Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Rosenblum on Body Doubles

Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Rosenblum on Body Doubles

Article excerpt

A new race of humanoids was spawned in the '60s. Think of Lichtenstein's boneless, fleshless housewives, Segal's mummified city dwellers, Wesselmann's faceless, airbrushed sex toys. But the tribe kept increasing, as witnessed not just in mutant art, but also in the fin de '80s tabloids--e.g. Jocelyn Wildenstein's shrink-wrapped visage. And by now, the human race really is an endangered species. In 1992, this eerie evolution was freeze-framed in a landmark exhibition curated by Jeffrey Deitch. "Post Human," whose yearlong itinerary--Lausanne, Turin, Athens, Hamburg, Jerusalem--may have bypassed the big-time art capitals, garnered a ream of notices in the European press. Media theorist Mckenzie Wark, writing two years later in World Art, found abstruse philosophical flaws in Deitch's conception of the human and the natural, while a certain Stefano Casciani (reporting for Abitare, Nov. 1992) waxed effusive, speculating that the show "could have the same impact on art sociology ... as Charles Jencks' The Language of Post-Modern Architecture had on architecture." Ripples were felt on the other side of the Atlantic as well. Elizabeth Janus, reporting on the show in these pages (Nov. 1992), questioned the exhibition's "circuslike atmosphere" but singled out individual artists for praise, and one of the three-ring showstoppers, Charles Ray's dressed-for-success giantess, titled Fall, '91, even landed on the September cover of incoming Artforum editor Jack Bankowsky's first issue.

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"Post Human" was virtually a manifesto trumpeting a new art for a new breed of human. As Deitch's text explained in the fragmented mottos that punctuated the billboard-style graphics of Dan Friedman's catalogue design, "It is becoming routine for people to try to alter their appearance, their behavior, and their consciousness beyond what was once thought possible." And we go on to read, "With the embrace of artificiality, Realism as we used to know it may no longer be possible." The glossy color plates spoke volumes, whether the illustrations came from art or from "life." The catalogue was to become something of a cult item that triggered the imaginations of many younger artists. Here was a permanent anthology of the "posthumanity" that surrounds us not only in galleries but on television, in magazines, even in real life, where the friendly androids among us chatter on about Botox and face-lifts. In the catalogue pages, one could see, for instance, four photos of Jane Fonda in four completely different but equally synthetic guises; Pat Buchanan being made up by a cosmetician for a TV appearance; computer morphs of once-human faces; before-and-after bellies and buttocks; and dead center, a profile view of Michael Jackson, clearly the sun god of this new solar system, who would later be deified by Jeff Koons.

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This pure plastic environment, whether peopled by Ivana Trump or Barbie, set the stage for the artists in the show, whose works played perfectly in this parallel universe that was quickly replacing that old-fashioned thing called Nature. The result was a complete reshuffling of the contemporary-art deck, with an international mix of thirty-six artists (singles and pairs) that embraced Thomas Ruff and Jeff Wall, Clegg & Gutmann and Pruitt/Early, Damien Hirst and Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney and Yasumasa Morimura, Charles Ray and Martin Kippenberger. …

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