Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

Summer 1996

 Cover of 
Summer 1996

 Cover of 
Art in America
Summer 1996

the magazine rack 

by Patterson Beckwith 

summer 1996



Art in America

On page 34 of the Summer 1996 issue of 

Frieze, the London-based art magazine, 

there is an article by Susan Hapgood about 

two recent exhibitions of multiples, "Some 

Things Brought to Mind: the Multiples of 

Lawrence Weiner" and "Editions (Or, works 

and related articles, things, props, which 

are multiplied): The Past Ten Years," which 

was a show of multiples by Joseph Kosuth. 

Hapgood talks about the favorite typefaces 

of the two famous conceptual artists: "The 

color scheme in Kosuth's show, 

white, gray, and silver, complementing his 

use of elegant serif typefaces, most often 

Garamond and Bodoni. Both typefaces are 

considered classics, and are derived from 

Roman letters: Garamond was the standard 

European type of the 16th century, and 

Bodoni was introduced in the late 18th 

century. When combined with the often 

lengthy philosophical texts in Kosuth's 

art, the serif typefaces conjure up 

scholarly locales, intellectual rigor and 

library stacks lined with books." Hapgood 

says that Weiner's lettering looks like a 

stencil: "Utilitarian simplicity 

characterizes the standard typeface of 

Weiner's choice, Franklin Gothic Extra 

Condensed, invented by an American in 

1903...stencils may be a nostalgic hangover 

from the places he worked during the late 

`50s--in the engine room of a tanker, on 

the docks and on railroad cars--and perhaps 

also owe something to the art of Jasper 


Hapgood interviewed both artists, asking 

them about the connotations of their chosen 

typefaces: "In conversation with the 

author, both artists protested vehemently 

when adjectives that carry uncomfortable 

ideological weight were used to describe the 

appearance of their work--for Kosuth, the 

word is 'academic' for Weiner, 

'proletarian.' They both decried these 

labels as oversimplified and ultimately 

meaningless in the present cultural 

context, warning repeatedly that focusing 

on form is not the way to perceive their 

art." Hapgood ends by making her point, 

"That an artist's esthetic eventually turns 

up, despite efforts to neutralize or thwart 

it, and that it effects the understanding, 

however nonvisual that understanding may 

ultimately be." She adds, "to ignore 

conceptual art's visual attributes, so 

amply evident at this point in history, 

seems like willful myopia."

On page 41, David Deitcher has an article 

called "Death and the Marketplace," where 

he describes "misgivings that for some time 

have overtaken me when encountering death 

in the marketplace for art." "If [artists] 

exhibit work that they have dedicated to 

someone who is ill or has died, then 

conflicted thoughts and feelings crowd the 

viewer's mind. Does the work embody a 

profound engagement with the individual to 

whom it is dedicated? Does it depart in any 

significant way from whatever the artist 

would otherwise be doing? To what extent 

does the dedication bathe the artist in a 

righteous, narcissistic, glow as he or she 

grapples with loss? Not too long ago," 

Deitcher continues, "Julian Schnabel 

exhibited a series of very large paintings 

dedicated to his studio assistant, Paolo 

Malfi. Expressionistic renderings of 

Adieu or Il Conversion di San Paolo 

Malfi, served as the most prominent 

element in these otherwise abstract works. 

Turning grief into a motif, Schnabel made 

it impossible for the viewer to determine 

whether the untimely death of his friend in 

a motorcycle mishap in Rome was the tragic 

inspiration or the clincher the artist 

needed to lend a note of gravity to these 

sunny decorations."

