• “Robert Rauschenberg: Combines”

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    1000 Fifth Avenue
    December 20, 2005–April 2, 2006

    Curated by Paul Schimmel

    When Robert Rauschenberg is finally recognized as the Walt Whitman of late-twentieth-century America, the Combines will be his Leaves of Grass. They will stand, like Whitman’s masterpiece, as a moment synthesized, an all-inclusive, promiscuous embrace of America in its first, riotous, postindustrial bang. So we should never forget that the Combines came into the world as rowdy, impudent rough trade, and if they no longer seem as mute and brute as they once did, it’s only because we have invented words to defend ourselves. Today, we speak casually of art and life interpenetrated, of nature and culture compounded. Now, we have a vocabulary to deal with the assault of global media, niche marketing, designed obsolescence, celebrity assassination, and nonlinear image politics. But we didn’t then. Then, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the Combines just looked like America. They were big, profligate, messy, ebullient, and impersonal—chillingly sane and arrogantly careless. People tended to regard them as they regarded America in that decade: with a combination of awe, envy, and disdain.

    Even so, the Combines were so irrevocably there that the question of whether they were “good” or “bad” seemed irrelevant. You could hate them as regressive fictions, as many fledgling Minimalists did. You could disdain them as tawdry ephemera, as the New York School establishment chose to do. But you couldn’t quibble with them, because, good or bad, the Combines felt right. In a single fiat, Rauschenberg appropriated the “personal virtues” of Abstract Expressionist painting—its energy, structure, and convulsive extravagance—and, stepping nimbly aside, reattributed these virtues to the ambient culture. In doing so, he created a new image politics and a metaphor of artistic continuation between American art of the fading ’50s and that of the burgeoning ’60s. Most critically, however, the Combines, in their chaotic synthesis, supplied a toolbox and template for nearly everything that happened after 1968.

    “Installation,” “appropriation,” “recontextualization,” “multimedia,” “simulation,” “neo-expressionism,” and a multitude of other maneuvers trace their first permission to the Combines—as does an enormous landfill of provincial whimsy and academic collage created by artists who thought that Rauschenberg had invented a style. He hadn’t. He had a vision of the future and a strategy for adapting to it. Now, forty years later, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is mounting a show of sixty-five Combines Rauschenberg made between 1954 and 1964. Before this moment, I suspect, their pervasive influence has been reason enough not to show them. And this is fine, actually, because now, with the fever receding, we may see them plain in their sweet, prescient antiquity. Not just avant la lettre, but before the whole alphabet.

    Travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, May 14–Sept. 4, 2006; Centre Pompidou, Paris, Oct. 4, 2006–Jan. 8, 2007; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Feb. 4–Apr. 29, 2007.

  • Elizabeth Murray

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    October 23, 2005–January 9, 2006

    Curated by Robert Storr

    Updating her 1987–88 traveling retrospective, MoMA’s survey of seventy-odd paintings and drawings spanning four decades is a tribute to Elizabeth Murray’s eccentric presence in today’s art world. With a funk sensibility that connects her to the indigenous art of her native Chicago, as well as to Guston and Crumb, she has created her own, Pop-inspired universe swarming with forms resembling Mickey Mouse ears, Dagwood shoes, thought balloons, and domestic objects that morph into illegibility. But her work has equally strong parallels to the story of abstraction, often echoing de Kooning’s restless collisions and Stella’s shaped explosions as she continues to invent baroque extravagances of clashing shapes and eye-popping colors, all squirming in low relief.

  • Russia!

    Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum | New York
    1071 Fifth Avenue
    September 16, 2005–January 12, 2006

    The founders of the Museum of Non-objective Painting—as the Guggenheim was once called—will turn in their graves when “Russia!” opens. Their institution committed itself to abstract art not long after the big shots of socialist realism celebrated a victory over their modernist rivals; now Krens & Co. will grant the production of these aesthetic adversaries equal status as “masterpieces.” Approximately 250 works from the last eight centuries will be generously thrown into the bin—medieval icons, imperial statuary, Suprematist paintings, Soviet propaganda—everything, presumably, but a Russian kitchen sink. No fewer than nine people, including familiar names from the Russian museum establishment as well as some unknown to the field, were required to curate this behemoth.

  • “Safe: Design Takes on Risk”

    MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
    11 West 53rd Street
    October 16, 2005–January 2, 2006

    Curated by Paola Antonelli and Patricia Juncosa Vecchierini

    Imagine the grim security theater performed by weary airline passengers, stripped of dignity, dropping their shoes into gray dishwashing tubs. Now picture the colorful, sleek, lightweight, high-performance—in a word, sexy—safety equipment donned by skydivers. Aha! Risk, an inherent part of life, can be embraced with joy (helped in no small measure by well-designed protective devices). Gathering some three hundred prototypes, products, and designs—like home CO2 detectors, emergency-response gadgets, and anti-drug ads—“Safe” sets out to prove that no aspect of life, no matter how perilous, needs to be imaginatively impoverished. If the Freedom Tower, New York’s tallest bunker, had the fizz and pizzazz of this show, the war on terror would soon be over.

