PRINT December 2009



To take stock of the past year, Artforum contacted an international group of artists to find out which exhibitions and events were, in their eyes, the very best of 2009.


“Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) You kind of get the feeling that Bonnard was a real artist. He was concerned not with the past (art history), present (his contemporaries), or future (his legacy), but with expressing himself in terms of his own perceptions, interactions, and experiences of the world. Whether of a room, a still life, or a loved one, each painting becomes a mirror in which Bonnard is seeing himself. This inward focus, which could be seen as a selfish stance, creates a palpable sense of humanness in his paintings that is completely exterior. Something genuinely tender and vulnerable in his understanding of the complexities and simplicities of himself and what he is painting makes his work, in the end, timeless.


Guy de Cointet (Greene Naftali, New York) Thready backward script / script rendered as sentences and fragments / fragments of sharp architecture / sharp architectural letters fractured into bars of color / bars of color, solid or whispery, spliced or overlapping / overlapping and ambiguous readings / reading in a less literal sense / sense and senselessness living as neighbors / neighbors, wives, and domestic concerns / concerns about hair and disappointment /disappointment with language / language as opportunity.

Guy de Cointet, My Father’s Diary, 1975. Performance view, Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, February 4, 2009. Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman.


Phyllida Barlow (artist’s studio/home, London) In Akira Kurosawa’s 1970 film Dodes’ka-den, a surreal city is constructed that lies somewhere between fact and fiction. Recently, during a visit with Phyllida Barlow, looking at material in the British sculptor’s London flat, I felt like one of Kurosawa’s protagonists. Several rough and provisionally taped-together structures had been placed in the middle of the room and as we discussed form and meaning, the studio/living room momentarily felt like an exhibition hall, the work “installed.” But the illusion was fleeting, as if reality could not yet accommodate these still-malleable ideas.


Jonas Mekas (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) A carefully compiled overview of Jonas Mekas’s video installations and films, this exhibition included hours of loose microstories shot on the Lithuanian-American artist’s Bolex, collages of found sounds, and countless memories recorded off camera. In each piece, Mekas is there but often invisible. To me, such an idiosyncratic strategy feels germane to the anarchic drive of avant-garde film since the 1960s. But this octogenarian has been actively making work since 1949, and it was nothing short of a fantasy to walk through the concentrated life-production of someone so influential on his medium—which happens also to be mine.


James Ensor (Museum of Modern Art, New York) In a year chockfull of absurd scandals and self-serious public figures, the masks, animated skeletons, epic ego, melodrama, and questionable fame of James Ensor seemed to fit right in. Even as I write this, I’m not sure whether I believe Ensor’s act or not. His strength and the strength of his MoMA survey leave a giant question mark, a what-the-fuck factor that I imagine will haunt these paintings and drawings for at least another century. I hate this work, but I’m absolutely floored by it—humor being its secret triumph. Skeletons Trying to Warm Themselves, from 1889 (it’s rather straightforward in its depiction), is easily the funniest painting I’ve seen in years.


Hanne Mugaas, “Secondary Market” (Ooga Booga, Los Angeles) Far from the one-liner the title might suggest, artist and curator Hanne Mugaas’s installation/popup shop of art-esque ephemera collected from eBay spoke volumes about the weird feedback loops among art, commerce, fashion, advertising, and pop culture. Each of the two dozen or so items for sale—from an outsiderish painting of a cow head titled In Profile to a poster of Roy Lichtenstein’s benday-dotted 1977 BMW Art Car—was so complicated by the collection’s various contexts and layers of history that to make sense of what you were looking at you had to start at the beginning: What are these things? Where do they come from? What do they do?


Hayley Tompkins, “Autobuilding” (Inverleith House, Edinburgh) I love Hayley Tompkins’s work. The first time I came across one of her pictures, my brain struggled to process it. I remember thinking, How is that a painting? But the longer I looked, the more I saw. This revelation led me to appreciate the rich subtlety, slowness, and sparseness a direct, earnest hand can create. Seeing Tompkins’s “Autobuilding,” I was reminded that when looking, you have to give to receive.