Deitcher admits that "Schnabel has always 

been an easy target," but says that he 

represents good example of "the 

predisposition of the market economy to 

embrace death." He writes about Nan Goldin, 

identifying a "bohemian glamour" in her 

photographs: "it is evident that Bohemia 

still functions as an indispensable trope, 

helping the market culture to sell its 

wares. And within that stereotypically 

colorful and incendiary romance, death 

still plays a part--establishing the 

ultimate in tragic realness." He says that 

Goldin's work used to be unassuming, 

"modestly scaled and barely framed, or [it] 

appeared as projections." But that "now 

that so many of the individuals Goldin 

pictured have passed away, it is upsetting 

to see their images recycled as large-scale 

Cibachromes." He talks about ACT UP, and 

the '80s-activist argument that, in the 

midst of the AIDS crisis, "gallery art that 

addressed AIDS, death and loss, art that 

relied upon the more private resources of 

individual reflection, art that 

memorialized, that lamented, that described 

pain instead of promising empowerment, are 

ill-affordable luxuries [which] could 

supply liberal viewers with the effortless 

'out' of distanced empathy. Deitcher says 

that "ACT UP still exists, but only as a 

vestige of its former self. Loss of life 

within the coalition has been staggering."

Noting that the "lucid, empowering graphics 

that accompanied [their] demonstrations...

could most recently be found gracing the 

walls in historical exhibitions such as Exit 

Art's 'Counterculture,' and the Drawing 

Center's 'Cultural Economies'." Deitcher ends 

his article saying that everyone should 

"keep in mind the disfiguring effects of the 

market economy as it encourages cultural 

practitioners to equate success with 

profit, and profit with exploitation not 

just of the living, but of the dead."

On page 47, there is an article by James 

Roberts about the Walt Disney movie Toy 

Story, which is the "first entirely 

computer-generated animated feature film."

Roberts introduces the movie, and the 

technology that produced it, as "in many 

ways an extension and encapsulation of a 

program of research that began with 15th-

century studies in light and perspective,"

saying that fine artists have largely 

abandoned the project of describing the 

seen world to photographers. "Now, at the 

end of the 20th century, the analysis of 

optical reality is largely the domain of 

software engineers and scientists involved 

in computer-generated imagery." He says 

that the rendering techniques are the 

result of the development of capitalism: 

that the "techniques used in the 

digitization and analogue reconstruction of 

audio and visual material today stem from 

the digital signal processing theory so 

vital to the 20th century's greatest 

commodity: communications. When Western 

visual art has come closest to optical 

verisimilitude--in Renaissance Italy, the 

15th-17th century in the Netherlands, in 

the 19th-century Britain of the Pre-

Raphaelites--it has been at moments when 

these countries reached their mercantile 


A chapter from a Camus novel called Tricks 

begins on page 52, accompanied by 

photographs by six different artists. 

Introduced by Bruce Hainley as kind of "an 

amazing fuck journal," each chapter is an 

account of a sexual interaction with a 

different man, titled with his name and the 

date of their encounter and ending with an 

afterword describing what kind of 

relationship, if any, Camus continues to 

have with him. In the chapter reproduced in 

Frieze, Camus notes at the end, "This trick 

may not be a trick...that is, to constitute 

a trick, someone must come."

