PRINT December 2011

Scott Rothkopf

Julius Shulman, Edgar J. Kaufmann House, Palm Springs, California, 1947, black-and-white photograph, 30 x 40".
From “Background Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945–1982,” Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA.

1 “Pacific Standard Time” (various venues, Southern California) For some, this Getty-sponsored initiative surveying Los Angeles art from 1945 to 1980 smacks of boosterism on behalf of an art capital hardly in need of special pleading. But for me, the coordinated cornucopia of exhibitions mounted by more than sixty California cultural institutions represents an unprecedented scholarly undertaking (and a salubrious twist on destination art-viewing in an age of overblown biennials and fairs). While the individual shows range widely in quality, taken together they offer a singularly fine-grained portrait of a vivid scene. The point isn’t whether or not LA needs such cheerleading but that we all need museums to collectively dig so deep and dream so big.

View of “September 11,” 2011, MoMA PS1, New York. Background: George Segal, Woman on a Park Bench, 1998. On floor: Roger Hiorns, Untitled, 2008. Photo: Matthew Septimus.

2 “September 11” (MoMA PS1, New York; curated by Peter Eleey) It takes guts to curate an exhibition reflecting on one of the most infamous days in recorded history—and even more guts to do so largely with artworks that make no direct reference to the event. But this is precisely the inspired challenge that Peter Eleey set himself in organizing his doleful yet spirited response to the legacy and prehistory of 9/11. Eschewing obvious topicality as a selection criterion, Eleey could easily have succumbed to the peril of arbitrariness, yet his great achievement was to orchestrate inspired juxtapositions—like Maureen Gallace’s brushy domesticity with Cady Noland’s tough trash—that feel improbable, pointed, and true.

View of “Rirkrit Tiravanija: Fear Eats the Soul,” 2011, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York.

3 “Rirkrit Tiravanija: Fear Eats the Soul” (Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York) Speaking of moxie, Rirkrit Tiravanija demonstrated it in spades by removing all the doors and windows of his longtime New York dealer’s emporium and leaving the storefront open to weather and visitors twenty-four hours a day. An adjacent soup kitchen offered sustenance and chance encounters, while the denuded main space housed a full-scale replica of Brown’s first modest gallery and a workshop turning out T-shirts silk-screened with elliptical slogans. What might have been a rehash of Michael Asher’s or Tiravanija’s own ideas exceeded these precedents to become an ecumenical chapel at once hauntingly empty and emotionally replete.

The Mike Todd diamond tiara, from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor, to be auctioned at Christie’s on December 13, 2011. Photo: Krista Kennell/AP.

4 Liz Taylor, RIP This legendary humanitarian’s March passing unleashed an outpouring of memorial tributes and a lot of really great stuff. At Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, we were treated to a crisp collection of Warhol’s beatifying takes on a favorite muse. Yet Liz was not to be upstaged even in death, as proved by the irresistible self-portrait that emerges from Christie’s ten-day winter sale of the icon’s worldly goods. Those who can’t afford the Mike Todd tiara can settle for a minor Renoir, a pair of sunglasses, or a dress in which she married Richard Burton. Underbidders take heart: There are two.

Dana Schutz, Men’s Retreat, 2005, oil on canvas, 96 x 120".

5 “Dana Schutz: If The Face Had Wheels” (Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York; curated by Helaine Posner) These days, any young artist knows that the trick to making a painting seem relevant is a pair of scare quotes in the form of digital effects, serial strategies, and any number of jokey conceits. While such approaches have certainly advanced the field, it’s nonetheless refreshing to revisit the work of an artist like Dana Schutz, whose intrepid hand restlessly wends its way from one canvas to the next. Her brief oeuvre brims with rough-hewn, socially pointed pictures, such as the eerily prescient Autopsy of Michael Jackson, 2005, or the equally farsighted Men’s Retreat of the same year, which depicts a band of banker types lost in a forest. Ten years after her debut, Schutz remains that rare young painter whose technical daring and resources are matched by a capacity to conjure strangely indelible images.

