Carnegie International

Final Thoughts: The Lowlights

I've spent a lot of time at the Carnegie recently, so I thought I'd share some final thoughts on the 2004-5 Carnegie International, which closes this weekend. Let's start with the lowlights...

#4: Robert Breer, "What Goes Up"

Going back to the Gallery Guide... "What Goes Up cycles through several intervals framed by the darwn animations of an ascending plane and a variety of images that offer a succinct summary of the joys of being alive — photographs of the artist's family, home and studio, food, drink, the changing leaves, and a drawing of a voluptious woman." While I'm sure these individual sequences have great personal significance to Breer, to an outside observer they seem merely random. Shorn of Breer's personal context, the film cannot convey meaning to an outside observer — only a consistent tone, which by itself is insufficient to hold a viewer's attention for four minutes.

#9: Harun Farocki, "Eye/Machine I-III"

Harun Farocki's "Eye/Machine" seeks to address both the "industrialization of thought" as well as the rise of the military-industrial complex — though I'm not sure that these two things are as closely tied as Farocki would have us believe. The cardinal sin of "Eye/Machine" is that it's impenetrable and dull. There's no real way to extract Farocki's message from the video — and even if there were, there's no way a museum patron would sit through all three videos for it. The Gallery Guide tries to turn a weakness into a strength by claiming it's "purposeful emotional restraint," but I'm not buying it.

#12: Isa Genzken, "Empire/Vampire Who Kills Death"

Assemblage can be tricky. A great assemblage makes for a stunning composition and draws its component objects together into a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. A good assemblage is no more than the sum of its parts, but can still spark a strong response in a viewer. A poor assemblage, however, is just a random pile of crap.

Isa Genzken's "Empire/Vampire Who Kills Death" is a poor assemblage — a random assortment of castoff toys and thrift store garbage doused liberally with fluorescent paint. The most striking piece consists of replica sculpture of kissing lovers which is splattered with blue paint, encircled by a black leather belt with a skull buckle, and placed next to a Scotch tape dispenser. See — the lovers represent Eros, and the belt buckle represents Thanatos, and the adhesive tapes represents the bond between the two, and the blue paint represents, uh, blue paint...

This isn't art. This is the sort of hackneyed tripe art students churn out when they've run out of ideas the night before a critique. It's truly one of the lowlights of the International — ugly, crude, sophomoric and unenlightening.

#14: Kaoru Arima

Kaoru Arima whites out spaces on newspaper pages, and then doodles mythological scenes on them in ballpoint pen. Doodles can be engaging on their own — Crumb's placemat doodles, for instance, offer some small insights to his creative process. Arima's doodles don't have the same soft of heft as Crumb's doodles — they're crude children's drawings, minus the childish charm.

The Gallery Guide says "the newspapers on which they are drawn create a visual context for his images, resulting in the unexpected pertinence of myth when juxtaposed with contemporary reality." This assumes that mere juxtaposition does not create context, but that's not true. Conscious, considered juxtaposition creates context. There doesn't seem to be any sort of selection process invloved in Arima's choice of newspaper pages, which makes the "juxtaposition" angle a red herring.

#23: Jim Lambie, "Zobop"

Duct-taped flooring, mirrored purses, a shamanistic "soul stick" and a mattress splattered with paint — "Zobop" has it all. Everything except a unifying theme, or indeed, any theme.

#25: Mark Grotjahn

Mark Grotjahn's geometric, perspectival abstractions are sort of pretty — but it's hard to see what anyone, artist or audience, is taking from this brand of abstract impressionism. They're also not helped by being paired with Tomma Abts' abstractions, which are much stronger pieces of work.

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

Here's another piece where it's impossible to discern the artist's intentions from the finished project, and which is also horribly boring. Actually, it's worse than boring — it's boring and repetitive, since each scene seems to loop four or five times before the next scene begins.

#35: Oliver Payne and Nick Relph, "Comma, Pregnant Pause"

I let Payne and Relph have it with both barrels in last my set of commentaries — and I haven't seen anything in their work that's made me change my mind.

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