PRINT December 2010

Jeffrey Kastner

1 Lee Lozano (Moderna Museet, Stockholm; curated by Iris Müller-Westermann) A revelatory (occasionally painfully so) survey of the late artist’s willfully nasty, persistently brutish, tragically short—and utterly galvanizing—career. Though the show’s rigid circulation pattern struck some as overdetermined, the work was sufficiently fascinating and ferocious to confound any attempt to corral it. Lozano’s decade or so of mature work produced an oeuvre at once deeply personal and usefully generalizable to the concerns of her 1960s milieu, moving from cartoonish Pop grotesqueries through hard-edge and a kind of transcendental Minimalism to fully dematerialized and fearlessly diaristic text pieces. These paved the way for her initial controlled withdrawal—and ultimate lamentable disappearance—from the art world.

2 Markus Schinwald (Yvon Lambert, New York) The long-overdue New York debut of this dazzlingly talented Austrian lived up to all its disquieting potential. Though the show omitted major aspects of Schinwald’s ambitiously hybrid practice (which encompasses photography, film, video, installation, theater, dance, and more) in favor of his painting and sculpture, its inclusion of the artist’s prosthetically détourned Victorian portraits and uncanny anatomical snarls of furniture legs did provide a tantalizing glimpse of how convincingly he evokes both the limits and the possibilities of the human body. A sly architectural intervention into the gallery itself worked in a similarly corporeal way, subtly unsettling the seamless, antiseptic “body” of the Richard Gluckman–designed space.

3 Charles Burchfield (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; curated by Robert Gober) A ravishing (re)introduction to the life of the visionary watercolorist, “Heat Waves in a Swamp” demonstrated the wisdom of putting one highly idiosyncratic artist in the hands of another—here Robert Gober, who assembled the hundred-plus paintings, drawings, and ephemeral objects on display. Emphasizing Burchfield’s distinctive early and late periods—during which he formulated and then boldly deployed a buzzing, synesthetic, wildly expressionistic mode of pictorial animism—the show also gathered a suite of marvelously crazy little drawings made in the artist’s self-described “golden year” of 1917, designed to provide figural “Conventions for Abstract Thoughts” such as “fear,” “insanity,” and “hypnotic intensity.”

Co-organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY.

4 Deyrolle, after the fire (46 rue du Bac, Paris) Founded in 1831 and nearly destroyed by fire in early February 2008, the inimitable Left Bank taxidermy shop–cum–cabinet of curiosities Deyrolle reopened in autumn 2009 and had been restored to its former glory by the time I visited last Christmas. A time machine back to the era of the collector-scientist that employs the display conventions of the very earliest public exhibition spaces, Deyrolle is a wondrous historic (and perhaps prescient?) creature: museum and museum shop, indivisible.

5 Brion Gysin (New Museum, New York; curated by Laura Hoptman) An engrossing survey, “Dream Machine” made a case for Gysin not as the chronically unfocused, tripped-out shaman enabler he’s often rendered as, but rather as a restless innovator who developed and adapted (and shared) a wide range of techniques, all in order to access an elusive psychospiritual energy. Though much is made of Gysin’s ideas, Hoptman emphasized the degree to which those ideas were routed through things: The exhibition was packed with archival material, audio, film, and even an example of the spinning, sense-stimulating device that gave the show its name, here set in its own room, complete with cushions for extended communion.

6 Taking teenagers to “Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present” (Museum of Modern Art, New York; curated by Klaus Biesenbach) The testing of physical and emotional limits is by no means purely the province of performance artists: Just ask any parent of a teenager about the psychosocial mechanics of transgression. And accompanying a crew of budding (teenage) anthropologists to “The Artist Is Present” only emphasized how much Abramović’s practice echoes the circadian rhythms of the average adolescent—long stretches of intense boredom punctuated by highly dramatic episodes of self-inflicted mania. Best postshow discussion? Which way did you face passing between the bodies in Imponderabilia, and why?

7 Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jim Hodges, and Ana Mendieta (De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, Miami) The single most rewarding half hour I spent looking at art this year: Alone on the third floor of the De La Cruz Collection space in Miami. A wonderfully sympathetic installation by Hodges paired his own delicate, elegiac work with that of his late friend Gonzalez-Torres; nearby, a separate area housed a moving, suitably claustrophobic sequence of works by the habitually risk-taking Mendieta—all in a free public-private space that rivals any kunsthalle for its seriousness and accessibility.

8 Tatiana Trouvé (Gagosian Gallery, New York) Infiltrating viewers’ psyches just as it does the physical space of the gallery, Trouvé’s enigmatic work looks to identify and perturb the relationships between spatial and emotional conditions. Her belated US debut was ambitious enough to warrant more space than Gagosian’s uptown venue could offer, but even in close quarters, it offered an alluring sampler of the artist’s formidable range: uncanny scalar shifts, captivating objects set in inexplicably evocative arrays or deployed in wry room-altering interventions, physical and conceptual blockages that reroute the body and the mind.

9 Roman Signer (Swiss Institute Contemporary Art New York; curated by Gianni Jetzer) An all-too-infrequent New York appearance by the merry prankster of St. Gallen, “Four Rooms, One Artist” featured new pieces (involving actions utilizing prepared umbrellas, a white shirt, and an office chair; a piano full of Ping-Pong balls; and a Harold Edgerton–esque apple hanging from a string) as well as a package of older experiments (a Restenfilm, or “leftover movie”) situated within a newly constructed installation. Fascinated, as always, by chance, and animated by a commitment to an economy of means, Signer devised the last—Cinema, 2010—to draw a representative inventory of his poetic devotions, from a ridiculous rocket-propelled boot spinning on a pole to a sublime blanket of heavy spring snow, slowly dislodging itself from sun-warmed tree branches.

10 Cady Noland (Rubell Family Collection, Miami) For those who came of viewing age in the late 1980s, few artists radiate influence like Cady Noland. Interpreter and reinventor of Pop; appropriationist par excellence; pivot point between commodity fetishization and demonumentalized installation, Noland is also a phantom—like Lozano, an art-world dropout—whose work has appeared sparingly, if at all, since the mid-’90s (unauthorized reinventions of her oeuvre, such as the Triple Candie faux survey in 2006, notwithstanding). Don and Mera Rubell, however, happen to have the real thing, thank you very much, and in their recent “Beg Borrow and Steal,” they presented a brilliant sequence—including the showstopping room-size scenario of Budweiser cans and scaffolding, This Piece Has No Title Yet, 1989—a real-life experience a hundred times more potent than any postgrad seminar on the artifactual narratives of American abjection.

Jeffrey Kastner is a New York–based writer, a regular contributor to Artforum, and the senior editor of Cabinet, where he is one of the creators of the magazine’s contribution to the 10th Sharjah Biennial, opening in the United Arab Emirates in March 2011. His essay “The Spinner and the Web: Tomás Saraceno in Twenty Jumps” appears in Tomás Saraceno: 14 Billions (Working Title), forthcoming from Bonniers Konsthall/Skira.