PRINT December 2007

Marta Kuzma


1 Enrico David (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London) Reflecting on the tireless efforts by artists of late to merge art with the historical traditions of theater in all too often disharmonious and disingenuous combinations of Beckett, Brecht, and Cage, David’s recent exhibition, which was divided into three acts—“Corrupt and Crooked,” “Molten Brown Nylon,” and “Ultra Paste”—provided poetic justice. Motivated by a kind of unmediated pleasure principle, the artist transposed his obsession with treating “people as objects” and his abject perversions like “rubbing himself against the effigy of trustworthiness” into meticulously rendered illustrations, assemblages, and room-size installations. David explores a child’s (and his own) testing of reality through works like Sweet Seizure, 2002, “Shitty Tantrums,” 2006–2007, and Hop and Plop, 2007, all of which are rendered without big gestures and, thankfully, at a low volume. As the artist himself describes this soulful recollection of personal experience: “From the silent spectacle to its description, from the described scene to the moral interpretation of intentions and acts, from the interpreted act to the ‘anecdote.’”

2 “Das Kapital: Blue Chips & Masterpieces” (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt) It’s paradoxical that in this boom era of collecting, collections are becoming not more distinct but more alike. “Das Kapital,” an exhibition featuring works from the Rolf Ricke Collection, illustrated how one European collector succeeded in building a unique collection that stands as a solid document of critical art practices from the mid-1960s to today. The exhibition included not only seminal works by Jo Baer, Donald Judd, Barry Le Va, Lee Lozano, Cady Noland, and Andy Warhol but also more unexpected, liminal works such as Paul Sharits’s flicker films—involving 16-mm strips in which each frame comprises one solid color—and Thomas Bayrle’s Mantel—grün/gelb, 1967, located around the corner from one of Elaine Sturtevant’s appropriated Warhol “Flowers.”

3 Steven Parrino (Gagosian Gallery, New York) This posthumous exhibition lacked critical insight into Parrino’s production, which was reduced by the artist, in a quote included in the press release, to “post-punk existentialism.” Nevertheless, the works held their own, illustrating how paintings can have a particular resonance that reaches beyond the limits of language. Never mind Parrino’s black: The vivacity of his orange—a stiff competitor with International Klein Blue—emanated at once ecstasy and disintegration.

4 Atsuko Tanaka, Agnes Martin, and Nasreen Mohamedi (Documenta 12, Kassel) The area in the Neue Galerie where Martin’s painting River, 1964, hung near Tanaka’s geometric collages from the ’50s and Mohamedi’s linear drawings and diaries from the ’70s was one of the more coherent sections of Documenta 12. One could argue that, given the particular similarities in approach, each of the works was reduced to the level of surface. On further reflection, however, the artistic practices became differentiated from one another in terms of the way each expressed interiority and displayed methods of inscription. In juxtaposing graphic and linguistic elements, Mohamedi’s diaries dissolve personal records into a system of abstraction. This loss of indexicality stands in contrast to the rhythmic disintegration of Martin’s grids and lines into near immateriality and to Tanaka’s structural transformation of materials through collage.

5 Carl Andre, “Early Works on Paper 1958–1966” (Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York) These small, graphic works—various arrangements of words on pages that play with the shape of the words together, the individuality of each word, and the spaces in between—are integral to any consideration of later text-based art by the likes of Mel Bochner and Robert Smithson. Andre’s early attempts to transform the visual field into a textual one drew on the physical properties of language in an effort to reveal linguistic objects as syntactic sites.

6 Documenta 12 (Kassel) In aestheticizing the participatory and political legacy of Neo-concretism, Documenta 12 curators Roger M. Buergel and Ruth Noack forged a seamless continuity between that movement and subsequent developments in postdictatorship contexts. More interesting than the aestheticization itself was the way in which it allowed them to link, through formal continuities, Neo-concretism to neo-Constructivism, thus shedding light on certain works of the latter movement, like those of Běla Kolářová, Jorge Oteiza, and Charlotte Posenenske. Their unfortunate pitfall was the formlessness of the exhibition itself, when the overriding principle appeared to be, precisely, form.

7 Peder Balke, Northern Lights over Coastal Landscape, ca. 1870 (National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo) Something in the radical simplification of mark-making employed by this Norwegian painter to represent the Nordic lights—rendered in a series of brusque, vertical brushstrokes on a black background (which also bears the trace of an arbitrary fingerprint)—evokes structural film practices of the ’60s. The minute scale of Balke’s paintings (which are no larger than postcards), and their being nearly abstracted from the figurative realm, make this artist a visionary and his work an inspiration.

8 “Meat Wagon,” in “Robert Gober: Work 1976–2007” (Schaulager, Basel) Appearing within Theodora Vischer’s Gober retrospective, this reduced version of the 2005 exhibition assembled by the artist at the Menil Collection in Houston underscored Gober’s unfailing ability as a provocative editor and as a sculptor of the uncanny. With a view to illustrating John de Menil’s prognosis that he (and we) would end up a mere “corpse for the meat wagon,” Gober showed his own work alongside selections from the Menil Collection. Including his own fireplace with wax limbs as logs, an anonymous wax bust of Abraham Lincoln, a René Magritte painting of a rifle, and an antique embroidered pot holder reading ANY HOLDER BUT A SLAVE HOLDER, Gober crafted an installation that emitted the mildew of an encaustic American heritage.

9 Lene Berg, Gentlemen & Arseholes Norwegian artist Berg creates books in addition to her films, not as supplemental reading but as an integrated part of the work itself. Gentlemen & Arseholes, for example, is a publication that accompanies Berg’s film The Man in the Background (2006), both of which focus on the British literary journal Encounter, founded in 1953 and funded by the CIA-sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom. In reprinting the inaugural issue, Berg has added postcards, leaflets, and images in ways that illustrate the invertible nature of political ideology and that provide testimony to a time when the US government (or any government, for that matter) had the good, yet skewed, sense to embrace dissenting views.

10 Radical Philosophy, London A desktop magazine that offers a hard look at contemporary theory, even if in a dorky format. With articles written by vigorous lecturers of philosophy, the journal leaves room to discover more than just Rancière. Although it seeks engagement with the art world (by publishing articles like Stewart Martin’s “Absolute Artwork Meets the Absolute Commodity”), Radical Philosophy does so from that community’s imaginary outside by concerning itself with broader societal problems, featuring, for instance, David Cunningham’s essay, “Slumming It: Mike Davis’s Grand Narrative of Urban Revolution.”

Marta Kuzma is the director of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, in Oslo, where she recently organized the seminar “Film as a Critical Practice.” She is currently working on a research project and exhibition titled “Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia?”—scheduled to open in winter 2008.