PRINT December 2011

Daniel Birnbaum

Atsuko Tanaka, Round on Sand, 1968, still from a color film in 16 mm, 9 minutes 42 seconds.

1 “Atsuko Tanaka: The Art of Connecting” (Espai d’Art Contemporani de Castelló, Spain; curated by Jonathan Watkins, Mizuho Kato, Yuko Hasegawa, and Koichi Kawasaki) In 1968 Tanaka drew large circles in the sand near the shoreline as part of her performance Round on Sand. Art doesn’t get any simpler than this. Nor does it get more splendid. Ever since encountering photographs of Tanaka wearing her legendary Electric Dress, 1956, and then seeing the 1986 reconstruction of the dress itself, I have hoped to see more work by this key member of Gutai. The show’s drawings, paintings, and, most important, films of performances (all organized here by Lorenza Barboni) confirm the artist’s strange ability to blend the spirits of Zen and child’s play in unpretentious and open works that feel totally contemporary.

Co-organized with Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK, the Japan Foundation, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (Abstract Painting), 1990, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 49 5/8".

2 “Gerhard Richter: Panorama” (Tate Modern, London; curated by Nicholas Serota and Mark Godfrey) This year’s retrospective of retrospectives. It’s been said before: All the possibilities (and impossibilities) of painting today seem present in Richter’s oeuvre, and if anyone wants to grasp what a painted image is capable of—artistically, politically, and philosophically—this definitive show is the place to start. And perhaps, after exploring many other avenues, it’s also where to end.

Co-organized with the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Tomás Saraceno, Galaxies Forming Along Filaments, like Droplets Along the Strands of a Spider’s Web, 2009, mixed media. Installation view, Arsenale, Venice. From the 53rd Venice Biennale.

3 Biological Turn 1: Bruno Latour on Tomás Saraceno It is uncommon for a major thinker today to use the interpretation of a work by a contemporary artist to make a polemical point. Following his excursus on information networks and the discourse of climate science in Artforum last December, as well as numerous texts critiquing Peter Sloterdijk’s notion of “spheres,” Latour continues to counter the spatial model of the sphere with his own ideas concerning the primacy of networks. Of Saraceno’s biologically inspired installations, he wrote in e-flux journal 23: “It is as if there were a vague possibility of retaining modernism’s feeling of clarity and order, but freed from its ancient connection with hierarchy and verticality.”

Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature), 1899–1904. From “Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?,” 2011. ZKM Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, Germany.

4 Biological Turn 2: Christopher Williams and Ernst Haeckel In Georges Didi-Huberman’s exhibition “Atlas” at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, Christopher Williams’s photograph of a jellyfish, Pacific Sea Nettle . . ., 2009, flouted conventional boundaries between disciplines and appeared delighted to join forces with Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (Archetypes of Art), 1905–25, as well as with the biologist Ernst Haeckel’s astonishing illustrated phylogenies of sea creatures and other animals from the turn of the century. Perhaps this echo of an early biological turn—a spectacular rethinking of nineteenth-century positivism and naturalism—marks one way out of museological boredom.

Patti Smith and Karl Holmqvist performing Rimbaud, Poetry & Rock ’n’ Roll—An Expanded Conversation, Venice, September 3, 2011. From the 54th Venice Biennale.

5 Karl Holmqvist and Patti Smith, Rimbaud, Poetry & Rock ’n’ Roll—An Expanded Conversation (“ILLUMInations,” 54th Venice Biennale) Not many people were left wandering around the Giardini this sunny afternoon months after the Biennale’s hectic opening days, but those who did happened upon a true illumination: a conversation about Arthur Rimbaud, plus a few unplugged songs by Patti Smith underneath the trees. I wish every day could be illuminated like this!

Vija Celmins, Starfield, 2010, mezzotint on paper, 26 1/2 x 35 3/4".

6 Vija Celmins (Louisiana Museum, Humle­baek, Denmark; curated by Poul Erik Tøjner) Celmins’s black-and-white works on paper are among the most delicate and precise works of art being produced today. Pedantic? No. Simply perfect.

Co-organized with the Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

Collective Actions, The Tent, 1976. Performance view, outside Moscow, October 2, 1976.

7 Andrei Monastyrski and Collective Actions (Russian pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale; curated by Boris Groys) Monastyrski, the central figure in 1970s Moscow Conceptualism besides Ilya Kabakov, is an artist, poet, and theoretician who has had little visibility outside his country. This rigorous exhibition of his work with the group Collective Actions offers a glimpse into artistic practices that would be hard to imagine today. Founded in 1976 and still active, the collective (Monastyrski, Nikita Alekseev, Elena Elagina, Georgy Kizevalter, Igor Makarevich, Nikolai Panitkov, Sergei Romashko, and Sabine Hänsgen) has undertaken more than a hundred performances, often involving some of Russia’s leading thinkers and artists. All the same, this show, with so many black-and-white photographs of the group’s activities in the woods, sounds like a rather gray endeavor. And indeed it is very gray—but that may not be such a bad thing: a world without vain stars or fetishized art objects, a world of field trips to the countryside, an endless afternoon where it snows nonstop on the late Russian avant-garde. What liberation!

Martine Bedin, Super Lamp, 1981, painted metal, lighting components, 13 x 23 5/8 x 7". From “Post- modernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990.”

8 “Postmodernism: Style and Sub­version 1970–1990” (Victoria and Albert Museum, London; curated by Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt) There really would be no point in doing an ironic exhibition about an era built on ironic citations. Instead, this is a straightforward and honest attempt to come to grips with the lurid look of an epoch so close to us and yet so far away. “Once we realized we could put David Byrne and Grace Jones at the heart of our narrative instead of Philip Johnson, it changed the project for us,” says Adamson. As much as it might seem like the last gasp of Western civilization, here po-mo also feels full of possibility. I never thought I could develop nostalgia for Ronald Reagan. This show proved me wrong.

Runo Lagomarsino, Trans Atlantic (detail), 2010–11, thirty-two drawings on solar-exposed paper and seventeen drawings on paper, each 13 x 18 3/4".

9 Runo Lagomarsino Lately, I’ve come across this global conceptualist wherever I go: Basel, Kiev, Istanbul, Malmö. His obsession with solar movement and radiant heavenly bodies makes his art relevant anyplace the sun rises and sets. His heliocentric obsession is more than likely to take him around the globe.

Cover of Jacques Rancière’s Aisthesis: Scènes du régime esthétique de l’art (Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art) (Éditions Galilée, 2011).

10 Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis: Scènes du Régime Esthétique de L’Art (Éditions Galilée) This counterhistory of the aesthetic in fourteen chapters, each representing a case study of what art can be, arrived barely a day before I finished this list. Is this what we have been waiting for, the philosophical magnum opus for our moment in the history of the mind?

Daniel Birnbaum is director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where, next spring, he will stage exhibitions of the work of Sturtevant and Eija-Liisa Ahtila. In February, Carl-Michael von Hausswolff will turn the entire museum into a collective acoustic installation titled freq-out.