PRINT December 2011

Jack Bankowsky

View of “Kai Althoff: Punkt, Absatz, Blümli (period, paragraph, Blümli),” 2011, Gladstone Gallery, New York.

1 Kai Althoff, “Punkt, Absatz, Blümli (Period, Paragraph, Blümli)” (Gladstone Gallery, New York) The first time I met Kai Althoff, the rakish ephebe was perched expectantly on the edge of a wheelchair, furtively scratching his stigmata. Not really! But there is something in the overwrought desiring machine that is his art—an old-fashioned aesthete’s brew of inverts and valiants, blood oaths and brother love—that gives the truth to my lie. His winter solo, a stuffed-to-the-gills mise-en-scène bathed in a sickly fluorescent glare, led one through a salon-style smattering of mostly miniature Vuillard­-meets-Otto-Dix pictures, past a wall-size shelving unit chockablock with pottery-class mugs, and into the sanctum sanctorum, where a man-in-the-moon beanbag face peaceably slumbered in a nest of ermine (one eye, unnervingly, wide-open). Folk art intensity and pictorial intelligence conspire to make Althoff’s outré adventures fairy-tale universal.

Jeff Wall, Boy Falls from Tree, 2010, color photograph, 89 x 120".

2 “Jeff Wall: The Crooked Path” (Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; curated by Joël Benzakin) What does a modest-size canvas painted by Kai Althoff last year have in common with Frank Stella’s Six Mile Bottom of 1960? Or a movie by Terrence Malick? They all shared quarters in this summer’s compendious BOZAR exhibition, a selection of Wall’s photographs, interwoven with the work of his precursors and with current affinities. The sheer size of the show may have rankled skeptics (and worried the competition), but fans like me were thrilled at the chance to trace the “crooked path” that allowed this seminal artist to stake his claim as our “painter of modern life”—in, ironically, the medium of photography.

Mark Leckey, GreenScreenRefrigerator Action, 2010–11, color video, green-screen infinity cove, refrigerator. Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, 2011. Photo: Mark Blower.

3 “Mark Leckey: See, We Assemble” (Serpentine Gallery, London; curated by Julia Peyton-Jones, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Kathryn Rattee) This timely survey pairs Leckey’s now classic paean to the transient intensities of ’80s British dance subculture, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore?, 1999, with recent efforts in which the artist talks at a smart fridge and blasts a dumb Henry Moore with sonic heavy fire. Leckey’s subject remains our furiously modulating technological everyday, but the fact that his perplexities begin with the blunt fact of our corporeal bodies (and the truculent objects we move among) suggests that his medium may be—who’d have thunk it?—sculpture.

Katharina Fritsch, Figurengruppe, 2006–2008, bronze, copper, stainless steel, lacquer. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2011.

4 Katharina Fritsch, Figurengruppe (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Who can stand up to the competition of Rodin’s St. John the Baptist Preaching or Maillol’s Mediterranean? Katharina Fritsch is the bolt-from-the-blue answer chief curator Ann Temkin offers in “Figure in the Garden,” a sensitive curation of figurative work from the permanent collection currently on view in the museum’s sculpture garden. But how does Fritsch do it? By walking an impossibly fine line between kitsch cliché and resounding archetype; by deploying a posse of her own atomic-hued hits that doubles as a typology of the sculptural medium itself; by exploding the historical grisaille of those beloved surroundings and searing these figments of sculpture past—and present—onto our retinas.

Emily Sundblad performing at the opening of "¡Qué Bárbara!,” Algus Greenspon, New York, May 8, 2011.

5 Emily Sundblad, “¡Qué Bárbara!” (Algus Greenspon, New York) You have to love this rising business-art star for monetizing her DIY identity by consigning her painting-as-exhibition-announcement to auction; and you have to hand it to the real jeune fille behind Reena Spaulings for landing in the pages of W as a pioneering downtown art dame; but most of all, one must give it up for the soulful songstress who opened and closed her show with a pair of intoxicating recitals. These evenings of unlikely hybrids (“Love Hurts” set to a Schubert trio, anybody?) left her art-smart audience with a burning question: Is Sundblad a musical phenomenon or an artist making work about one? The answer, improbably, is both.

