Paul Chan, Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization—After Henry Darger and Charles Fourier, 2000–2003, still from a color digital video, 17 minutes 20 seconds.

the 2004 Carnegie International

Carnegie Museum of Art

A couple basic premises for large-scale international art exhibitions over the past few years: Theory is over—and it wasn’t that great for art, anyway—but the market is pretty gross, too; and since September 11, everything seems so serious. Notwithstanding the portentous superficiality of this curatorial temperature taking, it’s a reasonably accurate assessment of the current state of affairs. Nevertheless, after this diagnosis, what’s a curator to do? In the 2004 Carnegie International, Laura Hoptman’s self-consciously ambitious answer moves beyond art-world discourse to themes increasingly central to American culture: spirituality, ethics, and “values”—what she calls the “Ultimates.” Even presuming the validity of this effort, her inquiry is, ultimately, limited.

These big ideas can be hard to spot in the exhibition, but certain related themes and attitudes do emerge. One

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