PRINT December 2008

Chus Martínez


1 Alexander Kluge, winner of the 2008 German Film Prize for Lifetime Achievement One particular sentence in Kluge’s film Die Patriotin (The Patriot, 1979) keeps running through my head: “The closer you look at a word, the more distantly it looks back at you.” The word in question is Deutschland—Germany—the same subject that he chose for his first book, published under the title Lebensläufe (Case Histories) in 1962. Describing the lives of middle- and upper-class Germans during and after the Third Reich, the collection of short stories provides, in almost bureaucratic language, a generous way to think about stunted subjectivity. Kluge’s merciless narrative precision renders new possibilities for understanding self-determination and engagement in an age of atrophied experience.

2 Oscar Bony, “El Mago: Obras 1965–2001 (The Magician: Works 1965–2001) (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) I have always been fascinated by the semiotic efficiency of La familia obrera (Blue-Collar Family), a performance that renowned Argentine Conceptual artist Bony (1941–2002) devised for Experiencias 1968 at the Instituto Di Tella. The current exhibition brings together almost sixty pieces in different media, including painting, photography, performance video, film, installation, and photographic documentation of his work, such as the very telling images of La familia obrera. Three subjects—a real-life father, mother, and child—share a bi-level pedestal, almost like athletes in the medal ceremony at the Olympics: father, gold; mother, silver; and child, bronze. This actual working-class family as tableau vivant embodies the real class—and, ironically, the even more real traditional family hierarchy.

3 Albert MertzDuer ikke . . . Næste!” (No Good . . . Next!), a sprawling show at Copenhagen’s progressive nonprofit space Den Frie Udstillingsbygning, encompassed a large number of collages, paintings, objects, films, and sound pieces produced from the late 1940s until Mertz’s death in 1990. A hard-nosed modernist, Mertz also saw the potential in making a mess of things. While humor is all over the place in his signature self-referential blue-and-red ephemera, his profoundly intelligent work takes a sharp critical look at the construction and reception of modern art history.

4 Dora García, What a Fucking Wonderful Audience The title of a piece García developed for the recent Biennale of Sydney echoes that of the one and only performance comedian Lenny Bruce was permitted in Sydney in 1962: The comic used the phrase “fucking wonderful” to praise his audience, but after the show the police ignored his good intentions and arrested him on obscenity charges. The performance at the Biennale, scripted by García, consists of a guided tour of the exhibition by an actress who explains Bruce’s troubles to her tour group. Expanding on the notion of the artist as an undesirable, García pursues Bruce’s ambition to test both the ambivalence of language and the nature of the agreement a performer—and by extension an artwork—establishes with each and every person in the audience.

5 Ingo Niermann, Solution series and “choice series” Positioning fictional writing between many worlds—art, literature, postpolitical forms of activism, even demagogy at times—Niermann rethinks the parameters and functions of subjectivity rather than abandoning it altogether. Indeed, his writing swallows up the subjectivity of the individuals whose lives he narrates: Niermann is present not as a voice but rather as a kind of method for constructing layers of discourse. The Solution series (Solution 9: The Great Pyramid, just published, and Solution 1–10: Umbauland, about to appear)—as well as the newly started “choice series” (a compendium of edicts on what to choose in life)—reads like a set of short-circuited and condensed anti-bildungsromans, offering versatile tools for providing aesthetic, social, and theoretical insight.

6 Amelia Toledo, Glu-Glu Toledo’s house and studio in São Paulo—which I visited this year, again—hosts one of the most unlikely artworks of the late ’60s: her Glu-Glu, of 1968. Each blown-glass component consists of several narrowly connected spheres and a quantity of colored soapy water. When the piece is manipulated by the beholder, the liquid travels between chambers, making the sound for which the work was christened. Produced in Rio during Toledo’s self-imposed exile from São Paulo in her country’s years under dictatorship, the piece is striking for its liberation of color, sound, and sensory experience, condensed in a very simple and humorous glass universe—as though freedom could be easy and fun. Seeing this work today underscores the vicissitudes of art history, placing current debates around participation in a totally different political, aesthetic, and historical context.

7 Roberto Cuoghi, Šuillakku The deliriously rich and speculative mind of Milan-based artist Cuoghi was fully evident in his recent piece Šuillakku, which can best be described as a sound installation that laboriously re-creates an ancient Assyrian lamentation. Squawks from tuneless instruments constitute a free-ranging interpretation of our relationship with prehistoric time. First presented at Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Italy, Šuillakku later appeared at the ICA in London.

8 Andrea Büttner This year Büttner, a German artist based in London, completed her artistic research on the complex notion of shame. Woodcuts, silk screens, clay sculptures, small paintings on glass, and video and sound pieces—all executed while she was working on her doctoral dissertation—orchestrate a highly productive, counterintuitive take on the nature and limits of modernist aesthetic and social assumptions.

9 Ignacio Vidal-Folch, “Prognosis” This short story, soon to be published by Spanish journalist and writer Vidal-Folch, deals with burial practices in the future: to wit, the vacuum-pack funeral. Banal as the subject may seem, the tale provides a splendid account of how difficult it is to stay fresh for eternity, while raising the specter of having other people’s mediocre eternities imposed on you.

10 Pérez Prado and Rosemary Clooney, “Sway” This song is actually the English version of “¿Quién será?” a 1953 mambo by Mexican composer and bandleader Pablo Beltrán Ruiz. The burning question this year was, Who will be the one? Well, now we know—but the song is a timeless invitation to freethinking and a motto not just for a particular time but for eternity.

Director of the Frankfurter Kunstverein from January 2005 through July 2008, Chus Martínez is now chief curator at the Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Her most recent show, “The Unanimous Life,” the first retrospective of the work of Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevčius, is currently on view at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid through February 16, 2009.