New York

“I am the Enunciator”

Thread Waxing Space

In an interminable catalogue essay, curator Christian Leigh states, “We have an imminent and dire need to look for new ways to exhibit and install exhibitions.” Yet the show in question struck me as all too familiar—a kind of attempt to resuscitate the ’80s long enough to squeeze one last gasp out of them. In the manner of many large, self-consciously post-Modern group shows of recent years, Leigh gathered works that did not seem unified in either form or content.

Traditionally (and it is already a tradition), this type of exhibition has certain goals. First, it attempts to undermine the Modernist tendency to categorize works neatly according to a putative similarity that is then foregrounded in order to exhibit them together; the universe implied by this Modernist emphasis on sameness is a comfortably ordered one that can be experienced without shock. The post-Modern group show, in contrast, fetishizes difference in order to disrupt traditional ways of organizing experience, attempting to surprise the viewer with unlikely or unaccountable inclusions. This type of show goes back at least to Rainer Crone’s “Similia/Dissimilia,” 1987, and, in the last few years, has become the signature style of a number of independent curators, including Leigh.

Unusually large, colorful, and varied, with works by over a hundred artists, conspicuously interspersed, as is Leigh’s trademark, with film stills and other film-related materials, the show included pieces by classical late-Modernists such as Dan Flavin and Carl Andre, and younger post-Modernists such as Deborah Kass and Maureen Conner. Leigh called the show his own “temporary and autonomous work of art made up entirely of other autonomous works of art.” There were indeed a number of likeable works—mostly seen before around town—but they must have felt humiliated by the company since the curation and the overall effect were, above all, vulgar. In an attempt to suggest an eccentric metarigor Leigh succeeded only in failing to suggest anything but an empty grandiosity. The title, “I Am the Enunciator,” evidently means that the curator is the artist, or that the show is his responsibility and he accepts that. Truly, he would act out his responsibility to these artists best by enunciating a heartfelt apology to them. While much has been accomplished in 20th-century culture through sensationalism—from Dada to neo-Dada to neo-neo-Dada—nothing much that could be called culture was in evidence here.

Thomas McEvilley