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Toland Grinnell
Gateway to Eternity
1996



















Toland Grinnell
Booty: The Island
1995



















Cathy de Monchaux
Blamy Rusty Wounds
1996



















Jocelyn Taylor
Alien at Rest
1996



















Jocelyn Taylor
Alien at Rest
1996



















Mariko Mori
Birth of a Star, 1995 



















Nari Ward
Happy Smilers:
Duty Free Shopping
1996 



















 Cheryl Donegan
Tent (Part 1)
video, 60 min, 1995 



















Damien Hirst
Cut up pig, 1996 


out of the 
debris field 

by Robert Mahoney 


A certain drift has infected the passage of 

time within the art world in the 1990s. 

Time is less defined by movements or 

trends: there are fewer milestone 

exhibitions: you often find yourself 

thinking back to an exhibition and not 

being able to remember if it was staged in 

1995, `91 or `94. This drift is an aspect 

of the five-year-old art-world crash of 

which, while the Sturm und Drang is over, 

the littered remains lie thick upon the 

ground. The concept of "the art season" has 

become fuzzy as well: where once we had 

"culture" (actively percolating ideas, 

flowing out over the calendar, obscuring 

the seasons) now is little more than a 

seasonal ritual, observed with empty 

rounds. And as for something so routine as 

the Whitney Biennial, which it horrifies me 

to realize is yet again upon us next 

spring, it comes way too soon: nothing much 

has happened in the past two years, at 

least not in American art. The museum 

should adjust to a slower pace of change 

and hold its trademark contemporary survey 

every three or even four years. 	


Still, I continue to run through the 

seasons, even the weak seasons, hoping to 

find movement to new ideas and new times. 

Having never, as a younger sibling of the 

Baby Boom caught in the Baby Boom's shadow, 

attached myself enough to the movement of 

the moment, whatever moment that was--Video 

Art, Performance, Po-Mo, Neo-Geo, Neo-

Expressionism--one part of me (no doubt the 

immature part of me) continues to search 

for the Messiah of a "moment." In these 

fallow times, I keep looking for art that 

captures all the strains and stresses and 

thrills and spills--the peace and the war--

of contemporary life. As someone who does 

look, I often feel like I am searching for 

something most others no longer seek out. 

Some reeducation in what a season is, what 

it means, what it takes to become 

memorable, is needed. This is what I 

thought I'd try here.


What makes a season? First of all, it 

requires contemporary contemporary art, or, 

to borrow a title from the name of a Los 

Angeles museum, temporary contemporary art, 

art not yet codified and set in place, that 

is, art on the cutting edge. This art is 

not always best picked out on a conscious 

level. In fact, it often comes at you 

backwards. 


Second, a season needs individual 

exhibitions in which it is quite clear, 

regardless of what you think of the work 

itself, that the artist gave 100 percent 

and more. Surprisingly, this kind of 

exhibition, perhaps thanks to the hedging 

approach of a bad marketplace, has been 

rare of late. The most distressing aspect 

of recent seasons was the unwise spectacle 

of artists giving it their ... 35 percent. 

To feel the energy of all-out effort: it's 

a bit like defending the Constitution of 

art: I don't care what the art is about, or 

what it says, but if it gives it 

everything, I will defend it. A good 

indicator of the presence of this energy is 

an occasion where you find yourself 

returning to an exhibition three times or 

more. In the 1995-96 season I returned 

three times to Toland Grinnell's "Booty" 

(Sept. 9-Oct. 15) at Basilico Fine Arts, 

Jocelyn Taylor's Alien at Rest (Feb. 1-24) 

at Deitch Projects, Cathy De Monchaux at 

Sean Kelly (Jan. 19-Mar. 2), Mariko Mori 

(also at Deitch, Apr. 11-27), the Can You 

Digit? extravaganza at Postmasters Gallery 

(Mar. 16-Apr. 13) and, finally, Alexia 

Leyva Machado or KCHO at Barbara Gladstone 

(Mar. 23-Apr. 20). 


Third, a season needs an energetic gallery-

-all it really needs is one--to make a mark 

by a sequence of at least three of five 

strong exhibitions in a row. Such a 

performance by a gallery leads one to 

expect more: it creates a profile of future 

potential. By the names mentioned above 

this season featured two new galleries by 

old pros, who really set the tone: Jeffrey 

Deitch and Sean Kelly. Deitch peaked with 

Mariko Mori (whom I wrote about for this 

journal previously) and even Nari Ward's 

installation Happy Smilers (Mar. 7-Apr. 6) 

