PRINT December 2013

Daniel Birnbaum

View of “Philippe Parreno: Anywhere, Anywhere, Out of the World,” 2013, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Center: TV Channel, 2013. On-screen: Alien Seasons, 2002. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

1 “DANCING AROUND THE BRIDE: CAGE, CUNNINGHAM, JOHNS, RAUSCHENBERG, AND DUCHAMP” (PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART; CURATED BY CARLOS BASUALDO WITH ERICA F. BATTLE) How many more projects about the influence of Marcel Duchamp can we take? Perhaps not many, but this unusually clever and elegant exhibition about chance, chess, collaboration, and performance, focusing on the circle of Johns, Rauschenberg, Cunningham, and Cage, breathed new life into a topic that already seemed exhausted. Curated in close dialogue with Philippe Parreno, the show managed to dodge all boring forms of pedagogy and succeeded in involving the viewer in a seductive experiment with time and space, in which Duchampian rotation found new rhythms of circulation.

2 PHILIPPE PARRENO (PALAIS DE TOKYO, PARIS; CURATED BY JEAN DE LOISY AND MOUNA MEKOUAR) This really is Parreno’s moment. In addition to his fascinating, ghostlike presence in “Dancing Around the Bride,” he has staged a massive spectral installation entirely his own. The first artist to take over the entire extended space of the Palais, Parreno has turned it into a total work of art that conveys the unmistakable ambience we recognize from his previous experiments with setting and film. The strange syncopation of lights and synthetic sounds continues to haunt my dreams.

3 CALVIN TOMKINS, MARCEL DUCHAMP: THE AFTERNOON INTERVIEWS (BADLANDS UNLIMITED) How many more books about Duchamp’s Bride can our bookshelves handle? Certainly this one, an unpretentious and informative conversation that, in passing, confirms a reading promoted most passionately by the late, great Swedish critic and museum director Ulf Linde, who thought the secret to the entire oeuvre lay hidden in the seemingly humble 1911 painting Moulin à café (Coffee Mill)—in the mechanism’s turning handle, movement, and dialectical division (not to mention Linde’s complicated mathematical calculations around the artwork). I always thought this very unlikely, until I read a passage from Tomkins’s exchange with the artist here that reveals as much.

4 T. J. CLARK, PICASSO AND TRUTH: FROM CUBISM TO GUERNICA (PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS) Besides Duchamp, there was that other artist who also influenced a few generations. Six chapters dealing with deceptively basic themes—“Object,” “Room,” “Window,” “Monster,” “Monument,” and “Mural”—effectively renegotiate big parts of the past century’s art history as we used to know it. That rarely happens in academic books I come across—unless they are written by Clark.

5 “ROSEMARIE TROCKEL: A COSMOS” (NEW MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY LYNNE COOKE) The huge Maine lobster on loan from the Delaware Museum of Natural History wasn’t the only reason to love this perfectly installed curiosity cabinet, but the crustacean’s sculptural beauty was enough to warrant a first visit. There were plenty of excuses to return, among them the way Trockel’s own artworks functioned in the mix of heterogeneous stuff such as glass models of invertebrate sea life by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka and botanical prints by Maria Sibylla Merian. Lucky Devil, 2012, a king crab placed on top of a stack of Trockel’s early knit paintings, was a particular highlight. It must be fun to reorganize one’s own work in ways no one else would dare.

Organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; coordinated in New York by Massimiliano Gioni and Jenny Moore.

Stones from Roger Caillois’s collection on display at the 55th Venice Biennale, Central Pavilion, Venice, 2013. Photo: Kate Lacey.

6 ROGER CAILLOIS’S STONES (55TH VENICE BIENNALE) Near the center of another massive wunderkammer, Massimiliano Gioni displayed Caillois’s collection of enigmatic, splendid minerals, which were described by the Surrealist as “secret cyphers of the universe” and as works with no artist behind their creation except the cosmos itself.

7 KORBINIAN AIGNER, ÄPFEL UND BIRNEN: DAS GESAMTWERK (MATTHES & SEITZ) As all viewers of last year’s Documenta know, the Bavarian priest and pomologist Aigner surreptitiously planted apple trees between two barracks while a prisoner in the concentration camp at Dachau and even succeeded in breeding new varieties. This beauty of a book presents the entire apple oeuvre, introduced by historian and art critic Julia Voss.

8 NOUVELLES VAGUES (PALAIS DE TOKYO, PARIS) Very rarely, an exhibition comes along in which an entirely new generation of artists and novel sensibilities emerges. Such was the case with this sprawling show organized by twenty-one young curators and involving more than fifty installations, which gave me the exhilarating sense that Paris will once again be the place to go to see the present moment captured.

9 ANNIKA ERIKSSON, I AM THE DOG THAT WAS ALWAYS HERE (LOOP) (13TH ISTANBUL BIENNIAL) In a show about global issues of gentrification and the disappearance of the public sphere in major cities, this modest video introduced a unique perspective and tone. Focusing on stray dogs living on the outskirts of Istanbul, it gives us the rare dog’s-eye view of the brutalities of urban transformation.

10 BALTHUS’S CATS (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK) Unfortunately, the exhibition “Balthus: Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations” made me less interested in the artist’s ouevre, and in his monotonous pedophilic tendencies. But oh, the cunning cats! As David Rimanelli pointed out in his splendid preview in these pages, the show’s timing fits nicely with the current feline meme craze. True, most of the girls were tedious, but the cats remain sublime.

Daniel Birnbaum is director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where he cocurated “Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors,” a major survey of the artist’s work that opened in October. He is the coeditor (with Isabelle Graw) of the Institut für Kunstkritik series, published by Sternberg Press.