PRINT December 2017

Daniel Birnbaum

1 JASPER JOHNS (ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS, LONDON; CURATED BY ROBERTA BERNSTEIN AND EDITH DEVANEY) Before I knew anything about Jasper Johns, I encountered his work in a class taught by the late, great Nelson Goodman, who seemed to appreciate the painter’s work mainly as a demonstration of the riddles at the center of his own philosophical investigations. The most dramatic of these concerned the legendary “grue paradox”: Professor Goodman would point at a projected slide of a green target painting and say something puzzling like, “All these paintings by Jasper could be grue,” explaining that grue was a new predicate, defined as the property of being green before the year 2100 and blue afterward. We were all very confused by this notion of color-shifting paintings, but we learned the fundamental lesson: Art could be about problems of truth and language and about how signs refer to things in the world. Moving through “‘Something Resembling Truth,’” the Royal Academy’s massive Johns exhibition, I was propelled back to that class twenty-seven years ago, and I found plenty of works that confirmed the artist’s intense interest in signs and their workings. Then, toward the end, I came across Painting Bitten by a Man, 1961, a grayish rectangle that appeared different, less precise but more visceral: Its thick encaustic surface bears tooth marks.

On view through December 10.

Jasper Johns, Painting Bitten by a Man, 1961, encaustic on canvas mounted on type plate, 9 1/2 × 6 7/8". © Jasper Johns/VAGA, New York/DACS, London.

2 “DALÍ/DUCHAMP” (ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS, LONDON; CURATED BY DAWN ADES, WILLIAM JEFFETT, AND SARAH LEA) “A painting is such a minor thing compared to the magic I radiate,” said Dalí, who must have been unbearable as a companion. Yet unbelievably enough, Duchamp sought and enjoyed his company. And in this show, juxtaposed with a few of Duchamp’s paintings and a plethora of his indefinable objects of desire, obsession, worship, and possibly magic, Dalí’s works were, I have to admit, intriguing. Notes and letters, photographs and film clips—all created a web of fascinating connections between the two artists: one of whom I have studiously avoided, and the other of whom I’ve spent years trying to fathom. Am I finally warming up to the fascist with the funny moustache? “There comes a moment in every person’s life when they realize they adore me,” Dalí once said. Maybe, but not quite yet.

On view through January 3, 2018. Co-organized with the Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida (where it will be on view February 5–May 27, 2018) in collaboration with the Gala–Salvador Dalí Foundation and the Association Marcel Duchamp.

3 VALENTIN DE BOULOGNE (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY KEITH CHRISTIANSEN AND ANNICK LEMOINE) I had only come across his name in learned old treatises on Manet and Courbet, which describe him as a naturalist avant la lettre—an artist’s artist from the Baroque era. The organizers of this show say that there is no doubt that his paintings were studied by Velázquez, and looking at his unbelievable renderings of textiles and folds, I believed them. Supposedly the artist’s very first one-person exhibition in any museum, this grandiose and totally overwhelming survey proved that the so-called canon is never a definitive narrative: It can always be retold from a new angle or with a new chapter added. Not that Caravaggio or Velázquez are ever likely to appear lackluster, but now we know that a brilliant yet lesser- known associate created an inspirational bridge between them.

Co-organized with the Louvre, Paris.

Valentin de Boulogne, Saint John the Evangelist, ca. 1621–22, oil on canvas, 38 1/4 × 53".

4 MOLLY NESBIT, MIDNIGHT: THE TEMPEST ESSAYS (INVENTORY PRESS) The arrival of the second volume in her Pre-Occupations series makes clear that Nesbit has found a way to combine her expertise as an art historian with her interest in experimental modes of display. I like everything about these delicious books, not just the writer’s observational skills or the subjects of her essays—from Dewey and Alexander Dorner to Godard and Gabriel Orozco—but also the way the pictures become operational. They are no mere illustrations. “I’m interested in how ideas function in the world, in questions of practice,” says Nesbit. The way her books are curated rather than edited seems to exemplify this approach to the domain of incarnated thinking that is art.