Adrian Lohmüller, Die Braut spricht (Cruise & Callas, Berlin) I peeked into the gallery Cruise & Callas. Body-remains-atrophy followed the glow-eye. Assembling both parts, I crawled down the stairs into the basement. There, dark-wet erupted: the bedchamber of Adrian Lohmüller in the abstruse cellar gut; a structured clutter of copper pipes docked in basins; pipes pouring out over a featherbed with two pillows—important, two—sprang a leak. The liquid seeped beneath the now-stiff white bed linens leaving wet salt crystals on the buttons. Falling razor-sharp droplets. Fumbling stump fingers scratch a sewer drain into the stone. Feed the tête-à-tête with this extracted essence! A drop hits my skullcap. Rest gone. I’m here. Lohmüller = Bada Bing Club!


“Dan Graham: Beyond” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) Lying on the carpet in the back corner of a dark screening room, hiding from other museum visitors and absorbing the shot of Black Flag’s Henry Rollins writhing onstage at the beginning of Rock My Religion, 1982–84, I thought: How could Dan Graham have made this twenty-five years ago? Walking back through the galleries, two of his glass-and-mirror works stopped me in my tracks: Girls’ Make-Up Room (1998–2000) and Public Space/Two Audiences (1976). I left the show slack-jawed.


R. H. Quaytman, “Chapter 12: iamb” (Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York) I love electric lamps—their switches, dimmers, shades; the way a bare lightbulb momentarily strikes you blind when screwed into its socket. The constellation of work in this show repeatedly teased me with suggestions and impersonations of light and light fixtures—pictured, imagined, sometimes only vaguely implied. In the gulf between Georges de la Tour and Bridget Riley, it seemed the rendered-as-lit surfaces of Quaytman’s smallish paintings on panel glimmered from bright to dim and back again. Although the press release nudged me elsewhere, the paintings were flipped on with a kind of phantasmagoric pleasure of presence; nothing was absent. Banishing natural light, Quaytman depicts artificiality. I would recommend her measured poetic surfaces as the light fixtures of the future.


Stiftung Insel Hombroich, Düsseldorf Situated in a swamp on the outskirts of Düsseldorf, this former NATO base–turned–museum and nature reserve is an antidote to the constrictive tendencies of so many contemporary art institutions. With uncompromising conviction, the foundation engenders free navigation of space, contingency, nature, and light—surveilled in solitude by the occasional stork. When I visited this year, things looked real; Peruvian feather tapestries appeared luminous, and International Klein Blue glowed like the feeling I had peering at the collection’s Rembrandt drawings in the half-light of a particularly gray (or what some might call soft) afternoon.


Ho Tzu Nyen, Here (Directors’ Fortnight, Cannes International Film Festival) In this delicate cinematic meditation on broken lives, Singaporean artist and filmmaker Ho Tzu Nyen has sculpted a monumental screen personality. The main character, He Zhiyuan (John Low), cannot speak. He communicates solely as a “title writer.” As in silent film, speech is alien here. Low’s facial expressions are ambiguous yet retain a specific melancholy; his body movements are slow, appearing out of sync. Performing his tragedy in image-text, he is trapped in the eternal return of his own fate, an endless cycle of theater and reality that may also be ours.


Martin Kippenberger (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Sure, New York has seen a trickle of Kippenberger’s work, but this show turned the tap on full blast—and hot. I ambled in mulling: Well, what? Another German painter? And kaboom! Suddenly, the piece that fits the gaping space between Polke and Rachel Harrison. Kippenberger’s art spills out in every direction, as did the man—an explosive mess congealing into a squat, ill-shaven gray pug in orange underpants. In a riptide of output, the painter from Cologne flooded his work with his own image, doggy-paddling all over the art landscape (as did his life, it seems). At MoMA, the layers of slippages crisscrossed in polyphonic directions . . . like the music I try to make, I thought to myself, as I drifted from piece to piece, watching the gaps fill in.


