• The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    99 Gansevoort Street
    April 1–August 1, 1999

    The question “What is American in American art?” has perhaps been asked ever since the first easel was pitched on colonial soil. Answers, when they have not been contested outright, are at best deemed woefully inadequate. A more comprehensive reply should be offered by the Whitney Museum of American Art's massive two-part exhibition “The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000.” Continuing in the contextualist vein characteristic of former director David Ross's regime (Ross initiated this project before leaving for SF MOMA), this show, the biggest in the museum's history, will take up all four floors of exhibition space, in consecutive installments. The first, covering the years 1900 to 1950—on view through August 22—was organized by Barbara Haskell, a senior curator at the museum. The second—scheduled to open on September 26, 1999, and run through mid-February 2000—will cover the years 1950 to 2000; Lisa Phillips, recently named director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, organized this section in her former role as Whitney curator.

    The first installment will be presented chronologically, in groupings that reflect general thematic divisions: “America in the Age of Confidence, 1900-1919”; “Jazz Age America, 1920-1929”; “America in Crisis, 1930-1939”; and so on. The artists chosen to exemplify various historical trends are as diverse as the themes explored. The show includes not only painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, design, music, dance, literature, and film, but a farrago of artifacts and texts meant to convey something of the flavor of each era. It is easy to imagine the hodgepodge that might result, but if the disparate information is judiciously managed, the results will undoubtedly do much to illuminate the inherent diversity of American art (thereby answering, or at least usefully complicating, the question on which the show is predicated). In the part of the exhibition devoted to the '20s, for example, American consumerist society is well represented by four Precisionist paintings—Stuart Davis's Odol, 1924, and Lucky Strike, 1921, Gerald Murphy's Razor, 1924, and Charles Demuth's Figure 5 in Gold, 1928. Taking their place within a broader visual culture (“Art is witness to its time,” Haskell explained when questioned about her modus operandi), the paintings appear alongside commercial photographs by Charles Sheeler and Paul Outerbridge, a cocktail shaker by Norman Bell Geddes, and an ensemble of furniture by David Deskey (who designed the interior of Radio City Music Hall in 1930).

    Intel Corporation is sponsoring “The American Century,” and an integral extension of the exhibition will be an in-depth website, designed by the chip maker but initiated by Ross. The site will allow users to access information meant to enhance their understanding of a particular work of art (high-speed terminals will he installed in the exhibition itself). Although the organizers warn that the website is “not a substitute for experiencing original works of art,” it is likely—and perhaps portentous—that far more people will visit this site than will attend the show.

  • “Surrealism: Two Private Eyes”

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
    1071 Fifth Avenue
    June 4–September 12, 1999

    In showcasing the collections of Neshui Ertegun and Daniel Filipacchi, old friends and tandem fans of Surrealism, one imagines the Guggenheim hopes it does not love in vain—nevertheless, the show looks to be a serious effort rather than a vanity affair. The catalogue boasts essays by Rosalind Krauss and David Sylvester, and curator Carmen Jimenez marshals Filipacchi's accumulation of Surrealist ephemera to provide context for this two-collector trove of work by major and lesser-known figures alike. Considering the uncanny sway Surrealism continues to hold over current art, not to mention Salvador Dali's mysteriously enduring mass appeal, this show should engage everyone from artists and historians to fishes on bicycles.

  • “The Un-Private House”

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    July 1–October 5, 1999

    Architectural Digest this is not. MOMA'S chief curator of architecture and design, Terence Riley, brings together twenty-six fabulous homes—but with decidedly progressive intent. While quirky client aspiration will undoubtedly provide color, diverse projects by an international roster of progressive architects from Rem Koolhaas to Shigeru Ban were selected to reflect the transformation of the private house in response to changing cultural and social conditions. In addition to standard exhibition fare (models, drawings), interactive digital displays developed in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab will offer virtual tours of several projects. Which is to say, there will be much to delight pointy architectural theorists and real-estate voyeurs alike.

  • “Fame after Photography”

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    July 8–October 5, 1999

    In the wake of Di's death, MOMA'S photo chief, Peter Galassi, asked the freelance curators Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman to conceptualize an exhibition exploring the complicitous relationship between photography and celebrity. Exploding the bounds of the still image, the pair bring together all manner of artifact, from an ancient Roman coin to Gilbert Stuart's George Washington to Victorian cartes-de-visite to a cache of nude photographs of George Bernard Shaw. One intention: to show how such varied cultural production feels to the consumer when held in the hand or seen in the pages of Vanity Fair. Trust this clever duo to get beyond “High-Low” orthodoxies.

  • “0044”

    MoMA PS1
    22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
    June 20–September 1, 1999

    Taking its title from the telephone code the Irish must dial to reach Britain, “0044” will consider the “identity and mobility” of twenty-one artists who have left their homeland for the freer atmosphere of London but still feel the pull of national affinities. Organized by the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork, but debuting stateside, “0044” features mostly new works, including several site-specific installations. This show, along with coincident exhibitions of Irish art in New York at the Drawing Center and Grey Art Gallery, may mercifully diffuse the recent YBA hype.

  • “The Time of Our Lives”

    New Museum
    235 Bowery
    July 15–October 17, 1999

    As the boomers saddle up to ride off into the sunset, “ageism” is generating everything from menopause manuals to highbrow academic harangues—and now, Marcia Tucker's “Auld Lang Syne” swan song at the New Museum. In this exhibition, the outgoing founding director takes apart the tired notion of aging as decline. Including “older” artists (Yvonne Rainer, Annette Messager) and younger ones who subvert traditional images of aging (Lisa Yuskavage, Cho Duck Hyun), as well as samplings of ageist propaganda from TV, movies, and books, the show asks: Will the vanguard art world outgrow its youth-worshipping ways? That remains to be seen, but at least Tucker, opens up the middle ground between enfant terrible and éminence grise.

  • “Tiborocity: Design and Undesign, 1979-99”

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    July 16–October 19, 1999

    Remember the '70s TV commercials that had Florence Henderson chirping, “The chicken's got a certain Wessonality”? Well, this exhibition apparently has a certain Tiborocity, the distinctive quality that (one assumes) pervades the work of graphic designer Tibor Kalman. With roughly 200 objects organized around lofty themes—language, time, globalism, advocacy, and so on—SF MOMA's retrospective provides an opportunity to assess the diverse work of this Madison Avenue darling with an unlikely reputation: adman as social critic and iconoclast. The ephemeral nature of much of Kalman's output makes this wide-ranging roundup particularly intriguing. One can almost feel the Tiborocity in the air.