A Review of Maurizio Cattelan: All at the Guggenheim
Chang W. Lee for the New York Times
At risk of tritely introducing an artist by claiming that he or she needs no introduction, it so happens that Guggenheim Chief Curator Nancy Spector’s expository statement provides an excellent survey of his career, a worthy complement to her institution’s current Maurizio Cattelan retrospective.
In a sense, a major museum exhibition, even (or perhaps especially) at the Guggenheim, represents a kind of demise, Cattelan’s often-noted obsession, an expression of Heidegger’s Being-unto-Death in which the artist is ‘looking back,’ per the parlance, at an oeuvre that has ossified into something cohesive on the premise of comprehensiveness, a body of work that is consummate—immortalized—in a way that can be only defined in terms of mortality.
Nevertheless the work is not collectively bereft of the myriad meaning that it had in 1989, 1990, 1991, etc., though many of the specimens are indeed taxidermied. If there is an overall sensation that Cattelan has turned the museum into a mausoleum, it’s worth noting that it’s impossible (and futile) to determine whether the artist has done utmost respect or disrespect for the dead.
In any case, I was immediately struck by the sheer presence—i.e., the physicality—of the elaborately-suspended spectacle. The radically vertical arrangement attenuates the otherwise vertiginous nature of the atrium, allowing the viewer to see each piece from virtually every angle, a veritable infinity of perspectives and, likewise, juxtapositions that simply could never be achieved in a regular gallery space.
Indeed, the overarching sense of discovery is refreshingly more like a curio shop than the partitioned tabula rasa of, say, MoMA’s sixth floor: one encounters the smitten pope thrice over (La Nona Ora, 1999); a readymade bicycle; a particularly long-eared leporid; anti-authoritarian sentiments abound; sleeping dogs; banality revisited time and again; and, of course, the artist himself at varying levels.
The five-story spiral of Wright’s sometimes-frustrating interior imparts an anthropomorphic scale to the mass of artwork to brilliant effect, the undeniable totality made manageable as it unravels in the viewer’s two-dimensional orbit. By presenting the work as a kind of anti-architecture, Cattelan transcends—or at least annuls—the antagonism between artist and architect to realize a near-perfect stasis between figure and ground, each fulfilling the destiny of the other.
It’s not so much that Cattelan has exploited the space as an ideal (as Matthew Barney did rather callously, or at least cartoonishly, in his magnum opus), but that he has masterfully harnessed its potential as a venue. Gravity and tension cancel out as pure inertia—physically, if not quite figuratively—to incorporate the disparate objects as a self-contained system that can be circumnavigated as a world. (As in Sartrean phenomenology, Cattelan’s world is subject only to ontological inquiry; one gets the sense that not even Spector herself could convincingly justify the existence of these artworks.) Read the rest of this entry »
I finally got around to seeing Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop at Brooklyn Heights Cinema today. Of course, I went into the theater expecting to enjoy the film and it fulfilled itself: the pseudo-doc was thoroughly entertaining indeed, in keeping with Banksy’s ever-contrarian perspective on contemporary art. My only criticism is that Guetta is a little too perfect a foil for Banksy and the plot, in turn, is a little too perfectly ironic.
Conversely, I just watched Sebastian Peiter’s Guerilla Art documentary, available in full on Babelgum, which forgoes the knowingness for the straight dope… including interviews with the late Rammellzee.
His name was derived from RAM, plus M for magnitude, Sigma (Σ), the first summation operator, L for longitude, L for latitude, Z for z-bar, plus a couple more summation operators (Σ) for good luck.
“It is like going to the war.” –Marina Abramović on performance art
UPDATE: Klausie (sort of) blew it (Animal via Art Fag City & Linda Yablonsky on the Givenchy gala for ArtForum: “the fashion mob was tweeting like mad”)
Marina, saintlike, abstracted, ensconced in a monochromatic robe (in one of three patriotic colorways) with the functional slouchiness of a Snuggie.
'ó'quentiño' by Irene Regueiro, Patricia Alambiaga Arnal, Lebymar Blanco Pérez, Elena Bàez & Nela Sanchez
But her costume has nothing to do with allusion or somatic comfort; it’s closer to the Zen of a color field, aiming for the very same transcendence through an entirely different medium.
Seeing the other people you come to that state where you start to feel unconditional love for the total stranger. That is what happened to me. My entire heart opened to the level that was incredible. You see them and by being still they become eyes like the door of the soul, you really start knowing them on the most intimate level. That is why people avoid looking in the eyes, especially here in New York. I looked by now, 1,565 pair of eyes. This is enormous amount of eyes. It was so touching to see I knew the people so intimately but never spoke word with them.