Lucy Raven, China Town Shown this year at the Bureau of Land Management in Ely, Nevada, and outdoors in the center of LA’s Chinatown (among other venues), this photo-animated video is about the passage of copper ore around the world, from an old mining community near Ely to a smelter in China. It describes our global position at the fulcrum of transition where holes are dug in the American West to wire the developing world, and it does so while recognizing the local, at both ends as well as along the way. Raven allowed this wide-eyed and open-minded project to be led by evidence of the conditions she encountered. Work like this bypasses the veneers of media, taking us closer to the true stories of the land we transform and inhabit.


Kathrin Sonntag, Dracula’s Ghost (Galerie Kamm, Berlin) While the legend of Dracula didn’t originate in Romania, people elsewhere have claimed for decades that Bram Stoker’s fictional character has true historical roots. Following the traces of this A-list horror figure to his storied homeland of Transylvania, Berlin-based artist Kathrin Sonntag attended a “scholarly” symposium organized by Nicolae Paduraru, founder of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, who also happened to own Mysterious Journeys, a local travel agency. Sinking her investigative fangs into all believers—tourists, historians, and scientists alike—Sonntag turned her research into a book and a Super 8 film that wonder: If the desire for a particular fiction to be real is strong enough, how long before historical consciousness counts it as factual reality?


Danh Vo, “Les Fleurs d’intérieur” (Kadist Foundation, Paris) Danh Vo slept in the gallery the night before his Paris opening along with members of his family, some of whom barbecued in the courtyard while their kids played in the galleries left nearly empty by Vo. A coatrack bearing the weight of two massive lit chandeliers—silent witnesses to the Paris peace talks, circa 1973—divided the gallery in two. Back in New York I read the five short texts Julie Ault had chosen for the catalogue she and Vo conceived. One was by Romanian essayist E. M. Cioran, who once said, “I’ve invented nothing; I’ve simply been the secretary of my sensations”—an approach I intuit in Vo’s work as well.

View of Danh Vo, “Les Fleurs d'interieur,” 2009, Kadist Foundation, Paris. From left: 16:32:15–26.05.2009; Buddleja davidii, 2009.


Cabinet project space (Gowanus, Brooklyn) Good news: A new university offering diverse curricula, eminent lecturers, and rigorous intellectual interrogation is flourishing in Brooklyn. Best of all, it’s practically free. Through symposia on art, technology, poetry, and the history of science, among the variety of more esoteric topics for which Cabinet is known, the quarterly’s maverick editorial team now regularly transform their offices into a lecture space. The presentations are smart yet informal, and supplemented by exhibitions and screenings in a venue that by night’s end often doubles as a speakeasy. My advice to art students: Leave your MFA program, save your money, and head out to Gowanus.


João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva (Portuguese pavilion, Venice Biennale) In their labyrinthine installation of 16- and 35-mm films in the Biennale’s Portuguese pavilion, pataphysicians par excellence Gusmão and Paiva purportedly documented experiments in “paramnesia,” “magnetic effluvia,” and “abyssology,” but what we saw were weirdly beautiful motion pictures of the world disobeying the laws of physics—stones traversing a desert of their own accord, a water bucket raised by a disembodied hand (grabbing the water, not the bucket’s handle), and so on. For brief moments, the films betrayed how effects were achieved, but in Gusmão and Paiva’s world, even once you’ve discovered the trick you still can’t believe your eyes.


Michael Rakowitz (Modern Art, Oxford, UK) This spring, I came across a table of small handcrafted objects from 2007 with a title that began “The invisible enemy should not exist.” Those same words can be found on the ancient Ishtar Gate, which once led to the temple of Babylon and now resides at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Although Rakowitz is an American artist whose work has been widely shown, including in New York, I’d never heard of him until this year. Refashioning missing relics—in this case, from the National Museum in Baghdad—out of commercial wrapping, bags, and boxes from Middle Eastern products, he says his interest is in a “politics of visibility.” Rakowitz makes copy-objects that can only be described as poor and pathetic—and strong.

