Rita McBride

Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein

A sexy artist named Gina Ashcraft is the protagonist of thirteen scenarios set in airports and train stations. Her goal is to seduce and be seduced in the midst of her art. This dime-store novel, serving as the catalogue for Rita McBride’s exhibition, is the work of thirteen colleagues, among them artists John Baldessari and Julião Sarmento and curator Dirk Snauwaert. Its combination of soft-core pornography, nomadic mobility, and art easily grasped by the public touches on the chief stereotypes of the art market of the ’90s: “Back on the plane again and ready to depart. I had been in Lisbon for just five hours. But in those five hours I think I finally got the material I need to complete the play I want to stage in Luxembourg. I am going to put on the ‘Arena’ again and this time it will act as a cloak for an ideal space of contemplation. On the wall in front of the ‘Arena,’ diametrically opposite the potential spectators, on the other side of the wall, where I won’t be seen, I will screen, at full size, the film I just shot in Lisbon, in a fifth floor brothel. Thus I will be at the same time the spectator, the artist, who exhibits, and the object of desire, that is displayed, even though this display is prohibited by the very characteristics that the exhibition demands. The ‘Arena’ shows and hides as it shows . . . it exhibits and rejects its own existence as an object that determines the parameters of desire.”

And in fact this was the fifth building of McBride’s Arena, first presented in 1997 at Witte de With, Rotterdam. The sculptural semicircle, which mimics the lines of athletic shoes in its transparent seating construction, imports the mass dynamic of sporting events into the realm of art. One could imagine frenetic applause echoing in the soundless space, thus underscoring the isolation that the artwork faces despite all its forays into the world of consumerism and spectacle. Even the rattan Toyota, 1990, a fifth-generation Celica, conveys acceleration made static, as it mimics the linear structure of rotating 3-D simulations while utilizing the material of domestic comfort in the form of garden furniture.

McBride’s multipart exhibition engaged with the generous size of the rooms in the new building of the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein; her work here reflected it as architecture and as an institution. In Backsliding, Sideslipping, One Great Leap and the “Forbidden,” 1994/2002, she quotes the interior of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye within the museum space as the exhibition architecture for her own works as well as a selection from the permanent collection: Joseph Beuys, Ben Vautier, Gerhard Richter, Umberto Boccioni, and Wilhelm Lehmbruck. With the folklike dance of her Hunchbacks, 1994, McBride introduces into the model of modernism she has thus quoted a narrative explicitly excluded from it. The repressed doesn’t just return; it shoulders its way in. Between sculpture and architecture, this monument to modernism is a room within a room, as if it were a ruin from some long-lost culture housed within a museum.

The exhibition’s title, “Naked Came the Stranger,” was taken from an extremely successful soft-core novel by an anonymous group of journalists at the end of the ’60s. Naked and vulnerable, the stranger appears, divested of all myth—just as McBride strips modernism of its ideological trappings: la modernité mise à nue.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.