previews

  • Willem de Kooning

    Kunsthal Rotterdam
    Museumpark, Westzeedijk 341
    April 17–July 3

    Kunstforum

    January 13–May 28

    Curated by Ingried Brugger and Florian Steininger

    De Kooning would have turned one hundred last year, but it has been twenty years since his work was seen in depth in Europe. Though comprising only fifty-two works, this show surveys de Kooning's entire career, including its final, still-controversial decade. The exhibition's innovation is the inclusion of nine contemporary painters—among them Brice Marden and David Reed—whose work resonates with that of the Dutch Master. There are risks involved. In the '50s, the most dangerous place to be for a young artist with a subtle wrist was anywhere near de Kooning. Meanwhile, one wonders what effect these self-conscious studio practitioners will have on our view of a man who claimed never to “sit in style.”

    Travels to the Kunsthal Rotterdam, Apr. 17–July 3.

  • John Baldessari, Throwing Four Balls in the Air to Get a Square (Best of 36 Tries), 1972–73, 8 color photographs, 89 1/2 x 13 3/4".

    John Baldessari

    mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
    Museumsplatz 1
    March 4–July 3

    Curated by Rainer Fuchs (Vienna) and Peter Pakesh and Adam Budak (Graz)

    Also on view at Kunsthaus Graz

    A photo and a word. A four-by-five-foot stretched canvas with a deadpan black-and-white photograph printed on its acrylic surface, showing a lanky westerner standing in front of a palm tree that seems to be growing out of his head, confronted by the single word WRONG neatly lettered below. Critics have come to see this 1967–68 work as John Baldessari’s signature piece and taken it as a laconic gag, one of a series of droll Conceptualist challenges aimed at the compositional standards of conventional photography. This casts Baldessari as a kind of Will Rogers of Conceptual art, and what kind of Conceptualism is that? California Conceptualism, for most of us, who saw it further develop with William Wegman’s loyal Weimaraners, Robert Cumming’s nutty installations, Eleanor Antin’s “100 BOOTS” 1971–73, and Lowell Darling’s political campaigns. Cartoon Conceptualism, for Joseph Kosuth, who preferred the turgid theorizing of Art & Language and his own pedantic prose.

    But if Wrong is Baldessari’s signature piece, is it as simple as an arrow directed at a meaning? Another work from around the same time (1967–68) casts doubt on this—a text piece that has lettered on its otherwise blank white ground

    A WORK WITH ONLY ONE PROPERTY.

    a claim that becomes absurd once you ask yourself what this one property could be, which might be that it’s manifestly false, and then retreat to wonder if, in fact, the text presents a claim at all or merely an invitation to try to imagine a work possessing one property only—and its difficulties. The bluntness of this text’s assertion, if it is an assertion, and its dubiousness connect it directly to Wrong, about which we can reasonably ask, “What’s WRONG?” and answer, “You think you’re looking at a photograph, but it’s a painting.” Or, “You think you’re looking at a painting, but it’s a photograph.” Or, “You think you’re looking at a provincial artist in a drab little city cracking a joke at his situation.” And you’re RIGHT. But you’re also WRONG, because he was employing a cutting-edge art-world strategy for attacking received meaning. So the artist’s ploy of being WRONG for making a photograph and WRONG for making a painting was precisely RIGHT for making the kind of critical art that Conceptual art was claiming to be. It seems like we’re dealing with another form of the Cretan Paradox—in which Epimenides tells you, “All Cretans are liars”; if he’s telling the truth he’s lying, and if he’s lying he’s telling the truth. So Wrong may truly be a signature piece, in that all of Baldessari’s incursions into video, photography, and painting have been very obviously WRONG, because he stumbles as precisely as a silent-era film comedian into the orderly discourses surrounding the genres, leaving the kind of cheerful mess that is usually RIGHT.

    How RIGHT? Viewers of the forthcoming Austrian retrospective of Baldessari’s work, the first since the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s 1990 survey, will find out. Mounted at two museums in two cities, the exhibition brings together some two hundred works in all media. In Vienna, MuMoK will show work made between 1962 and 1983; the Graz Kunsthaus picks up from there and brings us up to the present. So view- ers in Germany and Austria should have ample opportunity to consider the meanings provoked by this California master of paradox. With luck, viewers in the United States will also have a chance to consider this retrospective at a later date.

    David Antin

  • Piet Mondrian, Windmill by Sunlight, 1908, oil on canvas, 44 7/8 x 34 1/4". © 2004 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust.

    Piet Mondrian

    Albertina
    Albertinaplatz 1
    March 11–June 19

    Curated by Antonia Hoerschelmann

    Dealing the latest blow to the old idealist account of Mondrian’s abstraction, this retrospective of some one hundred paintings and rarely exhibited large-format drawings (all made between 1898 and 1943) foregrounds the mutual imbrication of the two media in the artist’s spectacular oeuvre. This issue has been tackled before, most provocatively in a 1994 retrospective cocurated by veteran Mondrian specialist Joop Joosten (author of the present show’s catalogue) that devoted a whole section to an elucidation of Mondrian’s working process after 1920. What’s new at the Albertina—apart from being the first time Vienna will see Mondrian en masse—is a detailed consideration of drawing’s fundamental role in the painter’s passage to abstraction in the 1910s.