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Art in America
May 1996

Flash Art
May 1996

May 1996

May 1996

the magazine rack 

by Patterson Beckwith 

May 1996

Art in America

Flash Art



Art in America's cover story is a nine-page

interview with Agnes Martin by Joan Simon,

a writer who used to be the magazine's

managing editor. On page four there's an

advertisement for a Ross Bleckner show at

Mary Boone, showing the outside of her new

building on Fifth Avenue near 57th Street.

On page 31, the "Front Page" news section

has a quarter-page box titled "When Artists

Publish," where we learn that "Walter

Robinson, Art in America's contributing

editor, artist and former writer of Art in

America's news section, is the editor of a

new online publication called ArtNet

Magazine." The article also notes that

"Robinson recently showed his legendary

spin paintings at Tricia Collins' Grand

Salon," and that "the cyber mag's publisher

is Doug Milford, who ran the East Village

gallery Piezo Electric in the mid-'80s, and

later the Milford Gallery." The second

half of the story is about Peter Halley's

new magazine Index. Index is edited by Bob

Nickas and the premiere issue has an

interview with DJ Spooky.

If you like Vermeer, Art in America has got

two back-to-back eight-page articles about

the Dutch painter, starting on page 62.

Both articles are reviews of the big

Vermeer show at the National Gallery in

Washington, D.C. The first article, by

Svetlana Alpers, is about the ways that

Vermeer's technique differed from other

Dutch painters of his day. The second

article, which was written by Trevor

Winkfield, speculates on Vermeer's life.

"He could have been a heavy drinker,

probably liked a good time, and was

obviously very fond of sex (since he was

survived by 11 children)."

On page 79 there is a four-page article

about Tom Friedman by Ken Johnson. The

author says that the young sculptor's work

"transcends art-about-art cleverness." The

story is mostly descriptions of some of

Friedman's work: a pharmaceutical capsule

on a pedestal "filled with myriad minute,

variously colored balls, each individually

rolled from Play-doh by the artist... a wad

of bubble gum stretched some 20 feet from

the ceiling to the floor... a tiny ball of

(the artist's) own feces displayed on a

white pedestal" and "actual-size,

delightfully realistic representations of

houseflies made out of plastic, fuzz, Play-

doh and wire."

On page 82 is Art in America's cover story,

a comprehensive nine-page interview with

Agnes Martin by Joan Simon. Martin is curt

and witty. She says things like "I just

hate de Kooning's women. I think he was a

masochist. The women that he chooses are so

vicious," and "I thought that [Rothko's]

work fell off in the Rothko Chapel. For

some reason or other he didn't make

paintings up to his standard." When Simon

asks what she thinks of the idea that her

work "shows an affinity with weaving,"

Martin says "Oh, don't give me that." Simon

persisted, asking, "What do you think was

meant by raising those relationships?"

Martin: "Somebody undercutting me, saying

it was like weaving. Do you think my

paintings are like weaving?" Martin's new

paintings, which she showed in January at

Pace gallery, are a little different from

what she usually does because she used a

paintbrush to make light washes with red

and blue acrylic paint, and you can see the

brushstrokes. Martin says she doesn't know

why she did it, "it was just an

inspiration." The interviewer asks, "You

were saying earlier that the inspiration

comes from..." Martin: "...your mind. It

comes from your mind." Simon reminds Martin

that she said she considers herself an

Abstract Expressionist in another

interview. Martin says, "The Minimalists

were nonobjective. They just recorded

beauty, I guess, without the emotions--or

at least without personal emotions. My work

is a little more emotional than that."

On page 25 of Flash Art, artist Mark

Kostabi has taken out a two-page ad for

himself, which is a collage of letters that

people have sent him and six of his own

identification cards: a driver's license,

museum passes, and chess- and police-

federation memberships. He has written

things free-hand all over the collage, like

"That arugula salad tasted good at

Ballato's today" and "Coagula and Flash Art

are the best magazines. When will the

others learn?"

