Magazine article Artforum International

Tim Hawkinson: Whitney Museum of American Art

Magazine article Artforum International

Tim Hawkinson: Whitney Museum of American Art

Article excerpt

While poles apart visually, Tim Hawkinson's current appearance at the Whitney bears comparison to Christo and Jean-Claude's recent Central Park Gates, a few final remnants of which I walked through en route to the museum. Both projects convey a certain joie de vivre and lay claim to popular appeal but stand to some extent beyond the pale of contemporary critical discourse. However, free as he is from the brouhaha in which the older artists wrap themselves--and the way it veils their work's conceptual shortcomings--Hawkinson finds himself in a relatively vulnerable position. Yes, he is the subject of a major exhibition in a (usually) serious institution, but many will leave it wondering whether he really deserves the accolade.

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Hawkinson, of course, is very far from being a true outsider: His precedents and influences--which range from Marcel Duchamp, Jean Tinguely, and Bruce Nauman to Mark Pauline, Tom Friedman, and Charles Ray (his instructor at UCLA)--are sophisticated and transparent. Yet there is something about his geekish absorption in improvised machinery and fascination with intricate repetition that marks him as properly (if accessibly) eccentric. He journeys ever inward in the manner of an amateur scientist searching for some microcosmic fundamental: At the Whitney, navel-gazing self-portraits of one kind or another proliferate, and there is a sense that much of the work was embarked on primarily for its maker's own amusement (admittedly a trait common to much art but arguably better hidden in most). Add to this impression a folksy, hand-crafted look, and what might have been enviable charm begins to congeal--despite its attendant bells and whistles--into a cloying obsequiousness.

If there's such a thing as a typical Hawkinson, Ranting Mop Head (Synthesized Voice), 1995, comes close. …

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