On page 58, Glenn O'Brien has a two-page 

review of the work of the video artist Alex 

Bag called "Who's That Girl". He begins the 

article by saying" Alex Bag, my favorite 

new young vixen gamine ingenue artist, 

(sorry) is a monologist." It is not clear 

who he is apologizing to, but O'Brien seems 

to really like Bag's work, describing her 

as "the Cindy Sherman of shtick, or a 

rarefied Carol Burnett." He thinks her work 

("really funny videotapes of herself 

talking, playing a wide variety of amusing, 

highly detailed characters, all shot in 

splendid low-tech style") is good enough 

for her to be able to "do one-person shows 

in off-Broadway theaters and act in Oliver 

Stone movies and make CDs...she seems like 

she has more than what it takes to be a big 

star in major-league satire, if she wants 

to." O'Brien reminds us that, "Hey, once 

you're successful you're not a performance 

artist anymore, you're an entertainer, you 

know." The potential for Bag's work to be 

consumed by a non-art audience is well 

articulated in the article; O'Brien sees 

the art world (read: counterculture) as a 

springboard into mainstream culture, and 

reading Bag's work as if it were already on 

TV, he says that she is a "perfectionist 

satirist. Her characters are drawn with 

perfect language, perfect intonation... and make-up."O'Brien says 

that "now that the art world has 

downsized and is no longer an arena for 

wildly profitable spec buys, publicity 

fiestas or covert real estate gambits, it 

seems like it's going to become a great 

showplace for doomed or emerging or fringe 

or binless, categoryless and otherwise 

venueless cultural practices. The charm of 

the art world now is that while everything 

else in the, uh, lively arts--film, music, 

literature, comedy, fashion, etc.--has 

become more rigidly defined, staked out, 

categorized and organized by the forces of 

ultramodern marketing (see Alternative 

Music), art has become even more 


This month's Artforum, the summer issue, 

has an ad on page 8 for Metro Pictures, 

Matthew Marks and Barbara Gladstone. It 

announces their new location on West 24th 

street. Your present correspondent is in 

heaven because, on page 17, Mark Van De 

Walle's column about the World Wide Web, 

Hot List, mentions "Magazine Rack". He says 

that ArtNet Magazine "actually has most of 

the things you expect from an art magazine, 

along with some things you might even want 

(like a horoscope, and reviews of other 

magazines--they actually mentioned this 

column)." He also says that this magazine 

is "built for speed" and that "Walter 

Robinson, who used to run Art in America's 

news section, is the editor, so there's 

actually some content."

On page 40, there is an article by Jon 

Savage about pirate radio in London, called 

"Concrete Jungle." He writes about a 

station called Pressure FM, which plays 

jungle music, "with its layer upon layer of 

pitch-bent sound, its insistence on the 

pleasures and possibilities of technology." 

He says that the station is "a child of 

rave culture" and that "the Pressure FM 

crew sound impossibly, deliriously alive. 

They reaffirm the metropolis as Techno 

City." Savage ends his piece by writing 

about what political message a radio 

station that is neither the BBC nor a major 

commercial interest has. "They provide the 

perfect antidote to the historical 

fantasies pumped out by the mainstream. 

This, not Britpop with its whitebread '60s 

fetish, is the sound rockin' London town."
On page 72 there is a two-page ad for the 

new SoHo Grand Hotel. The first page of the 

ad is devoted to the SoHo Arts Festival, "A 

celebration of the new art season," which 

will take place at the beginning of 

September. The second page of the ad is 

for the mega-hotel, which is on West 

Broadway. The ad for the hotel has a 

picture of some really old-looking cast-

iron SoHo stairs (which aren't part of the 

hotel) and says that the hotel will be open 

in August.

On page 78, there is an interview by Rikrit 

Tiravanija with the Swiss artists Fischli 

and Weiss. The article also includes three 

sidebars about the artists, by Robert 

Storr, Peter Schjeldahl and Bruce Hainley. 

The interview is cute; Tiravanija met with 

the artists in Zurich while they were 

preparing for their show at the Walker Art 

Center. They talk about their piece for 

last year's Venice Biennial, which Fischli 

explains as "an encyclopedia of personal 

interest. We just filmed things we thought 

we would like to go and see." This newest 

project of theirs was presented in Venice 

running simultaneously on 12 monitors, and 

consisted of videos of car trips, a dentist 

visit, someone making cheese, men cleaning 

a sewer, and animals. Weiss says, "when you 

go around with the video camera you know 

exactly how much time you spend with 

something, and how long you are 


The cover of the magazine has a picture of 

their handmade plastic reproductions of 

objects found in the storerooms of 

Sonnabend Gallery, which Bruce Hainley 

describes in his sidebar: "Coffee cups, 

small buckets, janitorial supplies, 

installation gear, sponges: odds and ends 

of various processes. Stuff...Fischli and 

Weiss' things copy things in the world, but 

they are things in the world too. Their 

objects are no more interesting than the 

things they mimic, but what is really 

fascinating is that they are no less 

interesting either...their copies return 

attention to the things themselves, that 

is, the work of Fischli and Weiss." At one 

point in the interview Tiravanija asks 

about these sculptures and Weiss says, "For 

me the main focus of the objects is that 

you 'see something' that you also know is 

not there. Of course it is there, but the 

chair is not a chair, the table is not a 

table. Or it's not there as what we usually 

know about these objects. You can't use 

them, because their functions are lost."

