March 05, 2005

Carnegie International, artists 5-10

Third installment. See here for all my posts on the International.

5. Kathy Butterly. Ceramics.

6. Saul Fletcher. Small photographs.

7. Neo Rauch. Large paintings.

8. Fernando Bryce. Ink drawings.

9. Harun Farocki. Videos.

10. Julie Mehretu. Really large paintings.

5. Kathy Butterly. Ceramics, shifted and deformed into organic shapes--not organic as in "an organic whole" but organic as in weird biological forms. Delightful work--very funny in an odd way. The gallery guide suggests that these works are 3-D cousins to R. Crumb's comics but Butterly has none of Crumb's underlying misanthropy. The ceramics are (as I remember) brightly colored and unironically cheerful. I haven't much to say about these but they're really extremely good and quite worth seeing.

6. Saul Fletcher. A couple of Fletcher's tiny photographs in the middle of white space are striking or effective--in one he strikes a chicken pose that reminds me of one of Tom Waits' cover shots--but. The Goth aesthetic is not ripe for appropriation/rehabilitation as high culture because it's just plain silly, and I mean in a laughing at you not in a laughing with you way. One particular shot of a woman lying palms up, with crosses covering every available surface, tips the whole thing into absurdity, if it wasn't there already. With a Tom Waits cover shot you get some damn good music.

7. Neo Rauch. Huge surreal canvases. The guide points out that his figures are derived from Socialist Realism, but they find themselves in odd situations and confronted by outbreaks of strange forms. Though when I type that it sounds as though the viewer is drawn to empathize with the figures, and that didn't happen with me at all. Rather, we observe the figures in their odd settings--parodies of stations of commerce on the waterways perhaps--and we observe the piles of weird stuff that they're looking at, with no particular way of resolving the situation at all. The non-realistic elements here are depicted as things in the scene, unlike Mamma Andersson's areas of abstract paint, which stand between us and what we're looking at. "Ambiguous and sometimes menacing," as the guide says; also striking but not moving. In an exhibition that's strong on painting, this didn't measure up to Mehretu (see #10), Alys, Doig, and Andersson.

8. Fernando Bryce "reproduces by hand entire archives of written materials from government documents to tourist brochures." And Revolucion has the impact of... reproductions of archives of written materials from government documents to tourist brochures, in a language I don't happen to read. Boy I didn't get this, though I didn't spend much time with it. Gerhard Richter's effaced painting of the Baader-Meinhof funerals creates a haunting feeling of events flying onto the ash-heap of history. Bryce's reproductions create a feeling of what exactly? You tell me.

9. Harun Farocki. Eye/Machine I, II, III is video of footage from surveillance cameras, film from planes of bombs striking their targets, etc. This is the sort of thing I usually like but not this time. If the footage is supposed to be aestheticized--if the footage from the crosshairs is supposed to show us what's being blown up in a new light--it's not working. (Well, sometimes when the surveillance cameras highlight a form.) If it's supposed to be decontextualized as a comment on the destructive power of technology, and I think that's what the idea is, it's not telling us anything we don't know already. When we see the bomb strike the target, we have to make an effort to think of the target as a real place, where people may have been killed, and to distance ourselves from the abstract perspective we've just been given. The exact same thing happens when we watch footage of bombing on the news with the sound off. I'll watch Jane and Louise Wilson exploring an abandoned military base if I want to see destructive technology with the humanity leached out, and I'll watch Paul Pfeiffer at a basketball game if I want to see video inventively recontextualized.

10. Julie Mehretu. A monumental tryptich of canvases (and an equally large black-and-white study). Abstract but multilayered. The background is derived from architectural drawings of stadia, creating a vast space in which Mehretu places shapes, curves, dots, and swirls. But the foreground elements don't seem to be within the stadium, but to occupy different planes and spaces in front of it. These include monochrome geometric figures as sharply delineated as in Mondrian, though isolated in a way that Mondrian's figures aren't; and recognizable, furthermore, as elements from flags (and often curves of downward-pendant triangles that reminded me of used-car lots, though I'm not sure if that was the idea). Other shapes seem to limn three-dimensional spaces that echo the stadium, or that march into or out of the space behind the canvas; and curves and smudges create a rout or rabble between all the areas.

Mehretu uses graphs that depict social movements, intended to (from the guide) "intersect with the current preoccupation with power, history, and globalization." And--shockingly, for an abstract painter--her intention succeeds. Though we don't know exactly what's going on in the stadium, the bits of flags give us the sense of a gathering of the nations, and the layers and layers of clutter seem to stand for all the people who will never appear as official representatives of their State, gathered in the same place. Awaiting a verdict? Regardless, there is too much going on in this stadium to be subsumed under any single rubric. There is threat here, too; I was reminded of the Santiago stadium, where Pinochet sent his prisoners before murdering them; though that may be an idiosyncratic association (Mehretu's about my age, and neither of us is likely to have been paying that much attention to Pinochet at the time). One of the highlights of the International.

(Pet peeve: You're not allowed to call a painting Untitled (Stadia II) unless perhaps the word "stadia" appears in the painting. If it's called Stadia II it's not untitled, is it? I do like the plain functional title, though.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at March 5, 2005 01:44 PM