was impressive. Kelly peaked with Cathy de 

Monchaux, but the Marina Abramovic show and 

others were also consistently excellent. Of 

established galleries, Holly Solomon had 

new life, trying out several young artists 

(Y.Z. Kami among others) with a daring that 

paid off (esthetically speaking). Of 

smaller galleries, Tanya Bonakdar seemed 

quite focused, but her somewhat quirky 

artists did not get quite the play they 

deserved (Peggy Preheim had to be the most 

overlooked exhibit of `95-96): also strong 

was Basilico Fine Arts (with the 

aforementioned Grinnell supported by fine 

exhibits by Cheryl Donegan and Brian Tolle) 

and Casey Kaplan, whose delicate esthetic 

featured a revival of Catherine Howe and 

Michael Jenkins. Overall, the strength of 

new "monied" galleries and the vibrancy of 

some daring professional start-ups (why do 

they do it!?) helped the art world (in 

spite of a recent New York Times article) 

slough off the patronizing self-defeating 

bad tape of praising non-, micro- or do-it-

yourself galleries. In adult life, if you 

can't make a living at it it's not a life. 

You're just playing. 
 

Fourth, a season cannot be an art season if 

it does not include some art, or some 

moment, where you do not know anyone in the 

room, everyone is very young, you feel 

quite old and out of it, and are swept away 

by the thought that a generation gap has 

opened up around you--that may never close. 

It's scary. You would think that after ten 

years you would know.....oh, why bother, 

curmudgeonliness is so easy. Critics 

respond either by being irritated, or by 

trying to build a bridge and jump on that 

bandwagon. This moment was exemplified, in 

the `95-96 season, with Jocelyn Taylor at 

Jeffrey Deitch (about which more below). 


Fifth, a season needs at least one media 

success de scandal that will take the art 

world out of the art world and force it to 

cross-breed with the world of popular 

culture and the world at large. At the edge 

of all these envelope-pushings lies the 

life of contemporary art. This one is a no 

brainer: in `95-96 it was Damien Hirst at 

Larry Gagosian (May). (But the art world 

still punishes the hypee: the funniest 

remark I heard all last season was, 

paraphrasing Clueless, someone explaining 

why he didn't go see the Ross Bleckner show 

up at Mary Boone, "He's so last season," 

referring no doubt to the tidal wave of PR 

in conjunction with his Guggenheim 

retrospective). 


All of these events in a season I term as 

progressive: that is, they contribute to 

movement in the idea-marketplace (if that 

ideational movement is matched by sales all 

the better--art history prudes may abhor 

the market but art today cannot move 

forward without a robust market and every 

critic ought to be involved in fostering 

and cultivating such movement, even if by 

criticizing the hell out of it); they 

involve the present, with an open-ended 

profile on the future; they suppose a hope 

that the best art is yet to come; they 

eschew generational politics or 

curmudgeonly attachment to the good old or 

great or golden days; they believe in art, 

even if that belief is expressed in an 

agnostic crisis, or if that belief is 

squeezed off, temporarily, from a grounding 

(given by economics) in reality, and 

becomes mere fantasy. It's true, in the art 

world of the 1990s you have to be something 

of an idiot savant to be a critic, or you 

simply have to love art for its own sake, 

you just keep doing it. That too, even if 

1,000 worker-ant artists are sacrificed to 

false expectations, can generate a new time 

and a new moment. 


The `95-96 season was the first season 

since the 1991 crash when time, based on 

these impulses, seemed to move forward 

again. All of the fairly arbitrary criteria 

for a season which I sketched out above 

were indeed met. 


A few remarks about these "events." About 

my best-of choices. Toland Grinnell's Booty 

struck me not only because of the 

incredible level of fabrication, but by the 

dark mixture of deeply buried, but forced 

to the surface, defense mechanisms of white 

male anger: science-fiction (with vague 

references to Morloks and such), sadism, 

repressed homosexuality and alien takeover. 

It was the tone of unsavory sadism, and of 

the anger behind it, that signaled a shift 

of mood. Grinnell again at season's end 

wowed the Gramercy Park Art Fair by 

recreating a hotel room as a decompression 

chamber into the world of aliens, again all 

packaged in vinyl. Whatever he is after, he 

is giving it 100 percent. He made a mark 

and ought to be watched. Basilico has 

tentatively planned a Grinnell reprise in 

the spring of 1997. 


Jocelyn Taylor at Jeffrey Deitch captivated 

me on several levels. One thing one always 

must look for in contemporary art is a 

total release to the alienated feelings of 

contemporaryness. The kind of giddy-scary 

throwaway elegance of the contemporary 

moment: it is a strong presence that anyone 

can feel, but too few critics analyze. 