In Flash Art's news section there is a one-

page article by the artists Vanessa

Beecroft and Miltos Manetas called

"Slownet: A Special Guide to the World Wide

Web." Showcasing the stilted prose stylings

typical of Flash Art's English-as-a-second-

language writers, the authors begin with

this paragraph: "It is slow, too slow...

cries the mouse, but the connection is

kept. As you wait for the heavy pages to

finish downloading, it clicks on void." The

article is about what Manetas and Beecroft

think is interesting on the Web: They start

by recommending two Websites that choose

pages at random for you to watch, called

URouLette and Autopilot. Next they talk

about Timothy Leary's site, which they say

is "just boring stuff hanging on virtual

walls in a typical `gothic' house, built by

pixel-bricks into an autobiographical

statement." They continue, mentioning a

site where you can get free software, and

then go on to say: "Art is on the net as

well, or at least art people are, smearing

their stone-age make-up on the electronic

surface. It is interesting insofar as you

still have the chance to meet artist's

works." They recommend Adaweb and Tractor,

but not ArtNet; and the pages for  Artforum,

and Frieze. They say that "We like this

gallery presence on the Net. Somebody has

offered the gallerists a page, for free or

for a charge, and there you find many

jammed all together like in the magazines.

Each one likes the other, they make their

own interactive neighborhoods and are

encouraged by all the mutual respect." At

the end of the article they say "magazines

are still faster. But the Net is New! It

highlights! The printed pages of magazines

know not how to highlight."

Also in the news section is the weirdest

thing in this month's Flash Art: three

letters, one from the editors of the French

art magazine Purple Prose and a group of

Swedish artists, another from a Russian

curator named Viktor Misiano, and a third

from the publisher of Flash Art, Giancarlo

Politi. The letters concern an incident at

the opening of a show curated by Viktor

Misiano in Stockholm: one of the artists in

the show, a Russian named Brener, did a

performance in which he destroyed a hair

sculpture made by another artist in the

show named Wenda Gu. [see last month's

"Magazine Rack"--Art in America]. The letter

from the Purple Prose people and the

Swedish artists condemns the destruction of

the hair sculpture and accuses Misiano of

"using theory to legitimize a new form of

totalitarian ideology. His discourse plays

with and uses the discourse of art,

although it has nothing to do with art

theory, but with hooliganism and skinhead

ideology." In a response to the first

letter, written at the invitation of Flash

Art, Viktor Misiano defends the destruction

of the hair sculpture, saying that the

dialogue of western Europeans with his

countrymen "has always been unequal, based

on help, sympathy and correctness," and

warns that "there are real fascists in

Russia and...if they come to power we will

be far from exchanging open letters."

Giancarlo Politi takes the side of the

Russians and begins his letter with: "Art

is emerging from its habitual context, but

Olivier Zahm & Co. (authors of the first

letter) appear not to have noticed. They

are erecting stockades to prevent the

horses from bolting, and searching for a

redefinition of art according to their own

paradigm. Upstart commissars of the people,

or Robespierre in shorts, these young

marshals are dreaming of new wars hot or

cold." Whatever.

A Kcho sculpture of a boat is on the cover

of Flash Art. Inside there is a five-page

interview with the 25-year-old Cuban artist

by the magazine's news editor, Jen Budney.

Budney asks him, "Isn't your work in part

about a deluded socialist utopia? What will

happen when this deluded utopia turns into

a capitalistic reality?" To which Kcho

replies: "It is not about that so it is not

going to matter." Then Budney says "What

I'm getting at is a comparison with the

state of Russian art, which was more or

less devastated by the "freedom" of

perestroika...the artists there began

making work which merely reflected the

bitterness of their capitalist dream come

true. Is this a risk which Cuban artists

are running?" Kcho: "Well, what I want to

know is, what's going to happen to American

art when there isn't anymore AIDS, or when

the consumer lifestyle collapses, or when

there's not the same kind of necessity to

be angry about gender politics--when

artists don't need to deal with gender-

bending or androgny because it is no longer

an issue?"

On page 98, there is a four-page article by

Robert Thill about Marcel Broodthaers's

Section Publicite du Musee d'Art Moderne,

Department des Aigles. Broodthaers's widow

allowed the work, made in 1972 for

Documenta 5, to be reinstalled for the

first time since the artist's death in

1976. Broodthaers, a Belgian and arguably

the first Institutional Critique artist,

spent four years near the end of his life

working on a fictional Museum of Eagles,

of which the Publicity Section was the

final phase. Thill says that the eagle

museum project consists of "objects of

every imaginable type, including painting,

packaging design and taxidermy, that were

borrowed from international galleries,

museums and private collections. Each

object featured an image of an eagle in its

design." Broodthaers organized the objects

haphazardly and without regard to ordinary

museological practice. In the Publicity

Section, Broodthaers exhibited printed

reproductions, documentation from lending

institutions, and photographs of his

installation. Thill says that "Through

emphasis on reproduction...the continuative

aspect of this project...was an accurate

allegory of a work of art inevitably

becoming an advertisement for itself,

thereby publicizing the artist, the gallery

or the museum."