As Hrag Vartanian points out, MoMA itself stakes a claim to authorship in The Artist Is Present (after setting a precedent with the @ sign): the exhibition existed as much in the digital space as it did IRL, where a web cam evolved into a kind of meta-art, largely through social mediametastasis. The microsite was an exhibit about an exhibit—an anti-Chatroulette, if you will—while the Flickr feed of Marco Anelli’s unmistakable portraits could easily make for a post-hoc catalog and future exhibit. (H.V.’s excellent recap on Hyperallergic has spared me the need to eulogize the exhibit.)
First of all, I am not ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Marina Abramović before my first visit to MoMA’s comprehensive survey or her life and work two and a half months ago. Since that fateful first exposure, I have grown quite sympathetic to her work, which I would describe with adjectives like “raw,” “visceral,” “somatic,” ad infinitum.
While it’s probably too much to expect that the actors would reperform any pieces from the Rhythm series, it’s definitely illuminating to see certain pieces in the flesh, so to speak (namely Imponderabilia, with its ephemeralinteractivity, but others as well). At least, it is for those who are unfamiliar with Marina’s particular brand of performance art—including myself, the first time around—i.e. the vast majority of MoMA’s visitors.
Marina & Ulay, Reunited
Unfortunately, the pieces executed by Marina’s minions are, in many ways, a novelty: the more you know about the artist and her oeuvre, the less successful the reperformances become. I found that they were far less impactful the second, third, fourth, etc. times around; the sheen of originality quickly fades once you recognize that the anonymous faces are rotating between the five ‘live’ works on the sixth floor. By the third time I visited the exhibition, I was far more concerned with where Marina and Ulay went when they walked off the screen in [the video of] Relation in Space (in which they repeatedly walk into one another) than the four people in the 8-foot cube behind me (reperforming Relation in Time and Point of Contact), taped off to demarcate its artness, hermeneutically if not hermetically sealed.
When I first saw this on T Magazine, I thought it looked like a movie trailer… turns out, it is.
In other words, the work on the sixth floor relies on an element of unpredictability that constitutes the essence of performance art. I distinctly remember when my first encounter with Luminosity, shortly after the exhibit opened in March. The white light is strangely forgiving: she struck me as painted, photorealistic, timeless in the split-second before I realized that she was not just an image but a real person. If that naïve (in a good sense) suspension of disbelief cannot be underestimated, it is precisely because it will never happen again.
Of course, the inherent ‘unrepeatability’ of Abramović’s work only underscores the singular nature of performance art. Again, although some have questioned the authenticity of reperformance—to the effect that any attempt to do so somehow devalues the work itself and Marina’s legacy—I think there is something to be said for the sheer novelty of reperformance, where ignorance is bliss.
Date: May 23, 2009
To: K. Biesenbach
From: M. Abramović
RE: Retrospective at MoMA
I decided that I want to have a work that connects me more with the public, that concentrates … on the interaction between me and the audience.
I want to have a simple table, installed in the center of the atrium, with two chairs on the sides. I will sit on one chair and a square of light from the ceiling will separate me from the public.
Anyone will be free to sit on the other side of the table, on the second chair, staying as long as he/she wants, being fully and uniquely part of the Performance.
I think this work [will] draw a line of continuity in my career.
Hence, the true power of Marina presented herself: that of an artwork unfolding in real time. It was neither a performance nor art by most definitions of either word—performance suggests action and art suggests meaning—but, insofar as the medium is the body itself, it was Performance Art, reduced to its essence: presence (not unlike Tehching Hsieh’s “Lifeworks,” which also bear MoMA’s stamp of approval).
A friend and I agreed to get to MoMA early in hopes of earning an audience with her inimitable highness Marina Abramovic on a Saturday morning two months ago. Unfortunately, there was already a substantial crowd—to the extent that they let people into the foyer (between the ticket check and stairs to the atrium) 20 minutes before opening—by 10 AM (when we had agreed to meet at MoMA), despite the gorgeous weather, semi-early arrival and the ‘magical’ tourist attraction up the block.
I realize that it’s rather cliché to lament that you don’t really miss something until it’s gone, but (at the risk of sounding indecently morbid) there’s definitely a sense that death marks the ultimate occasion to reflect on an individual’s legacy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the finality of death ensures that an artist can no longer create anything new: it is the point where his or her life’s work can and must be taken as a whole, as a history and world unto itself, immortal at the cost of its living potential.
The Times remembers Dennis Hopper, Louise Bourgeois, and Tobias Wong, all of whom have passed away this week. I won’t pretend that I fully appreciated the work of the first two while I hadn’t heard of Wong until his untimely demise, but there is a vague significance to each artist and I look forward to exploring what they have left behind.
Deitch on Hopper, whose upcoming show at MoCA marks the start of Deitch’s directorship there.