Generally, European and now Asian 

capitalist culture surrenders to the gaps 

and voids in world life more often than 

Americans, who hug provincial fields and 

turfs. Jocelyn's video installation 

captured that presence in the big darkened 

Deitch space on Grand: both in its 

projection, its positioning (suspended from 

the ceiling) and in its content (casual, 

almost anti-video). This exhibition also, 

at first (but I went back twice more) 

irritated the hell out of me, but for 

purely art-world political reasons (Well, I 

harrumphed, so now Jeffrey Deitch, mover 

and shaker of the big money `80s, is going 

to lecture me about black lesbian art! 

Deitch of the `80s is going to out-PC the 

PCers. It was too much to bear). One of 

course dismissed Taylor's naked parade on 

city streets as unrealistic artist rapping: 

a spiel of empowerment and blaming that 

somehow rolled off your back. It was like: 

this is what an artist has to be now. An 

irritating humorless lectury PC stereotype 

outflanking even hitherto established 

minorities by peeling off ever finer and 

finer distinctions and minorities within 

minorities. 


Well! I got over it: and began to enjoy 

that this is a mandate of the contemporary 

art world circus. And I guess the reason I 

got over it is Taylor's miscalculation of 

certain verities in mass world culture: a 

naked chick is a naked chick and few ever-

curious human beings will look away. Mariko 

Mori, transposing the same stereotypes to 

manipulate perception and finally create a 

spectacle of architectonic sexuality as a 

way to negotiate the incommensurate in 

world space today, also struck this same 

strong tone (but again, I have written of 

this before). This season Deitch will 

expand from just the project space, to 

another space around the corner. He will, I 

am told, work with Mori once again. Look 

for more women of every color. 


There must have been a time, in the early 

`80s, when a change of mood was sensed. 

First-generation feminists made use of 

feminine materials and exploited feminine 

signifiers to find a place for women in 

art. Then along came Barbara Kruger and she 

was distinctly gender-neutral and just 

wanted to be, straight out, better than the 

boys. Recently, American feminism has 

reinvolved itself in gender typologies 

inherited from first-generation feminism. 

That's a generalization, but to make a 

point. Cathy de Monchaux has indeed 

appeared in New York before, and has been 

at work for a time (I remember a small 

piece in Plastic Fantastic Lover at 

BlumHelman warehouse in 1992), but her show 

at Sean Kelly tore up everything in her 

past, and set forth a future only. This 

exhibition, a landmark in a season of 

London landmarks, was by far the best 

exhibition in Soho in the `95-96 season. I 

was not struck by its originality, but in 

fact gloried in its kitsch descent from, I 

imagined, the artist-designer Geiger of 

Alien, where machine and man has fused into 

a strange cyberpresence. 


Again I make the point, science fiction is 

by and large a white male defense 

mechanism, it mops up the excess anger that 

pours out of the loser element of the class 

or race in power: it promises instant 

relief in destruction and appeals to the 

darkest side of all who have the pressure 

of power. Then again, the conscious mind 

can say, its all escapism. Primarily, 

artists who explore these themes are not 

esteemed in politically correct times: 

their work is but "boy art" or "guy stuff," 

the acting-outs of psyches locked in a 

permanent phallic obsession with planes, 

trains, automobiles, weapons, rockets and 

outer space. The `80s saw much of this 

strain of art before it died away. 

Monchaux's art had indeed expanded from 

Venus-flytrap-like containers, exuding 

gender-biased sexual politics, to a pure 

scary cyberstate, recognizably female, with 

all the vaginal foldings of materials, but 

trapped, or fused with weaponry or 

machinery. Barry Schwabsky in his review of 

the show in Artforum referred to the baby 

powder that covered all: it reminded him of 

the fallout of atomic ash in Hiroshima Mon 

Amour, a great reference, but my variation 

would be: Monchaux's baby powder was the 

fallout on a planet whose atmosphere 

consisted of debris (like baby powder) cast 

off from an explosion of the concept of the 

feminine, on a planet constructed, not 

unlike the blob contained in a large gas-

tank-like structure in Quartermass II, a 

1950s British sci-fi movie, of cybermush 

made of crushed estrogen. 


Here was a feminist artist venting a dark 

energy and resigning herself to a world 

where the mechanisms of "guy stuff" are the 

stuff of life. Instantly, the gender-

specific efforts of artists of the `92-94 

market swing, notably Kiki Smith and Janine 

Antoni, seemed--provincial and out of date. 

When the millennial comes to you--whether 

it comes as a crash of jet in the 

Everglades or off East Moriches--it does 

not care what your gender or race is, down 

you go, food for the fishes all the same. 

Certainly, such a mood is fodder for 

millennialism, and recent political events-

-acts of terrorism--underscore the need for 

America to surrender its provincialism and 

face up. It is ironic that old world 

English (it is ironic that English art is 

having its moment in any case) makes this 

point for us. Kelly thus far has only 

announced plans to show a young Scottish 

artist, Christine Borland, but he is 

clearly on a trail--follow it. 