The first article in Artforum, on page 11,

is a vicious pan by Jeff Weinstein of the I

Shot Andy Warhol movie. He says that the

film's portrayal of the Factory "goes on

and on without a shred of wit or acid

reflexiveness" and that "even Paul

Morrissey could make a better one." The

second article, on page 13, is a review by

Bruce Hainley of two Velvet Underground

books, a Velvet Underground box-set and the

Nico Icon movie, which he says is really

good: "Nico's talent was to illuminate the

maelstrom within stillness and absence. She

confirmed the aristocracy of being bad:

nearing a customs check, Nico would be

putting heroin up her ass." On the next

page there is a paragraph about Nusrat

Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani singer whose

songs, Joel Segel points out, are used by

Hollywood producers to haunting effect for

death scenes; the crucifixion of Willem

Dafoe in Last Temptation of Christ, and

Sean Penn's execution in Dead Man Walking.

On page 17 is the same ad that was in Art

in America for Mary Boone's Ross Bleckner

show, with a photo of the exterior of her

new (Art Deco) building on Fifth Avenue.

On page 25, there is a piece by Brian 

D'Amato called "Game Show," which is

nominally about the Abstraction in the 20th

Century exhibition at the Guggenheim, but

actually about "abstract" computer games

like Tetris, Tempest and Endorfun. D'Amato

thinks that the games look like Mel Bochner

paintings. He says of the Guggenheim show,

"by the top of the spiral, the

nonrepresentational strategies

deployed...begin to feel as exhausted as

your legs," and ends his article with:

"what work carries abstraction's torch

further up the [Guggenheim's] ramp? Video

stress-relievers may be the best hope out

there." Facing this, on page 27, is an

advertisement for a Willem de Kooning

sculpture show at Matthew Marks' gallery on

West 22nd Street. The ad is a photograph of

a giant bronze in a outdoor setting. This

writer heard gossip to the effect that the

sculptures were fabricated by scaling-up

palm-size clay bits formed by the aged

painter himself. We do not think this is

true, however. On page 30, DJ Spooky is

listed in an ad for a show called

"evolution of an image" at the State

Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

On page 65, the artists Liz and Val have a

quarter page ad for themselves. It has five

little drawings of faces that look like

they are painted with a Q-tip. The drawing

was made on top of an announcement for an

art show--maybe an ad in Artforum? The

original ad is totally obscured by the

drawing; all that I can make out is "essays

by Jan Avjikos and Ronald Jones."

Then there is a four-page article by Jan

Avjikos on page 75 about the video

installation artist Diana Thater, whose

work is on the cover. The article begins,

"It's easy to feel abandoned if not

somewhat put off by Diana Thater's video

installations, to be left, that is, with

the uncomfortable feeling of having missed

the point." Avjikos says that "Thater's

work is unarguably aligned with the tenets

of structural film--the emphasis on real

time, the mixture of abstraction and

representation, and the interest in the

perceptual avenues opened up by cinematic


On page 85 is a two-page story by Ralph

Rugoff about a show curated by Jeffrey

Vallance at a pewter clown statuette

factory near Las Vegas called Ron Lee's

World of Clowns, one of a series of

exhibitions curated by Vallance in the Las

Vegas area at locations like the Liberace

Museum, the Magic and Movie Hall of Fame,

and the Debbie Reynolds Casino-Museum. The

exhibitions, which usually only last for a

weekend, have included the artwork of

Vallance, Jim Shaw, Terry Allen, the Rev.

and Mrs. Ethan Acres and Renee Petropolous,

among others. Rugoff says of the shows that

"Busloads of unsuspecting tourists visit,

but few travelers from the art world. Las

Vegas, after all, doesn't occupy much of a

place on the contemporary - art map. But one

of the "morals" of Vallance's adventures in

curating is that art can exist outside the

normal channels and existing frequencies.

Indeed, with their inspiring certainty, his

exhibitions lead you to wonder how art can

survive anywhere else."