Michael Rakowitz, The invisible enemy should not exist (Recovered, Missing, Stolen series), 2007, packaging, newspaper, glue, dimensions variable.


Institutt for Degenerert Kunst, Haplorrhini (An Anecdote Through a Bottle) (Landings, Vestfossen, Norway) Metamorphopsia in 1043 / monkeys sipping peculiar potions and presaging through bottle glass / a warning of a future occurrence; an OMEN / Saint Hallvard roving a pregnant / thief over the fjord / his arse penetrated by arrows / her mind corrupted by subliminal messages / Red Bull Red Bull / Dead Bull / weighted down with a millstone / UNANIMITER ET CONSTANTER.


Berlinde de Bruyckere (Hauser & Wirth) This year, quite unexpectedly, I received a catalogue of new works by Berlinde de Bruyckere. One sculpture, Marthe, 2008, particularly affected me. Standing on a pedestal, the figure leans ever so slightly forward, the head and upper body morphing into tree branches, which fall under their own weight as the torso, supported by the fragile power of the spine, pulls the back tight. The body might belong to a sick young girl or a once-beautiful woman. You can feel the artists’s complete investment. It’s a breathtaking work, eliciting your respect, as if she had touched you from afar.


Paul Thek (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid) Since 2000 I’ve held on to a clipping from Time Out magazine, of a two-show review at London’s Camden Arts Centre illustrated by Thek’s 3 Prunes, 1975. Although I never did see that exhibition, the prunes come to mind often. Almost a decade later at the Reina Sofía, hanging among the grapes, eggplants, and teeth found in the artist’s other work, I came across Three Elegant Prunes, painted the same year as the first three. Now I think of six prunes, each appearing in my mind, not static on their plates but vibrating—a quality that all Thek’s works seem to share.


Nathaniel Dorsky, Song and Solitude (2006), Sarabande (2008), and Winter (2008) (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) Sitting in a packed theater watching Nathaniel Dorsky’s achingly beautiful color silent films was one of the most spiritually regenerative and sublimely inspirational experiences I’ve had in a very long time. It was almost like an exercise in group meditation. These impeccably edited films are so attuned and carefully calibrated to the way vision works that it felt as if I was continually being reintroduced to the act of seeing.

Nathaniel Dorsky, Song and Solitude, 2006, still from a color film in 16 mm, 21 minutes.


Bruce Nauman, Days and Giorni (Venice Biennale) As hundreds of artists scrambled to make a lasting impression on recessionweary viewers, the boss calmly rode into town, kicked everyone’s ass, and showed them how it’s done. Days and Giorni, Nauman’s 2009 dual-language pair of sound installations, broke free from the US pavilion’s hideous mini-Monticello, headed off-site, and stole the show. I can’t even say what the work was about, except, of course, time and space. Tick, tick, tick, tick, nothing was superfluous—everything necessary and sufficient. Nauman’s incredible range and depth have inspired artists for decades, and this mind-spinning new work confirmed what many of us have long suspected: He is simply the best we have.


Yvonne Rainer, RoS Indexical (2007) and Spiraling Down (2008) (REDCAT, Los Angeles) Based in part on the 2005 BBC dramatization of the “riot” at the 1913 premiere of Nijinsky and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, RoS Indexical—like AG Indexical, Rainer’s 2006 rethinking of Balanchine’s Agon—can be seen as an intervention into the institution of twentieth-century dance: its mythic moments and their popular representation; its audience relations; its gender, age, and body norms; its struggles with the fetish of virtuosity. At REDCAT, the confrontation between those myths and norms and the indexical present of the dancers’ bodies, their techniques, and the stage and theater, in all their materiality, could be described as critique. But Rainer also accomplished something much more profound: She recovered the humanity of dance from the tomb of its idealizations. This was one of those rare events that give me hope for art.

Yvonne Rainer, RoS Indexical, 2007. Performance view, Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, Los Angeles, June 2009. Emily Coates and Sally Silvers. Photo: Scott Groller.


