PRINT December 2009

Catherine Wood


1 “Lynda Benglis/Robert Morris: 1973–74” (Susan Inglett Gallery, New York) Like me, you may have long been fascinated by the two images at the center of this show: Morris with pumped muscles, in a helmet and chains—performing the rhetoric of masculine labor at play in his minimal constructions—and Benglis in sunglasses, with a dildo made from the same latex as her anti-form works. But as the ephemera, photographs, drawings, and sculptures brought together by David Platzker (of the curatorial-archival initiative Specific Object) made clear, there was much more to this publicity duel than two outrageously inflated portraits of the artists. (Interested parties should seek out Julia Bryan-Wilson’s elaboration of Morris’s performative plays on gender and artistic labor in Art Bulletin, June 2007.) Before the Pictures generation, before Jeff Koons’s “Banality” ads, Benglis’s and Morris’s provocatively media-savvy interventions into a critical context (and into the paid-for ad pages of this magazine) created a seismic shift in art-world attitudes.

2 Michael Clark Company, Come, Been and Gone (Barbican Centre, London) Critics approvingly noted that Michael Clark had “grown up” because his Stravinsky Project of 2007 used classical music as opposed to rock. But his latest work—set to music by David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed—might be his best yet. Clark’s eloquent, human choreography soars, as always, with the electric sublime in a succession of off-center group synchronies and exquisite solos, and is grounded by rare and touching passages danced by Clark himself.

3 “Picasso and the Masters” (Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris) Masterful Cubo-terrorism: Planted (by curators Anne Baldassari of the Musée National Picasso and Marie-Laure Bernadac of the Louvre) among the chefs d’oeuvre of Titian, Goya, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Manet, et al., Picasso’s late paintings exploded like packed dynamite.

4 Mark Leckey, Mark Leckey in the Long Tail (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and Museum of Modern Art at Abrons Arts Center, New York) Included in Polly Staple’s late-2008 “Dispersion” exhibition at the ICA and recently reworked for Klaus Biesenbach and Jenny Schlenzka’s Performance Exhibition Series at MoMA, Leckey’s densely poetic lecture-performance tackled the realm of virtuality and its role in servicing his own desires. Using the metaphor of masturbation to critically reflect on relations among images and objects and between creation and productivity, the artist created a performance that was part TV science lecture, part spiritualist séance for an age marked by the promise (or threat) of infinite attainability.

5 MS2 (Lodz, Poland) It was an instructive delight to see the three-story collection display at the Muzeum Sztuki’s new satellite space, housed in a recently renovated textile mill. Testimony to the vision of the museum’s directors past and present, the collection’s distinct sensibility is rooted in its strong focus on Eastern Europe. Highlights include works by Cezary Bodzianowski, Edward Krasiński, and Ewa Partum, as well as a number of the compellingly strange sculptures of Alina Szapocznikow, whose influential work was the anchor point in Agata Jakubowska and Joanna Mytkowska’s summer group show “Awkward Objects” at Warsaw’s new Museum of Modern Art.

6 “The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) In the 1970s and ’80s, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, James Welling, and their like-minded contemporaries set out the building blocks for artmaking under late capitalism. Douglas Eklund’s timely exhibition confirmed the importance of critically reassessing their work. And I will be rereading and referring back to his excellent catalogue for years to come.

7 Laibach, Kunst der Fuge (Bush Hall, London) The sensibility of Slovenian art /music group Laibach (combining covers of pop songs by the likes of Queen with industrial and militaristic signifiers) has been characterized by Slavoj Žižek as one of provocative “overidentification” with the “obscene superego” of the state. This concert, which translated Bach’s Art of Fugue through the “totalitarian” Laibach aesthetic, demonstrated the band’s continued ability to disturb artistic and political boundaries from a deliberately ambiguous position.

8 Silke Otto-Knapp with Flora Wiegmann (Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre, Canada) The performative subconscious of Otto-Knapp’s summer solo show “Present Time Exercise” at Modern Art Oxford was bodied forth here at the Banff Centre in collaboration with dancer-choreographer Wiegmann as a live experiment, curated by Kitty Scott. Drawing on the avant-garde choreographic gestures that animate Otto-Knapp’s canvases and respectfully enabling rather than forcing the resonances between painting and dance, this parallel staging was in the spirit of the late, great Merce Cunningham (RIP).

9 Łukasz Ronduda with Piotr Uklański, Sztuka Polska lat 70: Awangarda (Polish Art of the 70s: Avant-Garde) (Center for Contemporary Art, Warsaw) This curator-artist collaboration—thoughtful, scholarly texts by Ronduda, fresh visual juxtapositions courtesy of Uklański—amounts to a new history of the little-known Polish neo-avant-garde. Illuminating the complex strategies developed by artists including Marek Konieczny, Natalia LL, and Zdzisław Sosnowski, this book challenges assumptions about Eastern European art in this period, bringing to light the coexistence of political and critical engagement with attitudes exploring—sometimes affirming—consumption and sensuality.

10 Spartacus Chetwynd, Iron Age Pasta Necklace Workshop (Studio Voltaire, London) Following Chetwynd’s trio of educational performance-cum-party “Ladies Nights” last winter, her necklace workshop, organized by Studio Voltaire curators Joe Scotland and Sarah McCrory, got people participating again, this time with glue guns and heaps of pasta. Slides of Iron Age jewelry were projected on the gallery walls for inspiration, and our attempts were ceremoniously presented to a veiled lady—the Discerning Eye—who presided from a dais. Bonnie Camplin and Enrico David’s wearable surrealist masterpiece was duly pinned to the wall by a robed man-in-waiting (meaning the Discerning Eye liked it). My offering, a concoction of blue shells, red tubes, and green macaroni pieces, got smashed to bits (meaning she didn’t). Nevertheless, a little primitive craftwork in pasta made for a recession-friendly Friday night, and some of the best art fun I’ve had in years.

Catherine Wood is curator of contemporary art and performance at Tate Modern in London. In 2009, she curated Robert Morris's remake of his participatory 1971 Tate Gallery installation in the Turbine Hall, Bodyspacemotionthings, and organized the group exhibition “Pop Life: Art in a Material World” with Alison Gingeras and Jack Bankowsky. She is currently working on projects with Keren Cytter and Kateřina Šedá and is curator of the Unilever Commission for 2010.