Fischli adds: "It is just the surface of 

these things that you make believe is 


In his sidebar, Peter Schjeldahl writes 

about the different reception that their 

collaboration gets from the art audience, 

saying that they have "a status that is 

uniquely available to artist duos: Komar 

and Melamid, McDermott and McGough, William 

Wegman and Man Ray. The members of an 

artist pair project an emotional repletion, 

from being apparently sufficient to each 

other, that no individual (except the 

certifiably bonkers outsider artist) could 

command. Tacitly lonesome and needy, the 

individual artist seeks consummation our 

response. This may arouse anxiety and 

resentment, as in any case where someone 

confronts us with a proposed relationship, 

[but] a two-artist team offers itself as an 

already consummated tiny community that 

does not reach out but, rather, invites us 

in. By agreeing to its predilections, we 

get a carefree sense of belonging."

On page 96, there is a four-page article by 

Jeff Weinstein about the sculptures of 

Charles LeDray called Tender Buttons. 

Weinstein writes about the "noise" of 

everyday objects, meaning, it seems, the 

distraction that the connotations of 

fabrication, use, and reuse cause for the 

viewer of representational art. "Clothing, 

even clothing with quotes around it, is 

risky to employ as an art ingredient 

because it is among the 'noisiest' of 

object categories: immediately and 

universally recognizable yet culturally and 

personally specific, reverberating with 

centuries of connotation and cliché."

Writing that "LeDray's strategies of 

'silencing' the common noise of what he 

represents are a good measure of his art."

Weinstein says that LeDray "dampens the din 

of usefulness" by making all of his objects 

himself. He began his career sewing doll 

clothes and teddy bears, and more recently 

he has been throwing and glazing thousands 

of tiny porcelain pots. Weinstein says that 

the pots, which were part of a sculpture 

called Milk and Honey, are a "statement of 

achievement, of placement in the world of 

creative history." The 2,000 inch-high 

vessels were placed on shelves in a wooden 

vitrine, "no two exactly alike, Korean 

teapot to Carolina dirt dish, to George Ohr 

to Betty Woodman...celebrating the long and 

happy marriage of utility to art."

Weinstein talked to LeDray about his work: 

"In an interview, the artist acknowledged 

another possible reading, the therapeutic 

power of handiwork, and he did not deny 

that his difficult, abused childhood might 

call for what is commonly termed 'healing.' 

His core understanding of his work, 

however, corresponds to that of a precious 

few other workers, hurt or not, artist or 

not: work is LeDray's life...this blunt 

belief in the humanity of work [is] a 

textbook affirmation of the survival of 

unalienated labor."

On page 35 of the June issue of Art in 

America, there is a three-page article by 

Eleanor Heartney about two recent shows at 

non-profit art institutions in New York, 

one at Exit Art and another at the Drawing 

Center. The Exit Art show was a history of 

underground magazines and newspapers called 

"Counterculture: Alternative Information 

from the Underground Press to the 

Internet." The show was curated by Brian 

Wallis, a contributing editor at Art in 

America. Heartney describes the show: "Over 

2,000 pieces of printed matter preserved 

the scruffy, ephemeral quality of the 

alternative press. Publications and posters 

covered all available walls and spilled 

into numerous vitrines and tables. They 

were grouped according to political cause 

or position and arranged in a roughly 

chronological order." She says that while 

the show was "dauntingly text intensive" it 

offered a "fascinating story in which the 

rhetoric of revolution was transformed into 

the advocacy of specific causes." Heartney 

says that the artifacts from the '60s and 

early '70s were "permeated with calls for 

strikes and Marxist revolution," but that 

by the mid-'70's the publications were 

"celebrating anarchy and various 

antiauthoritarian impulses, and more 

focused, specialized struggles...feminism, 

gay liberation and environmental awareness, 

culminating in the AIDS activism of today."