Larry Johnson (Hammer Museum, Los Angeles) There was the embrace (and shudder) of criticality, the glee of biting wit, and the Splenda aftertaste of cartoon color. But what baffled and delighted most in this show of sixty-some works by midcareer Angeleno artist Larry Johnson was the voice: part Charles Nelson Reilly (cackling, drunk from the between-takes buffet at a twilight taping of Match Game 76), part bake-at-home mom and burgeoning restaurateur Mildred Pierce. Classically tragic stories of American hard knocks proliferate in Johnson’s work, serving as allegories of post-Stonewall politics, crises in representation, and overweening ambition in the art world, delivered—almost always—in the seasoned, seen-it-all voice of a brassy old broad.


Mark Leckey, The Long Tail (MoMA at Abrons Arts Center, New York) Leckey’s polymorphic performance left me uncertain whether his chantey-and-poetry-slam-like ramble on Felix the Cat, cybernetics, and cornstarch goo mimicking Long Tail economics was his stream of consciousness running wild or mine. I’m still not sure what this popanthropological exploration added up to. But whatever it was, to observe Leckey’s mélange of white chalk on blackboard, primitive broadcasting techniques, and a bit of light and magic was to witness the creation of a positive manifesto on the reverberations of the World Wide Web.


Francis Bacon (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) Dear Artforum! As a woman artist I feel I must reject this “best of” register. I wish not to think about who or what is No. 1 but to expand it violently: The very best thing? Art. The best thing? Life. Citizenship. Renewal. Things that make things alive. I’m attracted to the kind of art that’s aware of its own provisional existence: the reevaluating and reinterpreting of the Kippenberger spirit at New MoMA; the epic poem in vitrines by Bernadette Corporation at Greene Naftali; and the high-impact rediscovery of Francis Bacon at the Met (via Tate Britain)—people, histories, texts, displays, painting as evidence of vulnerability of the (post) human condition. Now figure out how to stand in that fucked-up-world-commodity-space as a painting. And in such ways, I’ll be leaning into 2010. Yours, JXXXA


Leon Kossoff (Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York) Within Kossoff’s paintings, scale looms large. His figures are monstrous, their mouths and nostrils agape like horrendous voids. Due to the overtly physical presence of paint and the thinglike quality of the individual, heavily laden brushstrokes, these works are literal in their process. Yet the coalescence of medium and figurative depiction could be considered ghostly—breathing human beings morbidly decomposing into discrete, pictorial elements—and also geologic: The images of his models are fixed in a mass of earth-toned color that hardens to become rocklike matter. Kossoff’s figures echo the fate of all human bodies: They become ground and fossilize.


“Art of Two Germanys” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) Aside from this show’s sociopolitical importance, and how carefully it travels through the complicated and layered history of twentieth-century Germany, what really won me over was seeing many of my favorite contemporary artists—Genzken, Trockel, Schütte, the Bechers, Palermo, Farocki, and Polke—under one roof and contextualized by their historical antecedents in a single exhibition. Just as compelling were obscure works by Hermann Glöckner, whose brilliant cut-up and folded cardboard pieces easily diverted my attention from the work I knew I liked. Using only crude materials, this East German modernist managed to create objects that completely transcend the political, epitomizing a kind of vibrant existence that I recognized in traces throughout this great survey of German art.


Marcellvs L. (Berlin) The best art I saw this year was not in an exhibition but at the house of Marcellvs L., a young Brazilian-born artist. Based in Berlin, he had just returned from Iceland with a suitcase filled with real gems—new works for his open-ended project “VideoRizoma”—among them, 2222. I could spend months watching the movement of the video’s creatural landscape wavering between rock and horse, rock and horse, rock and horse. I have the impression that when the world falls apart in autophagic spectacle, Marcellvs will still be there, oblivious, rapt in this slow movement of rock.


