Carnegie International

Some Thoughts on Entries #29-37

I know I said I'd talk about comics, but after re-reading the comics I'd intended to review I discovered that there just wasn't anything there worth exploring. So I thought I'd share some thoughts on this year's Carnegie International. The twist? I'll be going through the Gallery Guide — backward! Man, am I a dangerous rebel or what?

#37: Carsten Holler, "Solandra Greenhouse"

If you enter the International from the parking lot, this is the first work you see. And it's a nice way to establish that the International is something different — a little greenhouse filled with blooming vines and flashing lights that seems both out of place and right at home. I'm not entirely sure that it's "chemically analyzing the nature of human emotions," which is what the Gallery Guide claims it's doing, but it's a nice little piece that sits on the boundary.

A side note — you're actually supposed to walk into the greenhouse, though I don't think I saw anyone else do that the whole time I was at the exhibition. Which is sad, because it's impossible to get the whole effect from the outside. Maybe they need larger "Pull" signs on the door...

#36: Yang Fudong, "Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest"

Yang Fudong's films are "psychologically dense, visually beautiful mediations on the philosophical questions of existence as they are played out in the exterior world and the interior lives of his subjects." A translation for those of you not versed in art-speak: Yang Fudong's films are dry, intellectual and boring as hell and there's no way you'd ever sit through them if you hadn't been standing for three hours.

The eight-minute segment of the film I saw was mostly moody, black and white shots of a bamboo forest with intellectuals blathering on in the background about completely unrelated subjects. I was unfortunately reminded of Ghost in the Shell 2, which endeavored to be just as intellectual and wound up just as dull. You've got to give it to Mamoru Oshii, though — just as you're getting bored he'll have two cyborgs turn a restaurant full of yakuza into chili con carne. Yang Fudong doesn't have that luxury.

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

The Gallery Guide says this video is a new work commissioned by the International composed of found video footage and animation. If I were the International, I'd punch Payne and Relph in the face and ask for my money back.

There's nothing inherently wrong with using found material — Harry Shearer is apparently having some success with it. However, the trick is to take what you've found and make something interesting with it. The eight-minute segment of "Comma, Pregnant Pause" that I viewed featured two men in cell phone costumes with "Scream" masks dancing in front of Macintosh screen savers and iTunes visualization tools while someone read off a list of Pokemon names on the audio track. This is the equivalent of me dumping a bag of someone else's garbage on my floor and saying that it's a sculpture made up out of found objects. Payne and Relph should be embarassed.

#34: Chiho Aoshima, "Magma Spirit Explodes, Tsunami is Dreadful"

Chiho Aoshima's mural "is a narrative of almost cinematic scope and complexity" according to the Gallery Guide. Don't believe it — there's nothing particularly complex or cinematic about it. I've seen smaller paintings with more going on. On the other hand, it's really pretty — Aoshima's style is both cute and furious, sort of a cross between Junko Mizuno and a top-notch graffiti artist. However, I can't shake my gut feeling that this would look better painted on the side of someone's van.

#33: Pawel Althamer, "Real-Time Movie Trailer"

I didn't see this, despite looking all over for it. That's because it's not inside, though the Gallery Guide implies that it is. No, it's happening out at the bus stop outside the Library.

According to the Gallery Guide, this is a "performance of a 30-minute segment of daily life" that consists of actors "crossing the street, waiting for a bus, or idling in a car at a traffic light." You'd see the exact same things waiting for the bus anyway, which raises the question, "If a piece of art falls in the forest..." If I was feeling particularly cynical I'd note that Althamer could buy a Ferrari with the money alotted for hiring actors and no-one would ever notice the difference.

I suppose the goal here is to somehow subvert the viewer's perceptions of daily life by adding actors. The Guide says that Althamer "chooses to remake with much pain and labor a bit of the world in real time", which is a "gesture of belief in the power of an individual to re-envision society" that says "we are all actors" "and it is up to us to figure out how we want to change the world through our daily performance." Those are some pretty grand goals, and I'm not sure how they're supposed to be realized by watching someone wait for the bus. At least Tony and Tina's Wedding is funny.

I'll also note that "Real-Time Movie Trailer" is only scheduled for five performances — four in October and one in March — meaning that the majority of museum-goers won't get a chance to see it at all. I understand the expense and logistical problems of keeping a staff of actors on call for six months, but it still seems like a colossal waste of the Carnegie's money.

#32: Maurizio Cattelan, "Now"

Maurizio Cattelan's "Now" was supposed to be set up in the Hall of Architecture but wasn't ready for opening weekend, and I didn't get a chance to check it out last weekend. Which is pretty typical behavior for the Carnegie — the last International featured a two-part catalog of which part two hadn't been printed, and which didn't ship until after the International had closed.

#31: Jeremy Deller, "Breaking News"

Installation artist Jeremy Deller has taken over the Carnegie's miniature rooms with "Breaking News" — and he subverts these tiny 18th-century tableaus by inserting tiny TV sets in prominent places. The TV sets play a loop featuring historical reenactments of period battles. It's a cute conceit, and an excellent reminder that the old days weren't always good old days, but overall the effect is extremely slight.

The other half of Deller's contribution are some t-shirts on sale in the gift shop emblazoned with passages from the Bible. I'm not impressed.

#30: Mangelos

Croatian artist Mangelos loved manifestos, and the Carnegie International features a selection of them designed to "frustrate meaning, ultimately creating 'no meaning.'" What's on display are a bunch of painted globes with slogans on them French and Croatian, which does absolutely nothing to shake my conviction that people who can, do; that those who can't, teach; and those who can't even do that write manifestos.

Mangelos passed away in 1987, and most of the work featured in the exhibition is from the mid 1970s — which makes it an odd choice for inclusion in the International, which has a specific mandate to focus on the developing masters of modern art. On the other hand, recent Internationals have veered away from that mandate, instead choosing to focus on whatever's hip in New York these days — so maybe it's not such an odd choice after all.

#29: Peter Doig

Perhaps the most damning thing I can say about Peter Doig's paintings is that I've been through the International three times now and I can't remember a single one of them. The Gallery Guide says that Doig's paintings "seem to exist outside of time, in another place contiguous with our own but one not meant to reflect or recapitulate reality" and that Doig achieves this effect with "painterly pyrotechnics." Which I don't believe at all.

Tomorrow: Entries #28 (Paul Chan) through 20 (Rachel Harrison).

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