Heartney writes that this "retreat from 

calls for general revolution in favor of 

more specific, group-identified objectives 

suggests a growing realism about the 

possibilities of activism," but that "it 

may also have encouraged the substitution 

of identity politics for economic analysis 

among politically active artists." Heartney 

seems depressed about the prospects for the 

'90s, asking, "Is the ultimate legacy of 

the counterculture simply the creation of a 

multibillion-dollar youth market?" The show 

ends with some material about the Internet, 

which Heartney does not describe. "This 

survey of alternative media ends with the 

Internet as the '90s version of the 

alternative publication. From one point of 

view, there seems to be a parallel between 

the wide-ranging countercultures spawned in 

the '60s and the proliferation of 

subcultures and specialized interest groups 

in cyberspace. However, in other ways the 

Internet represents the antithesis of the 

impulses behind many countercultural 

publications. The world-wide network of 

computers and modems is available only to 

those with the means to purchase the 

necessary equipment, and thus threatens to 

create a new class divide, between techno 

haves and have-nots. In contrast to the 

strategies of '60s political activists, the 

Internet emphasizes the isolated individual 

over collective activities, and its 

marketing potential threatens to overwhelm 

its slight claims as an instrument of 


The show at the Drawing Center, "Cultural 

Economies: Histories from the Alternative 

Arts Movement, NYC," was curated by Julie 

Ault, a founding member of the 

collaborative called Group Material. 

Heartney says, "In a manner familiar from 

installations by Group Material, Ault 

combined works of art, photographic 

documentation and newspaper and magazine 

clips" so that "visitors could wend their 

way through the politically conscious 

landscape of the early 1980s." The show, 

which Heartney says was "easier on the 

eyes than Counterculture," included 

artwork by John Ahearn, Tim Rollins and 

KOS, Martha Rosler, Group Material, the 

Guerrilla Girls and Gran Fury, along with 

documentation of Fashion Moda, ABC No Rio

and the Artworkers Coalition, whose 1970 

effort to persuade Pablo Picasso to remove 

Guernica from the Museum of Modern Art as a 

protest against the war in Vietnam was 

documented in the exhibition. There was a 

panel discussion conducted during the show, 

and Heartney writes that "Ault observed 

that audiences of younger artists seem to 

feel remote from the activism of the '70s 

and '80s." During the same discussion, Steve 

Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art 

Ensemble, noted that even the term 

"'community' has become institutionalized in 

the '90s, actually transformed into a 

category on grant forms."

On page 52 of Art in America, there is the 

same two-page ad that was in Artforum for 

the new SoHo Grand Hotel.

On page 68, there is an article by Richard 

Kalina about three NYC shows of the 

fluorescent light art of Dan Flavin. Kalina 

thinks that the emotional, "spiritual or 

transcendent" aspects of Flavin's work have 

been too long overlooked. He describes 

Flavin as a "classical Minimalist," whose 

"approach to material is straightforward," 

but asks, "Are the similarities to Newman's 

zips or Rothko's floods of suffused color 

purely coincidental?" Kalina answers 

himself: "The very nature of Flavin's 

artistic approach ensures he can have it 

both ways." Kalina writes glowingly of the 

work in the installations (one 

retrospective at the Guggenheim, another at 

Dia, and the third at Flavin's gallery, 

Pace), saying that "classic Minimalism 

depends upon, and in a sense embodies a 

built-in rigidity...implicit in this 

esthetic is a desire for control that has 

led most Minimalist artists to keep strict 

rein on their work's formal variables." 

Kalina says that "Dan Flavin's work is in 

many ways paradigmatic. While remaining 

true to its principles, it has continued to 

grow in complexity." 

On page 74, there is an eight-page article 

by Jill Johnston about an outdoor sculpture 

project by Jean Tinguely called Le Cyclop. 

Described as a "life project" of the 

artist, the cyclops is a 75-foot-high 

sculpture of a head installed in a wooded 

area outside Paris. Tinguely worked on the 

piece from 1969 until his death in 1991. He 

collaborated with his wife, Niki de Saint-

Phalle, and 15 other artists, to make a 

kind of museum with installations inside 

and around the head. The face of the 

cyclops is a mirrored mosaic by Saint-

Phalle, and inside there are stairways, 

mezzanines, terraces and balconies with 

works by the 15 other artists, including 

Larry Rivers and Jean-Pierre Raynaud.