On page 87 is another article about the

Broodthaers show at Marian Goodman, this

one by George Baker. He quotes a

Broodthaers text that was part of the

"Section Publicité" installation at the

gallery: "To the extent that art had

entered the realm of advertising and the

media, determining the techniques of its

images and its messages, advertising and

the media had entered the work of art,

circumscribing the latter's incessant

mediation through catalogues, exhibition

announcements and the rise of glossy art

magazines. Under these circumstances, can

we still think of culture as having any

importance? In my opinion all the more so,

when it succeeds to incorporate within its

own frame of reference a theory that

enables you to defend yourself against the

images and the texts that are circulated by

the media and by publicity that determine

our rules of conduct and our ideology."

At the end of his piece Baker reproaches

contemporary artists, particularly those

whose work, "so nonsensically, so

uncomfortably, but so perfectly [is]

grouped under the label `neo-Conceptual

art'." "Just as Conceptual art loosened the

shackles of traditional artistic forms only

to feel empowered to rise to ever higher

artistic glories, proclaiming itself

transcendent over the older contradictions

that had plagued the esthetic project,"

Baker writes, "so too has much recent

practice dissolved traditional artistic

forms only to openly recuperate fixed

meanings, reactionary concepts of

unremediated beauty, and esthetic aura." He

names four young artists who he says are

taking up the legacy of visual pedagogy:

Mark Dion, Christian Philipp Müller, Andrea

Fraser and Renee Green. He says that their

projects "share a concern with preserving

the critical potential of the institutional

spaces of art--they seek to retain the

capability of museums and galleries to

transmit information and promote

pedagogical projects."

Frieze has an article on page 32 by David

A. Greene called "Who's Who?" promoting

anonymity in the art world. His first

example is Duchamp's urinal sculpture, and

his second the Guerrilla Girls. He says

that "visual art is notorious among

intellectual and creative disciplines as a

place where, frequently, the more

successful and established an artist

becomes, the worse his or her art gets.

Quick--name an artist you think deserves a

lifetime achievement award." And he draws

from this the conclusion that "anonymity in

art should be the vigorous pursuit of those

popular and comfortable artists who have

reached a plateau of success...constancy as

a virtue in art is a self-perpetuating and

self-defeating myth." He also says that

while in America being anonymous is the

"purview of criminals and cowards" and that

"full disclosure is encouraged as a

national virtue" it is still acceptable in

other creative fields, like writing or

music, to work under a pseudonym "as a way

of trying out new or different material."

He writes that for visual artists "to

tenaciously cling to a salable style is

understandable," and then continues, "but

if art is going to continue to bill itself

as something intellectually and ethically

superior to other forms of popular culture,

it should start acting like it."

There is a two-page article by Mark Sladen

on page 50 about a photo-essay book by a

young photographer named Richard Billingham

called "Ray's a Laugh." The project is a

documentary of his father, Ray, who is an

alcoholic. Accompanied by a reproduction of

a color photo of Ray with a bottle of

booze, where it looks like he is falling

off a chair, the article says that the

photos "teem with emotional chaos and

physical squalor."

On page 52 is an article called "Survival

Kit; Stuart Morgan Visits the Chris Burden

Retrospective at the MAK, Vienna." Morgan

has to explain why Burden's large,

expensive `80s sculptures are as important

as his `70s performance work. The page

facing the beginning of the article is a

black-and-white photo of Burden holding two

live electrical wires to his bare chest,

sparks shooting everywhere. Morgan starts

the article by describing a dozen of

Burden's early performances, from being

shot in the arm to being nailed to the top

of a Volkswagen, from living in a tiny

locker for five days without food to lying

under a tarpaulin on a freeway. After

describing the performances, Morgan tries

to connect them to the later work in the

retrospective, saying that Burden's project

has evolved from re-examinations of the

possibilities of the individual into

depictions of "civilization at the end of

it's tether." Morgan talks about later

works like Pizza City (1991), toys and

model buildings from railroad sets arranged

on 20 wedge-shaped tables, and Medusa's

Head (1990), "a rough sphere 14 feet in

diameter, made of rocks, concrete, steel,

and covered with model trains, a glimpse of

dystopia as petrifying as Medusa's gaze

itself." Morgan also describes All the

Submarines of the United States of America

(1987), which is made from hundreds of

models of submarines, and Tower of Power

(1985), which is $1 million worth of (fake)

gold surrounded by tiny stick figures

looking at it. He says that "in retrospect,

it seems, [Burden's] performances were not

only rehearsals for the worst that is yet

to come but also a recipe for coping with

any eventuality...patience, meditation, or

simply the ability to endure will be

crucial, while first-hand experience of

starvation and torture may certainly prove


Patterson Beckwith is an artist who lives

and works in New York.