PRINT December 2018

Johanna Fateman

Cover of Gary Indiana’s Vile Days: The Village Voice Art Columns, 1985–1988. (Semiotext[e], 2018).

1 GARY INDIANA, VILE DAYS: THE VILLAGE VOICE ART COLUMNS, 1985–1988 (SEMIOTEXT[E]; EDITED BY BRUCE HAINLEY) Intellectually generous and casually eviscerating, Gary Indiana, in his three years as an art columnist, embraced the pretension and debasement inherent to the weekly gig. This demi-doorstop of uncensored observations, high compliments, and serious shade reads like Bleak House as much as it does a collection of criticism—it’d make a great Christmas gift for someone who loves the former and wishes they could make it through the latter, as well as for those mourning the Voice (may it rest in peace), where well-honed gall was the norm.

Peter Hujar, Cookie Mueller, 1981, gelatin silver print, 14 3⁄4 × 14 3⁄4".

2 PETER HUJAR (MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY JOEL SMITH) As it happens, Hujar’s enchanted, transporting photo Gary Indiana Veiled, 1981, is the cover art for Vile Days; it was also included in this momentous retrospective. Other figures from a queer East Village demimonde that had been devastated by AIDS—among them Greer Lankton, Cookie Mueller, and David Wojnarowicz—were memorialized in equally exquisite black-and-white portraits. A dense procession of 143 works installed on dark gray walls, the exhibition brought these big personalities into quiet conversation with the artist’s nudes, landscapes, and voluptuously macabre shots from the Palermo catacombs.

Patty Chang, Glass Urinary Device, 2017, borosilicate glass, plastic, tape, 20 × 3 1⁄2 × 3 1⁄2". From the series “Glass Urinary Devices,” 2017.

3 PATTY CHANG (QUEENS MUSEUM, NEW YORK; CURATED BY HITOMI IWASAKI) This entire exhibition was great, but the room displaying Chang’s series “Glass Urinary Devices,” 2017, was an embarrassment of riches. Inspired by a journey in China during which the artist relieved herself along the length of the world’s longest aqueduct, the delicate sculptures—blown-glass replicas of plastic water-bottle contraptions designed to facilitate stand-up peeing—range from practical, almost chic inventions to monstrous phallic prosthetics, including some designed to split a stream of urine for what I imagine to be a spectacular fountain effect.

Sophie Fiennes, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, 2017, 16 mm and video transferred to 2K video, color, sound, 115 minutes.

4 GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI (SOPHIE FIENNES) I wouldn’t go so far as to say I can’t get enough of Grace Jones, but I am apparently in sufficient thrall to her to follow her around, being ignored, while she is irritated, distracted, and mundane almost to the point of being boring—since that’s what watching this film is like and I loved it. There are lush landscape shots and heartbreaking family reminiscences captured in Jones’s native Jamaica, as well as concert footage in which Jones’s charisma is indisputable, but Bloodlight is a meandering verité portrait, brashly strung together without context or explanation—which seems fitting for an artist who embodies the ethos of “Never apologize, never explain.”

Still from surveillance footage of a woman mailing stolen Carolee Schneemann photographs back to MoMA PS1, New York, 2017.

5 THE CAROLEE SCHNEEMANN PHOTO HEIST While it’s always wrong to steal things from exhibitions, should you find yourself in the position of having done so (on a dare? to win a bet? for love?), the most iconic way to set things right is to dress up like Williamsburg’s own Valerie Solanas and return the items by FedEx. The mystery of the theft from MoMA PS1 in New York of a pair of photographs related to Schneemann’s groundbreaking performances of the 1960s—and their restitution just four days later—lent a note of intrigue to the artist’s revelatory deluge of a retrospective, furnishing one more tantalizing footnote to a dazzling career.

Geta Brătescu, Earthcake, 1992, video, color, sound, 7 minutes 18 seconds.

