1999 Carnegie International

Article excerpt

CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF ART, PITTSBURGH

When you walk into the lobby of the Carnegie Museum, the program of this year's International announces itself in microcosm. There in front of you is atmospheric video projection (Diana Thater), a deadpan disquisition on the nature of representation (Gregor Schneider's replication of his home), a labor-intensive, intricate installation (Suchan Kinoshita), a bluntly phenomenological sculpture (Olafur Eliasson), and flat, icy painting (Alex Katz). Undoubtedly the best part of the show, the lobby is also an architectural site of hesitation, a threshold. Here the installation encapsulates the exhibition's sense of historical suspension, another kind of hesitation. Ours is a time not of endings but of pause.

My favorite work, viewed through the museum's huge glass wall, was the Eliasson, a fountain of steam wafting vertically from an expanse of water on a platform through which trees also rise up. It's a heart-throbbing romantic landscape. Romantic, but not naive: The work plays on the tradition of the courtyard fountain, and the steam is piped from the museum's heating system. Combining the natural and the industrial in a way peculiarly appropriate to Pittsburgh on a quiet Sunday morning in early autumn, it echoed two billows of steam (or, more queasily, smoke?) off in the distance. When blunt physical fact achieves this kind of lyricism, it is something to see.

Upstairs in the galleries, Ernesto Neto's Nude Plasmic, 1999, relies as well on the phenomenology of simple form, but the Brazilian artist avoids Eliasson's picturesque imagery. Shoeless, you enter the large, sheer-white-nylon structure, pulled and stretched, punctuated by holes and sandbags, and move around, held comfortably within the environment but still able to see the world passing by outside. Curator Madeleine Grynsztein pairs Neto's work with eight bodacious John Currin paintings, matching direct, physical sensuality with twisted vision. This is one example of the exhibition's consistently intelligent installation. If some of the art is familiar, from either gallery shows or other international exhibitions, the work often looks better here. And some of the artists do manage to surprise with pieces made specifically for the exhibition.

The best example of work realized for the occasion is perhaps Kinoshita's seventeen loggias flanking the grand staircase. These little plywood shacks are simply furnished with cast-off chairs and everyday objects that perform little tricks of sight and sound, displaying the influence of Fluxus and Cagean game-playing. One of my favorites features a telescope through which we spy a vignette in the gift shop, a tiny still life of books and objects. Kinoshita draws what is far near, turning real space into a purely visual image. The intensity and smallness of Kinoshita's elaborate installation resonate with much of the art here. Most obviously, Sarah Sze (who will complete the Venice/Carnegie/Whitney trifecta) uses prosaic materials--most memorably, watches--to evoke a sense of wonder. A less ubiquitous artist, Bodys Isek Kingelez, shows a minutely patterned and painted urban diorama (Villa Fantome); Franz Ackermann's modestly scaled drawings surround the Kingelez, depicting imaginary maps. Chris Ofili, Kerry J ames Marshall, and Matthew Barney are all represented by bright, complex work as well. If we have for some time seen social and historical forces as the generating agents of art, we can now sense the reassertion of the artist's presence, the foregrounding of his or her ability to maneuver and create within or despite these various conditions.

Even work that directly addresses the nature of representation does so with a twist, with some kind of personal touch. Back in the lobby, we see a small door attended by a museum guard. Stepping into Schneider's Haus ur, 1987-99, we go from the vast open space of the museum to a small domestic enclosure. As we move from room to nondescript room, from livings room to kitchen, we experience an Alice-in-Wonderland feeling of reduced scale. …