Carnegie International

Some Thoughts on Entries #20-28

#28: Paul Chan, "Happiness (finally) after 35,000 Years of Civlization — after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier"

Paul Chan's "Happiness (finally) after 35,000 Years of Civilization blah blah blah" is a short animated film that "combines the utopian visions of 19th-century social theorist Fourier with those of the 20th-century reclusive self-taught artist Darger." What this means? I have no idea — and one of the sure signs of bad art is that it requires you to have arcane knowledge that isn't imparted by the text.

The film consists mostly of hedonists indulging themselves in a garden, which is interrupted by an armed invasion. There's only one camera angle, and most of the figures are simple two or three step animations. And yet, this piece took four years to complete. Which amazes me, because frankly, Clutch Cargo had better animation.

#27: Anne Chu, "Nine Hellish Spirits"

Chu's sculptures have the feeling of Southeastern Asian idols — temple guardians hewn of wood, holding cartoonish weapons made of chains, spikes, and even stranger things. They're playful and compelling, and manage to successfully modernize traditional mythological archetypes. This was one of the few selections in the Contemporary Art Galleries that I actually liked.

#26: Katarzyna Kozyra, "The Rite of Spring"

This installation consists of two concentric rings of TV screens — an inner ring consisting of naked women with male genitalia dancing joyfully, and an outer ring in which naked old men with female genitalia shyly shrink away from the women in the center. It's apparently based on Nijinsky's choreography for Stravinski, which raises an interesting question — what exactly is Kozyra's contribution here? I'm not saying she doesn't have one, but she's definitely entering a murky zone where she's not the only person responsible for the installaction's success.

All "The Rite of Spring" seemed to elicit from museum-goers were some embarrassed twitters at the sight of naked old men and unattractive naked women. It's very hard to take seriously — the choreography and music are too portentious, and the old men seem to be really hamming it up. On the other hand, I'm not sure Kozyra intended to inject any humor into the proceedings at all.

#25: Mark Grotjahn

Mark Grotjahn's work consists of "perspectival paintings," fields of abstract color receding towards a single vanishing point. The paintings are inoffensive enough, but completely devoid of anything resembling pictorial interest. The Gallery Guide makes a big deal of the fact that Grotjahn signs his paintings, "playfully exposing the fact that the painting lies on top of another plane." Um, yeah, keep telling yourself that. It also mentions that the paintings are done "on top of an abstract, gestural ground" as if anything really matters here other than what's on the surface.

#24: Tomma Abts

Tomma Abts paints small abstract paintings. They're actually quite pretty — you probably wouldn't mind hanging one on your wall — but like most abstract paintings, they completely fail to hold your attention for more than thirty seconds. The Gallery Guide goes into great detail about Abts's painting technique, which indicates that the curators don't have much to say about the content of her work.

#23: Jim Lambie, "Zobop"

Jim Lambie's contribution to the International is actually an installation consisting of several smaller works. Apparently "Zobop" itself consists of duct tape on the floor in a "monochrome abstraction" — maybe my visit to the pre-renovation Barnes Foundation has ruined my mind, but all duct tape on a gallery floor says to me is "security system." As for the individual bits of "Zobop"... "The Jesus and Mary Chain" consists of chairs draped with mirrored purses, while "Sunbed (Tan Tropez)" consists of a mattress nailed to the wall and painted bright yellow. Pretty, but ultimately meaningless.

"The Psychedelic Soul Stick" is a bit more interesting — a branch wrapped with shredded records, ribbons and photos. The Gallery Guide says it's "transformed into a shamanistic object that possesses the combined symbolic powers of all the objects from which it is made." Who knew that all the hip shamans were into vinyl and purple spraypaint? Something to remember for your next trip to Kamchatka.

#22: Lee Bontecou

Lee Bontecou is famous for two things — making a big splash in the '60s and then completely withdrawing from the art world in the '70s. Recently, she's begun exhibiting again, and three decades of seclusion actually have the effect of making this decades-old work seem fresh and exciting. Her sculptures and drawings are both terribly alien and wonderfully fascinating — they possess a strange beauty that's not of this world at all. I'm honestly surprised that some movie production designer hasn't ripped her off yet. Anyway, Bontecou's work is quirky and idiosyncratic and definitely worth seeing.

#21: John Bock

Bock's film, "Meechfieber", was supposed to be playing continuously in the CMOA Theater, but it certainly wasn't when I walked in. I suppose when you've spent years preparing for an exhibition a delay of a few days seems trivial. On the other hand, it certainly helps contribute to the bush league feel one gets from the Carnegie at times.

On the other hand, the installation that goes along with the film is incredible — a bizarre area set back from the gallery, filled with straw and couches and motorcycles, enigmatic figures and strange statements, all tucked away in weird nooks and crannies that beg to be explored. Unfortunately, most museum-goers have been trained to look, not touch, and many of the people I saw entering the installation never got past the second room.

#20: Rachel Harrison

I only vaguely remember "Perth Amboy" which chronicles an apparition of the Virgin Mary through photographs. But I do remember her sculptures — a mess of found objects with strange cutaways and odd little objects inserted in weird places. Why is there an unopened packet of snack crackers sitting under this video monitor? Why is this plywood sculpture propped up by muscle and fitness magazines? They're not as compelling as Bock's installation, but still interesting.

Tomorrow: Entries #19 (Senga Nengudi) through 11 (Ugo Rondinone).

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