6 GETA BRĂTESCU (HAUSER & WIRTH, NEW YORK) The Romanian artist, who died in September at age ninety-two, was a freewheeling, all-over-the-map Conceptualist, who, during the Ceaușescu regime, developed a mischievous, antitotalitarian sensibility. This show was an effervescent miniretrospective encompassing Calderesque drawings and collages, fantasy urban interventions with giant magnets, early films, and the extra-memorable video Earthcake, 1992, in which Brătescu appears as a makeshift jester-alien eating dirt.

Johanna Fateman’s Google Arts & Culture Art Selfie results, 2018.

7 GOOGLE ARTS & CULTURE SELFIE MATCH TOOL Your resting bitch face is straight out of the Dutch Renaissance, your mom is a Franciscan monk, and your baby is Pat Nixon. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. The ruthless doppelgänger-generating app had everyone pouting, grimacing, and furrowing brows, jockeying for a Velázquez or a Manet result, but, delightfully, there’s no fooling this beast of an algorithm. Even the art-selfie haters have to admit that these insane diptychs help lighten the mood online a little.

RAMMΣLLZΣΣ wearing his “Chaser the Eraser” costume in 2004. From the series “Garbage Gods,” 1994–2001. Photo: Mari Horiuchi.

8 RAMMΣLLZΣΣ (RED BULL ARTS, NEW YORK; CURATED BY MAX WOLF and CARLO MCCORMICK WITH CANDICE STRONGWATER, JEFF MAO, AND CHRISTIAN OMODEO) With this museum-scale retrospective, Rammellzee, the legendary figure of the New York hip-hop and graffiti-art scene, whose work first graced train cars on the A line in the 1970s, joined the pantheon of greats who got their due too late (he died in 2010). The show illuminated the breadth of the artist-philosopher’s oeuvre—from his otherworldly paintings and texts to his skateboard-mounted sculptures and fantastic body armor. It just missed overlapping with the Museum of Modern Art’s similarly dense and edifying “Club 57” show, and was the perfect follow-up, documenting another vital contemporaneous strain of underground culture from a bygone New York.

Still from Angela Washko’s video game The Game: The Game, 2017.

9 ANGELA WASHKO (MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE, NEW YORK) Washko’s The Game: The Game—a choose-your-own-adventure narrative in the radical tradition of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s early interactive works—is an intensely researched nightmare world based on the toxic pedagogy of incel-adjacent pickup-artist (“PUA”) gurus. In this video game, players are prey, gaslit and groped by a succession of Mark Judge types as they wait for a friend at a bar. Washko is dealing with ugly and important material in ingenious ways—she’s one to watch.

Adrian Piper, Food for the Spirit #8, 1971, gelatin silver print, 14 1⁄2 × 14 3⁄4".

10 ADRIAN PIPER (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY CHRISTOPHE CHERIX, CONNIE BUTLER, AND DAVID PLATZKER WITH TESSA FERREYROS) I went back three times. Although I expected Piper’s long-awaited retrospective to be engrossing, I underestimated how powerful it would be to finally see works I’ve only encountered in books; how urgent and risky the Conceptualist’s social experiments and disruptions would feel in our present catastrophic moment. This past August, in tribute to Aretha Franklin, Piper, beautifully revealing so much of herself, wrote of the singer on “She spoke for all of us for whom the collateral damage of our personal lives is a mere succession of footnotes to the persistent and all-engulfing stream of self-expression that propels us through, above, and beyond the beginnings of life, up to and past the end of it.”
Co-organized with the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

Johanna Fateman is a writer, musician and co-owner of Seagull Salon in New York. Her essay “Cunts, 1972–1974” appears in the catalogue for “Judy Chicago: A Reckoning,” opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, this month. She is co-editor, with Amy Scholder, of the collection Last Days At Hot Slit: The Radical Feminism of Andrea Dworkin, to be published this winter by Semiotext(e).