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970 (Great Salt Lake, UT) For a photo assignment, my friend Chris and I drove out to Utah to see a show that began thirty-nine years ago. Submerged for the better part of four decades, Spiral Jetty resurfaced around 2002 (sources vary) when water levels fell. I used to look at reproductions of this piece while flipping through magazines and catalogues at my parents’ house. Assuming I’d never see it in person, gradually I came to think of one of the world’s most literal artworks as just a fairy tale. But during that day (and night) I spent at the Great Salt Lake, Spiral Jetty was realer than just about any artwork I’ve ever encountered.


Stevie Wonder, Gershwin Prize for Popular Song (the White House, Washington, DC) From the moment Stevie Wonder launched into “Sir Duke,” his performance as the recipient of the Gershwin Prize was a miracle—a joyful signifier of the success of an ideological revolution. Fumigating the East Room with love and musical spirituality, and with Gilbert Stuart’s white-wigged George Washington as backdrop, the music legend roused the multiracial, multigenerational crowd to euphoria. If it weren’t for the wars and the recession that the president inherited, we just might be in utopia. Hopefully, the Obamas will carry on their campaign to promote culture and creative thinking, making the impossible possible.


Matt Mullican (The Drawing Center, New York) Throughout the twentieth century, artists asked, “What to represent?” and “How to represent it?” But “What is representation, anyhow?” often went unasked. For me, no artist addressed this question on any significantly personal, existential, or introspective level until Matt Mullican became obsessed with it in the early ’70s. The Drawing Center is the first American institution to recognize the beautiful, heartbreaking complexity of his searching on any scale. This enormously thorough drawing exhibition tracked the history of Mullican’s work from his questioning of how the child inside himself represents what is “real”—and what it is to imagine a “self” at all—to his recognition that, even for an adult, these questions remain unanswered.


Jacqueline Humphries (Greene Naftali Gallery, New York) Navigating Humphries’s recent exhibition at Greene Naftali was not unlike flying through a thick fog bank over a city. Viewing the works, you knew the ground was down there somewhere, but every time you thought you could make it out, it seemed to disappear back into hazy, ethereal silver depths.


“Distortion” (Gervasuti Foundation, Venice) Independent curator James Putnam’s idea of “distortion” encompasses an impressive range, from the skewed perspective of Leonardo da Vinci to bias in contemporary “news” media to the sound-altering powers of guitar effects pedals. It was around this conceit that Putnam organized a collateral event for this year’s Venice Biennale. Including works such as John Isaacs’s surprisingly lyrical modified Nazi propaganda and Gavin Turk’s live sculpting of clay heads left to collapse with time, the show assigned a different room of the Gervasuti Foundation to each artist. The exhibition engendered a kind of meditative space and slow pace that certainly felt like a distortion of the rapid-consumption mentality that inevitably overcomes viewers of the Biennale at large.


Key software, tenth-anniversary party (Tokyo) For the past few years, I’ve been totally hooked on the anime TV series Clannad, which is adapted from the 2004 visual novel by Key. So when I heard that the software studio’s tenth birthday would be marked with a celebration, I immediately entered my name in the lottery for a ticket and was lucky enough to win. The party took place in Tokyo just before the start of spring and featured a concert by Key’s founder and primary scenario writer, composer and musician Jun Maeda. While Kyoto Animation did a great job with the series’s TV adaptation, after seeing Maeda perform there’s no question that Clannad’s success is owed to the personality of the original game’s creator.


Troy Brauntuch (Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York) I found this show super generous. Brauntuch exhibited not just new works but also pictures that have occupied his studio as source material for the past thirty-five years. Displaying clippings from magazines and newspapers, photos, and stats that bear the countless pinholes, repaired rips, and sun-bleached patinas of their use and reuse, he presented the image of his own working method. As pieces of reference central to his practice, they can be considered his atlas. As beautiful pictures/objects, they stand as both model and image—a great exhibition.


