March 05, 2005

Carnegie International, Artists 11-15

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

The International ends on March 20, so you'd better hurry if you're planning to see it.

11. Ugo Rondinone. A video installation and also a small sculpture.

12. Isa Genzken. Mixed-media sculptures.

13. Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Huge photographs.

14. Kaoru Arima. Small drawings in correction fluid-patches on newspaper.

15. Trisha Donnelly. Conceputalish stuff.

11. Ugo Rondinone. In Roundelay, as Philip Glass' music plays, on six screens we see a man and a woman striding through deserted Paris. Both move at a steady pace, looking ahead or slightly down, neither making eye contact with the camera even when shot from the front. Occasionally the scene cuts to shots of the skyline, zooming in and out or both at once. This one divided opinion--some of my informants thought it was one of the best works in the show, some thought it was a hyped-up music video. I think hyped-up music video. The skyline shots ("Manipulated to vertiginous effect," saith the guide--understand I'm not blaming the person who wrote this) break up whatever integrity of purpose the piece might have. There is an admitted impact of seeing these two people alone in the deserted cityscape--the "mood of modernist anomie" is well established--but this raises (as one of my sources says) the question of whether any video piece could attain a similar effect given a similarly sumptous surround-sound-and-video presentation.

So this is a piece that might call into question my appreciation of similar video installations in the past. But I think those were indeed better. In New York some time ago I saw a video by Pippilotti Rist (?) in which she pranced down a street in Switzerland, waving a long flowery stalk, occasionally stopping to smash the windows of the cars parked on the street as the bouncy music played on. I don't think I'll remember the Rondinone as long as I remember that one. One difference is that it's more of an accomplishment to generate a tone of whimsical delight underlain with inexplicable menace than of modernist anomie perhaps underlain with same.

I forgot to mention Rondinone's rainbow sculpture "Everyone Gets Lighter," which is the first thing you see as you enter the art museum. I have now done so. (Actually, particularly given the complete gloom of Pittsburgh weather when I was there, this has its uses--maybe the power of whimsy over anomie is at work here.)

12. Isa Genzken. Empire/Vampire, Who Kills Death is apparently the result of post-9/11 trauma (I don't know her earlier work, so I can't say how things have changed). Sculptures made of kitsch and literal junk--discarded or smashed appliances--with paint slathered over them. The guide says "[t]he materials seem scavenged from the detritus of some post-apocalyptic landscape; old sneakers, gnarled metal, discarded clothing, and mirrored tiles are arranged in dioramas depicting turbulent struggles within the ruins of an industrialized society." That seems about right; I think the post-apocalyptic feeling would come across even to the unprepped viewer.

These works were apparently some of the more controversial ones in the International--not that they're not work-safe in any way, the controversy is over their aesthetic value. And I can see that. Some of the sculptures are powerful--one with a chain of toy soldiers climbing over some fallen household object (a stack of glasses, was it?) created the exactly the right atmosphere of the strife of war on the ruins of the domestic. Some are just horrible--one with a kewpie doll was the worst sort of attempted profundity through ironic appropriation of kitsch. Am I sure of my judgments in distinguishing them? No. Am I confident that Genzken herself knows the difference? No.

13. Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Huge photographs of pole dancers, mostly upside down, shot in deserted settings, the photographs displayed around the balcony of the Hall of Sculpture. (And if you look down you can see Mangelos's globes and manifestos in the Hall itself! But that's not to be discussed until #30.) Were we just speaking of aestheticization of kitsch? I'm not quite sure whether this recontextualizes the strippers as mythic figures or whether it just displays a lot of mostly naked pole dancers on a large scale. The most interesting one is the one in which the dancer is horizontal, which also as I remember is the one in which she's wearing the most clothes. That one succeeds in creating a feeling of a person suspending the laws of physics.

14. Kaoru Arima. Small-scale pencil drawings in patches of white-out on newspaper. The drawings depict imaginary creatures, mixing the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Or should I say "the doodles depict..."? These are cute but I don't think I'm in tune with the aesthetic of these works. They're not helped by their location, in an alcove off the Hall of Sculpture balcony--diCorcia's bombastic maximalism makes Arima's insistently small-scale work seem deliberately trivial.

15. Trisha Donnelly. As you pass from the Hall of Sculpture Balcony to the Contemporary Art Galleries, where you'll see much of the International's strongest painting and sculpture, you see Donnelly's Night Is Coming. (Don't get confused and go down the stairs--that takes you into Mangelos's work, which isn't scheduled until #30! Also, the stuff on the first floor isn't as good.) This consists of the phrase "Night Is Coming" fading in and out of view.

I'm not qualified to make the following judgment, but I think Jenny Holzer is one of the great artists of the 20th century. So I've nothing against textual art--gnomic phrases displayed in locations where they make a subliminal impact. But I think the difference between Holzer and this is that, say, "You would kill yourself in public if it would stop the war" makes you stop and think, and "Night is coming" doesn't. Donnelly aspires to have her art "slip into the back of people's minds" and this certainly doesn't come right out and grab your attention. Dark Wind, a sound installation in the sculpture galleries, may have created the right sort of subliminal impact; I'm not absolutely positive I heard it going on. Her untitled photographs of swords flanking an entrance in the sculpture galleries were nice in an unassuming way. The impact of Letter to Tacitus, a surprise oration given in the sculpture areas, is perhaps lessened if you find the guard who's going to do it and follow him around until he does.

(If you order the artists in the International alphabetically by last name, Tirisha Donnelly is the median. A "D." I think that's scandalous.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at March 5, 2005 01:46 PM