New York

“Just Pathetic”

American Fine Arts

The pathetic is opposed to the sublime in this show, and according to its own predictions, it fails. The pathetic fails because it cannot stand up to the intensity of the sublime; it is in love with its own failure. “Just Pathetic” tries to show us that today failure becomes, paradoxically, success. Failure is more interesting than success simply because it is more variable and multiple, and the works in this show do, to a great degree, demonstrate this point. Visually, it is a very strong show that includes fine pieces by Georg Herold, Jeffrey Vallance, and Chris Burden.

This, however, makes curator Ralph Rugoff’s catalogue essay all the more disheartening. The terms that Rugoff chooses in describing an esthetic or antiesthetic of the pathetic, such as “limp,” “lame,” “embarrassing,” etc., tend to describe the experience of physical impotence. What Rugoff seems to be referring to is a

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