  • Oscar Bluemner

    Whitney Museum of American Art
    99 Gansevoort Street
    October 7, 2005–February 12, 2006

    Curated by Barbara Haskell

    There are probably as few people around these days who remember Al Capp’s cartoon character Joe Btfsplk—so dogged by misfortune that he had his own personal raincloud hovering over him—as there are contemporary art scenesters who know who Oscar Bluemner was. Actually Btfsplk and Bluemner (1867–1938) could have been the same guy. The artist fled Germany (no, the Kaiser) in 1892; practiced as an architect but had credit for his best design snatched from him; saw his wife die from the effects of chronic poverty; and, crippled, blind, and insomniac after a car crash, committed suicide in 1938. But he painted luminous if heartbreaking semiabstract landscapes, and they—not his star-crossed life—are the attraction of this eighty-work retrospective, Bluemner’s first in nearly two decades.

  • “Odd Lots: Revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark's 'Fake Estates'”

    White Columns
    91 Horatio St
    September 9–October 16, 2005

    Curated by Jeffrey Kastner, Sina Najafi, Frances Richard

    Also on view at the Queens Museum of Art

    Between 1973 and 1974, Gordon Matta-Clark bought fifteen tiny, oddly shaped fragments of land from the City of New York at auction, a meditation on property rights he called “Fake Estates.” In what promises to be the definitive statement on this project, “Odd Lots,” jointly organized by Cabinet magazine, the Queens Museum of Art, and White Columns, will both revisit the sites Matta-Clark purchased and invite nineteen artists—including Isidro Blasco, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles—to respond to the plots themselves. The catalogue boasts essays by the curators and Queens historian Jeffrey Kroessler.

  • Peter Hujar

    P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
    22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
    October 23, 2005–January 16, 2006

    Curated by Bob Nickas

    For thirty years, until his death in 1987, Peter Hujar documented the untamed margins of New York and New Jersey, pointing his camera at people (Susan Sontag, David Wojnarowicz, drag queens, and gay cruisers), buildings (corporate high-rises, dilapidated diners, crumbling Newark apartments), and animals. The easy rapport he established with his subjects allowed for intimate pictures that are equal parts romance and record. Selecting fifty previously unexhibited images that span the photographer’s career and range of subject matter, P.S. 1 curator Bob Nickas provides an opportunity to broaden our exposure to Hujar’s contemplative and influential body of work.

  • Stephen Shore

    P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center
    22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
    October 23, 2005–January 23, 2006

    Curated by Bob Nickas

    Developing out of his earlier experiments with Pop and Conceptualist practices, Stephen Shore’s “American Surfaces” signaled a shift away from the theatrical anomie of late ’60s American street photography. Photographing with a miniature 35 mm camera on road trips in 1972 and 1973, Shore documented nearly everything and everyone he encountered, producing perhaps the most stylistically expressive and hauntingly autobiographical work of his career, while laying the foundation for the stoic large-format images that would dominate his oeuvre over the next decade. The resulting series, over three hundred examples of which are on view, is an uneasy portrait of ’70s America that is as coolly detached as it is deeply affecting. The show coincides with Phaidon’s updated publication of American Surfaces.

  • Egon Schiele

    Neue Galerie New York
    1048 Fifth Avenue
    October 21, 2005–March 12, 2006

    Curated by Renée Price

    Put together for the first time, the more than 150 paintings and drawings by Egon Schiele amassed in the collections of Neue Galerie cofounders Ronald Lauder and the late Serge Sabarsky amount to a comprehensive survey of the short-lived rebel’s work. The staged gawkiness of Schiele’s naked bodies—ready for sex or painful self-reflection—not only fit perfectly into the world of Klimt and Freud, but offer a Janus-faced mirror of Viennese art, looking backward to the grimacing busts of Messerschmidt and forward to the kinky body-art performances of Nitsch. And there’s another Schiele, too, whose landscapes resemble exquisite mosaics, at once echoing turn-of-the-century Viennese decorative arts and anticipating Hundertwasser’s patchwork-quilt villages.

  • “Frequency”

    The Studio Museum in Harlem
    429 West 127th St
    November 9, 2005–March 12, 2006

    Curated by Thelma Golden and Christine Y. Kim

    No one could blame you for thinking that “Frequency” will likely be a reprise of “Freestyle,” Thelma Golden’s cele- brated 2001 survey of young black American artists, which presciently showcased the work of Laylah Ali, Julie Mehretu, and Rico Gatson, then in the liftoff stage of big career arcs. But four years have passed, and while the new crop of young hopefuls in “Frequency” may include a few names already familiar from New York gallery shows—Adam Pendleton, Jeff Sonhouse, Kalup Linzy—the bulk of the exhibition’s thirty-four artists are relative newcomers from places like Notre Dame, Indiana, and Costa Mesa, California. Their presence will give viewers a rare opportunity to be surprised—again.