

5 Sadie Benning, “Suspended Animation” (Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH) Projected as a dual-screen animation with musical sound track, Play Pause, 2006, was the smart and sassy centerpiece of Benning’s first museum show, organized by Jennifer Lange. By interrupting conventional cinematic narrative with the more static sequencing typical of a slide show, Benning creates a singular visual form for a journey into a subculture whose pace and rhythm are defined primarily by the infectious sound track. Feigning naïveté, her childlike drawing style limpidly conjures the polymorphous social and sexual relationships that shape this milieu.

6 Merce Cunningham, “Glass House Event” (Philip Johnson Glass House, New Canaan, CT) On a gorgeous early summer afternoon, Cunningham’s great company danced a reworked version of a piece originally presented at Johnson’s seminal home in 1967. An idyllic venue, a magical event.

7 Thomas Schütte, “Fake/Function” (Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK) Schütte created his most memorable early work by engaging notions of painting as it related to the wall, exploiting variously its functional and decorative potential. Although “Fake/Function” (curated by Penelope Curtis) traced the artist’s meandering route from pictorial ventures to display conventions, ending with his first architectural models in the early 1980s, its highlight was a reworking of an early wall piece for the institution’s granite facade. A golden cascade of rings, this witty intervention glossed the mantle of gravitas that literally and figuratively enfolds both the institute and its august patron.

8 “A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s” (Berkeley Art Museum, CA) While the protean richness of Nauman’s early years has long been recognized, Constance Lewallen’s well-researched survey of his time in the Bay Area uncovered a number of overlooked treasures and teased out little-known forays, all inflected with the artist’s signature deadpan humor and laconic inquiry. Conceived to contextualize this echt shape-shifter in his formative milieu, the show ultimately had the inverse effect, underlining his enduring ability to think outside the box.

9 “Gordon Matta-Clark: ‘You Are the Measure’” (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) Forgoing the usual focus on a few key monumental projects and their photographic offshoots in favor of a broader, less hierarchical study of Matta-Clark’s multifarious activities, Elisabeth Sussman’s timely retrospective brought out the insatiable restlessness at the heart of his practice. Perhaps somewhat inadvertently, it also revealed the degree to which, throughout his brief career, theoretical and critical architectural issues (and not just architectural form and urban sites) provided the fertile substrate for Matta-Clark’s most significant ventures.

10 “Shandyism: Authorship as Genre” (Secession, Vienna) A rare gleam in a gloomy Viennese art scene reeling from the demise of the much-revered Generali Foundation, “Shandyism” proved one of those provoking, idiosyncratic shows that come from left field—and leave you wanting to respond with your own long-nurtured variant. Taking Laurence Sterne’s Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman as its model, it riffed on the ways in which, in the words of curator Helmut Draxler, “Sterne uses the book as a medium for reflecting in his writing on the format of the printed page, on typography, on narrative form, the act of reading, and even his own success as an author.” In a canny if bewildering installation that played fast and loose with reference, correspondence, and allusion, Chuck Jones’s 1953 animation Duck Amuck was the standout.

Lynne Cooke is curator of the Dia Art Foundation in New York. This year she organized Dia: Beacon’s “Homage To [a] Life: Agnes Martin’s Paintings 1990–2004,” the fifth and final installment in a series of exhibitions devoted to the artist’s work, and cocurated, with Kynaston McShine, “Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years,” which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this past July.