5 REI KAWAKUBO (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY ANDREW BOLTON) Although creativity is a word that, according to Deleuze, we should leave to the hairdressers, here it seems to have real significance. Says Kawakubo, the genius fashion designer, about her relationship to the world of art, “If founding my company on the values of creation means I am an artist, then so be it.” I couldn’t agree more.

View of “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” 2017, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo: Pacific Press/Alamy.

6 JENNY WIKLUND, “JOURNAL—RECONSTRUCTION OF BODY AND MEMORY” (KTH ROYAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, STOCKHOLM; CURATED BY JAN ÅMAN) Deep down below this university, hidden in a secret grotto, the first Swedish nuclear reactor was built in the 1950s, when it wasn’t entirely clear whether or not the peaceful little nation would develop its own nuclear bomb. I have been skeptical of academic research as art, but Wiklund’s bizarrely ambitious installation filled this historically weighted space with a reconstruction of her medical journey back to life after an accident erased her normal sense of time and space. The forensic aesthetic of her objects is sometimes reminiscent of Matthew Barney or early Robert Gober, but in her almost megalomaniacal determination to create visual impact she seems more comparable to the set designers of Blade Runner 2049.

Jenny Wiklund, Aproprioceptia (detail), 2017, polyester resin, artificial eyes, ink-jet print, podium, stainless-steel plates. Installation view, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. Photo: Mathias Johansson.

7 “KOBRO AND STRZEMIN´SKI: AVANT-GARDE PROTOTYPES” (MUSEO NACIONAL CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFÍA, MADRID; CURATED BY JAROSŁAW SUCHAN) Here it was Katarzyna Kobro who made my day. “When the spectator moves,” she and Władysław Strzemiński said, “certain forms present themselves, others hide.” Although I have often seen images of Kobro’s seemingly rudimentary models, I had never actually studied them closely in the way that this exhibition made possible, and I found them to be quite elaborate. Remembering Yve-Alain Bois’s conclusion that they render visible the invisible object that is depth, I also understand that I will never fully understand them. They are flawless. And yet their fullness, their perfection, does not stop them from transmuting in inexplicable ways. In spite of their geometric rigor, they seem to be alive.

Co-organized with the Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, Poland.

Katarzyna Kobro, Spatial Composition (5), 1929, paint on steel, 9 7/8 × 25 1/4 × 15 3/4".

8 VIVIAN SUTER (DOCUMENTA 14, KASSEL AND ATHENS) The artist says that her paintings “are about the wind, the rain, the volcanoes, and the vastness and clarity of the tropical landscape.” I wish the entire exhibition had exuded similar energy.

Vivian Suter, Nisyros (Vivian’s Bed), 2016–17, mixed media. Installation view, Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse, Kassel, 2017. From Documenta 14. Photo: Fred Dott.

9 “ART WITHOUT DEATH: RUSSIAN COSMISM” (HAUS DER KULTUREN DER WELT, BERLIN; CURATED BY BORIS GROYS, ANTON VIDOKLE, AND ARSENY ZHILYAEV) I agree with Anton Vidokle, one of the initiators of the exhibition, that cosmism, a philosophical and artistic movement that emerged in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century, sounds almost too good to be true. But the rumors are all accurate, and if you are inclined toward speculative thought, you will get all you crave and more: Vidokle promises “vampiric blood transfusions, corpses frozen in cosmos, resurrection of the dead communist leaders.” Want eternal life? Join the cosmic club.

Ivan Kliun, Red Light, Spherical Composition, 1923, oil on canvas, 26 7/8 × 26 5/8". From “Art Without Death: Russian Cosmism.”

10 ANNE IMHOF (GERMAN PAVILION, 57TH VENICE BIENNALE; CURATED BY SUSANNE PFEFFER) If the capacity to polarize critics and audiences is any measure of artistic significance, then this year’s German contribution to the Biennale certainly marked a major breakthrough. Is it time to reread not only the German classics but also a critical essay titled “Fascinating Fascism”? There are reasons to be curious about Imhof’s next step.

Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017. Performance view, German pavilion, Venice, May 14, 2017. From the 57th Venice Biennale. Eliza Douglas. Photo: Nadine Fraczkowski.

Contributing editor Daniel Birnbaum is the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm and the adviser for international programs of the Hilma af Klint Foundation, which is coproducing large survey exhibitions that will travel to the Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2018–19.