Alex Bag, Untitled (Project for the Whitney Museum), 2009, still from a color video, 38 minutes.

6 Alex Bag (Migros Museum für Gegenwarts-kunst, Zurich; curated by Raphael Gygax) Back in the day, everyone got genuinely excited about this artist’s seemingly hapless productions that turned life under television into durable comédie humaine. But Bag has not been prolific in recent years—or exhibited the career-building chops of those fast-track peers she hilariously mocks—so when this unexpected retrospective hit my radar, I was eager to see how it would all stack up. The verdict? Bag’s pitch remains perfect and her old wager still rings true: In the words of the everyday art student she impersonated in her breakthrough video, Untitled Fall ’95, “What’s the point of, like, making work for people that are so smart they don’t even watch TV?”

Spread from Charlotte Birnbaum’s Three Banquets for a Queen, with a drawing by Salvador Dalí (Sternberg Press, 2011).

7 Charlotte Birnbaum, Three Banquets for a Queen (Sternberg Press) This slim, elegantly produced volume chronicles the papal bounty that greeted Christina, lesbian queen of Sweden, when she arrived in Rome in 1668, having ditched faith and crown to, God bless her, spend more time on art and philosophy. Perhaps it was the PR value His Holiness attached to Her Highness’s conversion to Catholicism (or maybe he just appreciated her for dressing in men’s clothing and cursing like an oxcart driver), but the three days of feasting he ordered to welcome her surely rank among the most fantastic in recorded history. Courtier Antonio degli Effetti’s delightfully purple account of the proceedings anchors this mesmerizing introduction to Baroque gastronomy—complete with menus.

Willem de Kooning, Pink Angels, ca. 1945, oil and charcoal on canvas, 52 x 40".

8 “De Kooning: A Retrospective” (Museum of Modern Art, New York; curated by John Elderfield) Elderfield’s just-the-facts curatorial approach makes short work of the famous misnomer “Abstract Expressionism,” while arguing a case for the painter as a sculptor of middle-distance space, whose roiling push- pull undid Clement Greenberg by scuttling both part-to-whole abstract relations and Pollock’s “overall” gestalt. How does de Kooning’s achievement stack between the colossi Picasso and Warhol? Let the paintings speak for themselves.

Alexi Worth, Crumpled Drawing, 2011, acrylic on paper, 22 1/4 x 24".

9 Alexi Worth, “Show of Hands” (DC Moore Gallery, New York) In an art world where mediocre artists are routinely catapulted to superstardom only to disappear back into deserved obscurity—or, more exasperating, indefinitely escape the downward pull of gravity buoyed by an inflated commercial apparatus—it is as refreshing as it is remarkable to happen upon the work of a genuinely undersung talent. I loathe this sort of rhetoric but am happy to stoop so low to celebrate the six easel-size pictures Worth showed this past fall. His subtle play of shadow and substance, of represented image and abstract invention, makes one’s head turn circles round how a given picture was made—and what it means to make one.

Richard Press, Bill Cunningham New York, 2010, still from a color digital video, 84 minutes. Bill Cunningham and Anna Wintour.

10 Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press) Ubiquitous uptown and down in his bright blue street sweeper’s smock, the photographer-subject of this affectionate documentary has long tracked the high and mighty for the New York Times. But the inveterate flaneur has just as zealously beaten the streets—or, better, biked them—in search of the new and noteworthy, the dandy peacocks and genuine fashion trendsetters who give the city its sizzle. As for everyone else? If the best you can do is a well-tailored suit or a pretty frock, look elsewhere for your fifteen minutes.

Jack Bankowsky is a critic and curator and Artforum editor at large.