PRINT December 2008

Lynne Cooke


1 Jorge Pardo (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) Pardo’s visually stunning, conceptually provocative reinstallation of LACMA’s collection of the art of the ancient Americas proved, predictably, a lightning rod for debate. Taking archaeological excavation as his leitmotif, Pardo embedded these artifacts in a bravura display: Richly hued vitrines seem to morph in response to visitors’ movements through the three galleries, luring them into a closer engagement. Overhead, lamps with forms reminiscent of feathered headdresses or luxuriant tropical plants gently illuminate the space. A vast curtain—in tones that range from overripe orange to faded crimsons and desert greens—binds the whole in its sumptuous embrace, coupling the conventions of historical museum display with the ceremonial.

2 “Poussin and Nature” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) This extraordinary and unprecedented exhibition of Poussin’s arcadian visions (organized by Keith Christiansen and Pierre Rosenberg) fit right into current discourse on the environment, while providing an elegiac reminder of what is no longer viable: an ennobled rendering of landscape that conveys moral truths. Cézanne claimed that, like Poussin, he too “would like to put reason in the grass and tears in the sky.” Poussin’s classicism may have less currency today, but his ambition in addressing the natural world remains timely.

3 Richard Serra, Promenade (Grand Palais, Paris) and Clara-Clara (Jardin des Tuileries, Paris) Composed of five steel stelae, each some fifty feet high, Promenade created an enfilade whose charge stemmed from the way the vastness of this light-filled nineteenth-century space provided a coherent response to visitors’ meanderings. Commissioned for the Grand Palais by the French State, Promenade also provided the occasion for the Louvre to reinstall Clara-Clara, 1983 (on loan from the City of Paris), in the Tuileries. Axially aligned with the Place de la Concorde and engaging the historical references of the built terrain, this landmark sculpture is among the best sited of Serra’s urban works.

4 Michael Asher (Santa Monica Museum of Art, CA) One of the venerable fathers of institutional critique, Asher wittily inverted its deconstructivist modes with his decision to rebuild every temporary wall ever constructed at the Santa Monica Museum over a decade of exhibitions. Navigation through his labyrinthine installation, with its densely impacted skeletal framework of metal studs and two-by-fours, proved a feat requiring far closer engagement with material infrastructure than in the artist’s other recent work.

5 The Collections of Barbara Bloom (Steidl/ICP) At best reassuringly dependable, at worst drearily predictable or even cynically expendable, most exhibition publications feel like deadweight. Not so The Collections of Barbara Bloom. Elegantly designed and exhaustively informative, it is graced with an incisive essay by the inimitable Dave Hickey. In deftly revamping the conventional catalogue raisonné, Bloom more than compensates those who failed to see her retrospective in either New York or Berlin.

6 “Cecilia Edefalk: CECI” (Lunds Konsthall, Sweden) A jewel in the history of postwar Swedish modernism, Lunds Konsthall is a rewarding site for any artist prepared to engage its diverse split-level spaces and varying degrees of natural light. Edefalk rose memorably to the occasion with a nuanced installation that threaded images—lost and found, two- and three-dimensional, anonymous and authored, classical and contemporary—into a haunting ensemble.

7 “Robert Rauschenberg: Travelling ’70–’76” (Haus der Kunst, Munich, and other venues) and Robert Rauschenberg’s set and costume designs for Merce Cunningham’s XOVER (Barbican Centre, London) Beginning in 1992 with Walter Hopps’s revealing show “Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s,” several subsequent exhibitions have traced key periods in this artist’s fertile practice; almost all focused on the first part of his long career. Highlighting the lesser-known “Venetians” and “Cardboards,” “Robert Rauschenberg: Travelling ’70–’76” served as a persuasive reminder that there are not only marvelous moments in his later years but that much about these uncharacteristically reductive works remains to be studied in depth. In the wake of the artist’s death this past May, this modest show of more restrained, poetic idioms became a timely tribute to a remarkably unfettered vision. Likewise, Rauschenberg’s final contribution in his fifty-year-long relationship with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was his design of the set and costumes for XOVER, 2007, which was performed in a heart-stopping program at the Barbican in London this October.

8 Up River: Points of Interest on the Hudson from the Battery to Troy (Center for Land Use Interpretation, Troy, NY) Over the past decade and a half, CLUI (Center for Land Use Interpretation) has been lauded for its inventiveness, vigor, and acuity in pursuing a singular mandate: to improve the collective understanding of the human/land dialectic. Borrowing much from Robert Smithson’s protean legacy, artist and founder Matthew Coolidge has initiated projects across the United States. A recent venture involved documenting sequestered and lesser-known properties that line the banks of the nation’s best-known waterway (in both an exhibition and an accompanying publication). As its laconic title intimates, Up River offers an engagingly unfamiliar view of this storied terrain.

9 Moyra Davey Still very much an artist’s artist, Moyra Davey has gained increasing visibility over the past year thanks to a number of group and solo exhibitions: in New York (where she lives) at Orchard and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum (which presented her first comprehensive museum show this past spring). Grouped into fluid ensembles, modestly scaled, self-printed photographs of nearly nothing—fragmentary glimpses of mundane, often domestic interiors—have become her signature. She has also attracted a following for the video Fifty Minutes, 2006, a self-deprecating, wry, and razor-sharp narrative that revolves around a fraught case of psychoanalysis. Writing has, however, increasingly become her preferred mode: The Problem of Reading, a book published in 2003, suggests that her skills in this arena are as sure as those she has brought to the making of visual imagery over the past two decades.

10 “Living Flowers: Ikebana and Contemporary Art” (Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles) While we may readily recognize ikebana as an art form with a sophisticated aesthetic and metaphysic, we don’t normally consider the living exponents of such highly codified, tradition-bound practices to be contemporary artists. This is precisely the starting point for curator Karen Higa’s smart show. Every week during its run, sensei, or masters, of the three major branches of this art form (based on the ritualized practice of flower arrangement) produced gorgeous new works, which were shown in conjunction with a range of relevant recent pieces from Western artists, from Manfred Pernice to Robert Mapplethorpe and Anya Gallaccio. Accolades are also due to Escher GuneWardena Architecture for its supportive exhibition design.

Lynne Cooke became curator of DIA Art Foundation in 1991. In 2008 she was appointed chief curator and deputy director of the Centro Reina Sofía, Madrid. She is currently working on exhibitions of Zoe Leonard’s work for both New York and Madrid.