On page 82, there is a piece by Robert 

Simon called "Message in a Bottle" about a 

photographic project by Alan Sekula called 

Fish Story. The project, which was produced 

both as a book and as an exhibition with 

over a hundred large color photographs, 26 

text panels and two slide shows, is the 

result of the artist's six-year-long 

investigation of international maritime 

trade. The article begins with a quote from 

one of the text panels, which were written 

by the artist: "Most sea stories are 

allegories of authority. In this sense 

alone, politics are never far away." The 

photographs were taken on board fishing 

boats and large container cargo ships, and 

on docks, fish markets and shipyards. Simon 

says that "Sekula questions, at least 

implicitly, the prospects for critical art-

making at the end of the 20th century. The 

most influential adversarial American art 

of recent years has typically been directed 

to the problematics of identity politics 

(race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality), or 

the commodification of images, or the 

institutions and presentational modes of 

art itself. Sekula's abiding concern, on 

the other hand, remains with class, 

capital, and labor. 

"Fish Story" asserts the continuing 

significance of the tools of a traditional 

leftist and materialist analysis in the 

cultural field--despite the fact that such 

a perspective has never had great purchase 

on late 20th-century American avant-gardist 

art." The 26 wall texts appear in the Fish 

Story book as a continuous log-essay called 

"Dismal Science," which Simon describes as 

the story of "the worldwide transformation 

of seaports, maritime military and economic 

enterprise, and ocean-related labor from 

the 17th to the 20th century. As his 

commentary traverses examples taken from 

painting, film, photography, literature, 

politics and naval history, we follow an 

uneven ebb and flow of capital, shipboard 

mutinies and visual mediums." Simon also 

says that it seems like the villain of the 

essay is the container cargo ship--"Vehicle 

of displaced labor...for Sekula, the 

metaphoric antithesis of the ship filled 

with rebellious sailors, of which 

Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin provides a 

famous model."

On page 86, there is a six-page article by 

Nancy Princenthal about the German sculptor 

Stephan Balkenhol. Princenthal cites some 

artists as progenitors for Balkenhol's 

carved wooden statues of clothed people and 

animals, naming Baselitz, for his 

expressionistic wood carving, Nauman and 

Charles Ray "for their punning figuration" 

and the German artists Katharina Fritsch 

and Thomas Schutte. Of the last two, she 

says, "both are far more engaged than 

Balkenhol in cultural critique. Schutte, in 

fact, finds Balkenhol's work so willfully 

detached from social reality that he has 

dismissed it as religious." 

On page 92 is the cover story, a short 

essay by Holland Cotter about the latest 

show by the video installation artist Tony 

Oursler at Metro Pictures. Underneath the 

title of the essay, an editor wrote: 

"Widely known for his lifelike video 

projections on cloth dummies, Tony Oursler 

recently showed a new body of work that 

explores the dynamics of perception through 

close-up scrutiny of the human eyeball." 

For his second show at Metro Pictures, 

Oursler had 13 little LCD video projectors 

on tripods projecting videos of eyeballs 

onto white plastic balls. He videotaped the 

eyes of some artist friends of his (Gary 

Simmons, Constance DeJong, Kristin Lucas 

and Kiki Smith, among others) watching 

different things on TV, and the videos are 

supposed to show the eye-activity of the 

viewers. Cotter says that "Kristin Lucas'

glance skitters around frenetically as she 

follows the Atari game in front of her."

For her performance, Kiki Smith watched a 

Sonic Youth video, and Gary Simmons was 

channel surfing. Cotter writes that "as 

part of a generation of artists that grew 

up on a steady diet of television, Oursler 

is keenly aware of the way that medium 

shapes our perception of the world. The 

eyes in his installations are anxious or 

dull or entranced, but in almost every case 

the stimulant they're reacting to is 

artificial." Cotter continues, saying, "The 

new works find Oursler moving into riskier 

terrain," and that "Oursler's pieces are 

little morality tales of postmodern life, 

emblems of control and complacency. They 

turn the ubiquitous 'gaze' of recent art 

theory into a hapless set of Pavlovian 

tics. They suggest a culture of 

fragmentation without getting heavy-


Patterson Beckwith is an artist who lives

and works in New York.