March 12, 2005

Carnegie International, Artists 16-20

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

The International is going to be over right soon--March 20--but I'm going to keep reviewing it until I'm done, anyway. In the meantime, if you haven't been, go.

16. Francis Alys. A big work, The Prophet made of small paintings.

17. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. A video, or maybe a piece of performance/conceptual art documented here by a video.

18. Eva Rotschild. Abstract sculpture.

19. Senga Nengudi. Nylon and sand sculpture.

20. Rachel Harrison. Photographs and more sculpture!

16. Francis Alys. A series of small paintings, about 8 1/2 by 11, spread around the walls of a large room. According to the guide these paintings partake of the tradition of Catholic devotional paintings and of Mexican retablos (Alys, born in Antwerp, works in Mexico City). They are simple and plainly colored, almost like children's book illustrations. A few of them have transparent paper overlays.

Yet there are some obvious differences from devotional art. Almost every figure is seen from the back; many of the ones that aren't are on or behind the transparent overlays. See, respectively, the skeleton embracing the girl in the painting on the left--reminiscent of allegory--and the man on the shore reaching out to the pig in the painting on the right (in the bottom picture here--click to enlarge).

According to the guide "Als has said these works are 'little windows' onto a more spiritual plane; one that the artist may or may not believe exists." That comes across; the transparent overlays and general indirection function like the abstract areas in Mamma Andersson's paintings, separating us from the plane the figures in the paintings inhabit.

One particularly haunting image was of a sleeping soldier with rifle, reminiscent of Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy--but also capturing how our world is out of contact with the pastoral innocence that Rousseau may have depicted. A room with a single small painting in the beam of light that comes from the doorway, is also effective. The beam of light seems accidental, and the painting a moment of illumination in a monastic or prison cell. The more explicitly political non-retablos works were less effective; a stencil of the hooded Abu Ghraib figure was just heavy-handed.

One of the highlights of the International. New York Times critic Ken Johnson says, "Marginally interesting artists like Francis Alys... are given too much space; their work might have fared better in smaller rooms." He's dead wrong.

17. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. A video of the artist chanting a work on the text of female desire to an unknown female corpse. Rasdjarmrearnsook considers the work to be the reading, not the video, which makes it hard to judge. It's also hard for a non-Thai to appreciate the work--it seems to invoke all sorts of specific references to practices of praying over corpses that don't have a counterpart in my tradition. Or perhaps it just invites Orientalism. The video is somewhat hypnotic, and the focus on the reality of the dead human body is always disquieting. But is the disquiet earned?

18. Eva Rotschild. Abstract, minimalist-influenced sculpture. Upright, triangular or pointy forms, for the most part, using space (see the holes punched out of the triangle--click on the bottom picture here in a way that makes it seem less obdurate than perhaps some minimalist sculpture does. I like it but don't have much to say about it--suspended pom-poms raining leather fringes were perhaps my favorite part. According to the guide Rothschild is "also inspired by mysticism and new-age spiritual practices," but you can't tell, thank God.

19. Senga Nengudi. Would it be unfair to say "This year's works in sand and pantyhose"? The last international had work in a similar medium on a much huger scale--things you walked inside, kind of like a Moonwalker. (The artist's name escapes me.)

In Nengudi's work, the ends of the hose are attached to the corners of the room, and the sand fills out shapes suspended in the air. Says the guide, "These bulging, flesh-toned, anthropomorphized abstractions suggest the resilience of the human body. Like molted snakeskins, they retain the 'residue' of the body and the 'energy' of the wearer, suggesting the fragility and sensuality of flesh itself." Id est, these shapes are pendulous, obscene, and funny as hell. Nice work.

20. Rachel Harrison. "Perth Amboy is a series of photographs of a window in a suburban New Jersey house upon which an apparition of the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared." The windows get more and more smudged. The pictures, to me, are not particularly interesting.

Harrison's sculpture is better--goofy assemblages mixing the clean (cardboard boxes) and the messy (other stuff painted with drips). The one shown in the second picture here (click to enlarge, as usual) reminded me of how much moving sucks. The guide says "Intentionally thwarting easy reading, she sets up mysteries, encouraging the viewer to look actively, both physically and conceptually, and to follow her allusive clues into niches, behind walls, and through visual mazes," which I guess means that you can't always tell what the objects in the sculptures are right away, which I guess means I shouldn't tell you what's going on there. OK but not my favorite stuff.

Posted by Matt Weiner at March 12, 2005 12:59 PM