LaToya Ruby Frazier in “Younger than Jesus” (New Museum, New York) I love a diptych. Like the moment where you see that Ryan Trecartin’s installation, begging for love, has been placed back-to-back with LaToya Ruby Frazier’s, daring you to like her at all—markers of loudness and quiet for a generation. Unreconciled opposites seep noiselessly through Frazier’s hip unfashionable images of the all-American family—crack addict Mom, angelic cousin J. C., heroic Grandma, Gramps who isn’t a grandpa, and Frazier, exposed and vulnerable as her femme-masculine self. Can dying Gramps still masturbate to those porno-Barbies hanging on his wall? Does Grandma treat J. C. as well as or worse than her connoisseur collection of porcelain dolls? Awash in Trecartin’s sound, defiantly poised above the gap between art and documentary, Frazier isn’t sure she wants you to like her—and I love her.


J. D. Walsh, “Tune Up” Walsh is an artist who navigates smoothly between mediums while leaving a trail of great works. He’s a kind of mad scientist mixing up a fresh pop brew of interactivity, projection, appropriation, music, origami, and installation. Whether he’s playing a search engine or a guitar (clearly, his avatar is John Cage), Walsh is happy to reach into the chaos and “tune in meaning.” Underground and busy, last year he made one of my favorite videos, Untitled RPG. This year, he unplugged with stunning silkscreen constructions exhibited in the back room of a Brooklyn bodega. But his most widely unknown accomplishment of late is “Tune Up,” an infectious and demented jingle for NYC dermatologist Dr. Zizmor. I can’t get it out of my head.


“Dan Graham: Beyond” (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles) We suppose ourselves the spectators of our own behavior, and . . . this is the only looking-glass by which we can, in some measure, with the eyes of other people, scrutinize . . . our own conduct. —Adam Smith
Good crowd. Surprised we’re not herded single file; even the kids on field trips are milling. Credit the curators, the “space,” the “art world,” “life” itself, Dan Graham as well. In certain areas, one does seek escape from pain. A fellow from RAND Corporation once told me, “Sky Saxon knows more about LSD than you or me, but he can’t articulate.” Rumor Sky’ll perform with Thurston tonight at MoCA. Rambling talk with Dan over lunch today. Begins to make sense now.


Cy Twombly (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien) I came out of the Twombly exhibition at MUMOK a little bit taken aback. What if art really were like that!, I thought to myself. What would it mean if that were what art was to be? Like going to New York for the first time and thinking that, in fact, the city really is the way all the movies said it would be. I’m aware that I’m a sucker for interestingly rendered photographs (and I had never seen Twombly’s photos before), but gazing at the scribbles and gashes on his squidgy pale canvases and contemplating their lumpy painted protuberances was . . .


Christian Bonnefoi (Centre Pompidou, Paris) I saw the catalogue before I saw the show, but found myself no less amazed when confronted physically with Bonnefoi’s painterly abstractions. Shifting as they slowly unfold—from transparency to opacity, pictorial unity to violent jump-cut collage—these surfaces are impossible to capture photographically. For years I had vaguely associated Bonnefoi with 1970s French Conceptualism. But when encountered firsthand and en masse, the artist’s loopy painterly scribbles became letters, and motifs from one work reappeared bastardized in the next, making clear that such facile classification was inadequate. Impressed by Bonnefoi’s assertive coupling of perceptual and theoretical fields, I left the retrospective with a dram of hope—and all arthistorical categories in disarray.


“Central Archive” (Photomonth 2009, Krakow, Poland) Naked Nazis at rest, documentation of a beetroot’s genetic variants, the imprint of a bird that fatally intersected the wing of an airplane, a woman riding bareback, ornaments made from the confiscated thermometers of displaced Jewish families—selected from historical archives, police files, scientific documents, and private records, these pictures were among the hundreds assembled in the former Erdal shoe-polish factory this May. From these orderly collections, a chaotic and real image of the world emerged to form “Central Archive,” the core of this year’s Photomonth, an annual festival in Krakow inaugurated in 2002.