View of “Madame Grès, la couture à l’œuvre,” 2011, Musée Bourdelle, Paris. Photo: Pierre Antoine.

6 Madame Grès (Musée Bourdelle, Paris; curated by Olivier Saillard) While McQueen at the Met may have been the splashiest fashion show of 2011, this career survey of French couturier Madame Grès seduced with its quiet elegance. The setting made the show, with Grès’s gowns and day wear gracing sculptor’s stands and wood-framed vitrines throughout the luminous atelier and chambers of middling Neoclassical sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. Juxtaposed with Bourdelle’s hectoring heroism, Grès’s impeccably draped and pleated tunics and togas demonstrated all the more clearly how the best modern artists made the past new.

Interior of Carlo Scarpa’s Olivetti showroom, Venice, July 28, 2011. Photo: Timmar Shall/Flickr.

7 Carlo Scarpa’s Olivetti Showroom A chance encounter with artist Carol Bove in the Giardini tipped me off to what would become my purest aesthetic pleasure during the Venice Biennale: a visit to Carlo Scarpa’s 1957–58 Olivetti showroom on the Piazza San Marco. Following an extensive restoration this year, the meticulously detailed jewel box of marble, glass, and African teak has metamorphosed from its former life as a novelty shop into one of Europe’s most refined modernist interiors. Shelves that once displayed oversize bronze snails and other Venetian tchotchkes are now restocked with vintage typewriters and adding machines, lending the boutique a perfect period patina.

Exterior of Essex Street gallery, New York, August 19, 2011.

8 New York’s Young Turks Opening a gallery in Manhattan is never easy, especially in the midst of an interminable recession, and even more so if your taste runs toward historical oddities and the conceptually abstruse. Yet the past year has yielded a bumper crop of smart, ambitious new galleries and the flowering of still more under the age of two. Uptown pioneer Alex Zachary has brought us overlooked elder stateswomen and offbeat up-and-comers, while West Villager Algus Greenspon has adroitly mixed the two in the same show. Farther east, there’s Clifton Benevento, the buoyant scene makers at 47 Canal, and the mandarin chic of Essex Street. Here’s to keeping the flame alive and them in business through 2012.

View of “After Shelley Duvall ’72 (Frogs on the High Line),” 2011, Maccarone, New York. Foreground: Omar Harvey and Seth Shapiro, Untitled, 2011. Photo: Jeffrey Sturges.

9 Bjarne Melgaard et al., “Baton Sinister” (Palazzo Contarini Corfù, Venice) and “After Shelley Duvall ’72 (Frogs On The High Line)” (Maccarone, New York; curated by Bjarne Melgaard) Bjarne Melgaard scares me. I mean this as a compliment. Few shows stuck in my mind more persistently this year than his dual exhibitions tracing the perturbing interrelations between pedagogy, collaboration, narcissism, violence, and sex. In Venice, Melgaard and his students turned a stately palazzo into a class project–cum–crime scene reflecting on gay sex (and every other kind) through the ever-distorting lens of aids. For his New York outing, he presented a manic multimedia installation of his own and others’ work brimming with vitriol, self-loathing, and swagger. It’s nearly impossible to assess Melgaard’s cage-rattling project within the codified discourse on “art and identity,” but this may be precisely its liberatory power.

Jay-Z performing at the MTV Video Music Awards, Los Angeles, August 28, 2011. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

10 Jay-Z’s Thelma Golden Shout-out Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden has broken another glass ceiling. The first black curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art has now scored what some believe is the first curatorial shout-out in a rap hit. The fact that the ditty is titled “That’s My Bitch” may compromise Jay’s admirable call for greater racial diversity in the museum world, but the arc of the moral universe is long indeed.

Scott Rothkopf is a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. His exhibition “Glenn Ligon: AMERICA” is now on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and he is currently organizing a survey of the work of Wade Guyton to appear at the Whitney in fall 2012.