The season peaked (I am unable to write 

about all that the season brought) with 

Damien Hirst. I missed the exclusive 

opening but caught 

the Saturday night opening and was 

intrigued. I stopped by several times to 

visit, reveling in the energy which it 

exuded, what I quickly saw as a Times 

Square in the White Cube. I don't even care 

what I think of the art, piece by piece, 

work by work: one thing struck me about 

this particular show, in this place and 

time. It was so over the top: why didn't 

Hirst just provide an elegant minimal 

sliced up cow (the issue of the cutting-up, 

which caused such "controversy" and delayed 

the show until May, in truth granting it 

the opportunity to serve as the culmination 

of a season of genuine transition, never 

caused me one moment's concern), why did he 

throw in the big cigarette bin, the spin 

paintings, the movable billboard, the 

suspended beach ball? The fact that all 

these apparently extraneous efforts were 

also instantly identified as other people's 

ideas added to the sense of surprise. Hirst 

had revived appropriationism as a bad boy 

prank, less than two years after legal 

decisions against Jeff Koons had ended one 

epoch by giving all pause about further 

appropriations. It was too much. 

None of this engaged me however. It was the 

space, and the activity, but more 

importantly, the vacancy, or empty 

kineticism in the space. Club kids and 

expats and that rarest of uncouth bird in 

art circles, Members of the General Public, 

had somehow heard about the show and come 

to the grungy opening. People stood every 

which way, looking every which way. The 

center of the gallery stopped people to 

gawk at spectacle in every direction, like, 

exactly, one might stand and twirl about in 

the middle of Times Square. Hirst had 

internalized in the white cube the energy 

of a public world space, with all its 

emptinesses and its gaps in communication, 

and this effect transcended specific issues 

related to individual pieces. The opening 

reminded me of when the Fab Four 

(Bickerton, Koons, Halley and Vaisman) 

premiered at Sonnabend in 1986: the way 

that Hirst had completely absorbed then 

spat back with a wise touche all the 

baddest bad-boy tricks of Pop and 

appropriationist American art (the art for 

which America is known in the world at 

large, that likes us for being comic-book 

figures) reminded me again of how the 

Beatles absorbed Elvis and the blues and 

reimported it all back to us in a--cleaner, 

wiser, less provincial form? or how the Sex 

Pistols again stole American pre-punk and 

brought it back over here it a bang. And 

that both groups were well known but did 

not became world famous until their 

American reintroduction. Very, culturally 

weird. A strange syndrome. No doubt galling 

to America, but there it is. 


The Hirst show--it is important to 

remember--perhaps changed the mood of art 

at mid-decade. (The last opening comparable 

to it was the Matthew Marks opening on 22nd 

Street in March 1995: that too felt like a 

watershed, with one second thought: the 

migration to 22nd is motivated by American 

art's long-term agoraphobia--literally, a 

fear of the marketplace, that is, the world 

at large, most recently manifest in Soho's 

maturation. To retreat to haunts only 

exclusive art pilgrims can reach is to make 

a statement in favor of the old ways and 

styles: the establishment styles of the New 

York School. It remains to be seen if 

anything new can be generated from such a 

retreat to the past. And in fact West 22nd 

Street witnessed two regressive events in 

`95-96: Brice Marden coming down off the 

top of Cold Mountain and getting more, 

again, purely formalist, and Jessica 

Stockholder at Dia, resigning herself, with 

Baroque effusion, to Kimmelmanist eurekas 

that she too is a formalist. P'shaw: I 

surrendered anti-formalist arguments on 

behalf of both). 	


Finally, with de Monchaux, and other 

Londoners on the scene this past year 

(Georgina Starr in particular), the great 

sad shadow of the routine of the Whitney 

Biennial seems almost irrelevant. The 

success of the English make it very 

difficult to imagine a relevant Americans-

only Whitney Biennial in 1997. For what was 

the big story of `95-96 that, as has 

happened before, the overinvolvement of 

American art in local politics had 

provincialized its youngest art, and that 

right under our noses, as is happening on 

many levels rapidly since the collapse of 

the bipolar Cold War world, American Pop 

style is quickly evolving as a pure 

international style to serve all in the 

world who seek rescue from the limited 

aspects of tradition in the free space of 

contemporary life. 


My tip for `96-97 (always risky because New 

York art has remained a series of false 

starts and dashed beginnings since 1991) is 

to follow the Londoners, and, if millennial 

feeling begins to tear down the little 

categorizations you have constructed in 

support of this or that faction of art, let 

it tear--the ragged edge of the debris 

field, of art laced with the bitterness, 

gall, negativity and scariness of art and 

life at century's end, is the only edge 

right now: at the beginning of the last 

half of the last decade of the millennium 

the cutting edge has become a razor's edge.

 


Robert Mahoney is an art critic.