Franz West, “To Build a House You Start with the Roof” (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) I first encountered West’s work in Toulouse, France—a huge pink sculpture titled Agoraphobia, from 2005. Immediate, visceral, and characteristic of the expressive and very often abstract pieces he crafts, it connected to the playful side of my imagination. I was excited to hear that LACMA would be hosting this traveling survey, but ultimately the show delivered even more than I had anticipated. Proving to be my favorites were the pastel, human-size, scatological forms sitting outdoors on the grass. You have to respect West’s courage: He does whatever he wants.


Jimmie Durham, “Rejected Stones” (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ ARC) I visited “Rejected Stones” with four little kids—always an intense way to walk through a museum. They don’t read, so they didn’t get all the jokes, but they were laughing pretty hard anyway. Some of the sculptures scared them—they could feel the residual energy of physical violence. It made them crazy, so we ran, the way kids like to see art. Even at that speed you can see Durham anticipating the problems that have defined sculpture for thirty years, except that for him they aren’t problems. Sure, the kids love it: He’s speaking a language we don’t understand yet.

Jimmie Durham, The Ghost in the Machine, 2005, refrigerator, marble, rope, 74 3/4 x 39 3/8 x 39 3/8".


Marek Konieczny, inauguration of the Museum of Think Crazy (Warsaw) In 1974, seminal figure of the Polish neo-avant-garde Marek Konieczny coined “Think crazy” as a motto epitomizing refusal of the social repression of the Communist regime and the Conceptual orthodoxy and visual austerity of most political art of the time. Since then, his work has turned from nonmateriality to an exploration of decorative and bourgeois art forms. Last August, Konieczny, a self-proclaimed “deserter of Conceptualism,” revisited his roots, inaugurating the Museum of Think Crazy in his storied Warsaw apartment. The opening took the form of a private dinner with the host (as the museum’s singular treasure) lounging on a récamier sofa, a gilded horn on his head, deploying dandyism as political art practice with his aptly titled tableau vivant Monoceros.

Marek Konieczny, Museum of Think Crazy, Warsaw, 2009.


William Eggleston (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) I’d never seen Eggleston’s work in person before, only in books. His pictures create an open atmosphere where nothing is forced on you; nothing is pretentious, stylized, or weighed down by an ambition to prove something. For nearly fifty years, his work has maintained an intuitive consistency and an honesty that have allowed him to totally own the medium of photography while transcending its limitations. His vivid-colored melancholy is, for me, impossible to resist.


Nick Cave, “Recent Soundsuits” (Jack Shainman Gallery, New York) Cave’s otherworldly costumed characters—some festooned with toys, ceramic birds, and beaded fabric, some covered with human hair in vibrant colors—made an oddly comfortable contrast with his sculptures incorporating lawn jockeys, that genre of antique racist American statuary which is also now classified blandly (and without a hint of irony) under the rubric “black collectibles.” While Cave’s futuristic figures mask any personal identity, communicating their power and meaning solely through elaborate attire, each of his cast-iron black beings reveals a complex and sympathetic individual psychology, and each suggests a personal story. Cave’s “jockeys” poetically skewer the stereotype. These figures need another name. They couldn’t care less about horses.


Anja Kirschner and David Panos, “The Last Days of Jack Sheppard” (Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany) I loved Christoph Schlingensief’s Mea Culpa, Thomas Kilpper’s “State of Control,” and Vaginal Davis’s “Rising Stars, Falling Stars,” but, as a filmmaker, I have chosen instead to write about an exhibition anchored by a film: Kirschner and Panos’s farcical costume drama about Jack Sheppard, now cast as a hero of “escapism.” Eighteenth-century celebrity con man and inspiration for John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, Sheppard had a talent for evading the law. While the show may jab the ribs of investment bankers, its Brechtian provocation is intended for all. For those plotting their own way out of neoliberal prison, the installation also featured a triangular gallows in direct sight of the screen. And, ohhh, the beautiful Jack Sheppard was played mostly by androgynous women. Fact and fiction. The joker.

Anja Kirschner and David Panos, The Last Days of Jack Sheppard, 2008, color digital video, 56 minutes. Production still. Photo: Alessandra Chila.