March 14, 2005

Carnegie International, Artists 21-25

Sixth installment of my review of the Carnegie International. All posts here.

The International will be over very soon--March 20--and if you haven't seen it already, you probably won't. Tra la.

21. John Bock. An installation of some of the sets from a very strange live-action film.

22. Lee Bontecou. Hanging sculptures and wall-mounted reliefs.

23. Jim Lambie. Sculpture, more or less.

24. Tomma Abst. Smallish abstract paintings.

25. Mark Grotjahn. Larger, but still not huge, abstract paintings.

21. John Bock. The work on this floor is described as "a three-dimensional manifestation of Bock's 30-minute film," and indeed it seems like a pendant to the film (which I didn't see all of). In which scientists carry out mysterious proceedings, and alien thrashes around with a person inside, there is a crazy ride on the back of a thresher, and more. The film is simultaneously funny and enervating--though perhaps the disruption of our sense of time is essential to entering Bock's world of complete illogic. The film is also extremely gross. I believe I left before the live cow birth.

In a way this reminds me of Matthew Barney's Cremaster 2 (I think 2) in the last International. Similar defiance of logic, creation of its own world, and occasional shocking images and fascination with bodily fluids or their simulation. Bock doesn't have the clean shots of abstract sculpture though, nor the thundering self-importance. (Which may or may not be earned--I wandered out of the Barney when I realized that it was going to go on longer than Duck Soup, and I didn't feel like watching that much of that movie that afternoon. Be it recorded that I walked out of a Matthew Barney film before it was cool.)

22. Lee Bontecou. A massive retrospective of reliefs and sculptures, intricate shapes of canvas and wire. The reliefs tend to be dominated by central yawning black holes; the hanging sculptures center on tiny spheres that might be planets or eyes. Or eyes floating in interplanetary space, like AZATHOTH! (Actually I think I've completely misunderstood Azathoth. You know what I mean.)

Seriously, this is fine work, "powerfully express[ing] the awe and terror of the inexplicable" as the guide says. And, as my description perhaps conveyed, I think it ought to appeal to fans of Rick Griffin-style comics; in both artists' work, the obsessive elaborations of shapes turns grotesque without any direct correlation to anything disturbing. Except Bontecou isn't so, you know, cartoonish. (That would be flame bait if anyone were reading this--I'm prepared to explain why I don't mean to insult cartoons wholesale, if you wanna make something of it.) I'm not sure whether a theme of the International was supposed to be views of alternate universes, but if it was this would fit it fine.

23. Jim Lambie. The first piece is a pattern of black duct tape on the floor--easy to miss because it looks somewhat like floor, which you're walking on. The psychedelic soul stick leaning in the corner ("a branch wrapped with hundreds of layers of shredded record albums, photos, colored ribbons, and thread"--I think they mean album covers) is a neatish object. Sunbed, a mattress hung high and covered with yellow paint that drips onto the wall, is witty. But the main piece just doesn't come off for me. Chair backs draped with purses and speckled with mirror are meant to "recall[] both a plaza and the bedazzled inhabitants who might stroll there." The chair backs are meant to punningly recall people carrying purses and the chairs on the plaza (perhaps the people seated in them have hung their purses on the back?). But I wouldn't have got the visual pun if it hadn't been explained to me. We've already established that I'm dense, so that may not be Lambie's fault.

Still, I wish to hell he hadn't called this piece The Jesus and Mary Chain. You're a hot contemporary artist--of course you're hipper than me. Advertising your semi-rock star friends is so gauche.

24. Tomma Abst. Smallish abstract paintings (but not as small as Alys's). Neat, sharp-edged shapes; the guide describes them as "not quite biomorphic or geometric" but they're not biomorphic at all. (Compare Butterly, Nengudi, Bontecou.) They're not geometric in that the curves and angles are irregular rather than patterned--it's not Mondrian--but the overwhelming impression is of a neatness that's the opposite of the biological. Like Rothschild's sculptures, which these somewhat resemble, I like these but don't have much to say about them.

25. Mark Grotjahn. Abstract paintings, mostly monochrome with rays converging on vanishing points separated by a central stripe. The paintings are laid over more brightly colored backgrounds--as you can tell at the edges and the central stripe, where the background leaks through--and also on the side, where Grotjahn has carved his not inconspicuous signature. The signatures are a great joke. Where Rothko and Martin aspire to a mystical state that transcends their egos, these signatures both assert Grotjahn's ownership and disrupt the mood. Unfortunately, the joke doesn't improve with repetition, and the paintings just aren't as profound as such work can be. Rothko and Martin reach a mystical state.

Posted by Matt Weiner at March 14, 2005 08:28 AM