Magazine article Artforum International


Magazine article Artforum International


Article excerpt


Putting together a big international survey is not only a matter of knowing which works to include; it also means selecting and presenting pieces in a given space so that they work together and the show functions as something more than the sum of its parts. Harald Szeemann has had a Midas touch now for almost three decades, ever since "When Attitudes Become Form," in 1968-69. And, unlike so many of his colleagues, he hasn't lost it. This fourth installment of the "Biennale de Lyon," featuring eighty-eight artists in a space the size of almost four football fields, demonstrates his aplomb with such majesty that, of all the mammoth European shows this summer, it alone seems worthy of praise.

Szeemann's achievement becomes all the more impressive when his point of departure is taken into consideration: a relatively slim budget, a columnless, 183,000-square-foot space housed in a turn-of-the-century-style steel building, and the burden of a fashionable philosophical theme established, as is the custom in the Lyon biennial, by its backers. Of course, their choice of Szeemann as the curator serves the theme of "L'autre" well; it's a familiar topic for him, one he's long concerned himself with (as evidenced by his show "Monte Verita," he has less to ponder when it comes to this theme than do others). In his hands, the "other" becomes almost signature: he staged an elaborate game of hide-and-seek, offering obvious clues here, subtle hints there, sometimes teasing viewers with glimpses of what was at stake, sometimes ambushing them so that missing the point becomes inconceivable.

Thirty-odd "white cubes" are dispersed throughout the hall, some tiny, others enormous, most of them a space unto themselves. Connections between the pieces were open-ended, allowing visitors to circulate with some freedom, and the passages between galleries varied in width. Along the perimeter of the hall the outer walls are draped in cloth so that the whole show appears to be wrapped up in a red carpet. But even though each space is different, they often initially have the same effect on the viewer. The continuous sense of memory and displacement is striking as one walks through the show: Haven't I already been here? Or was it someplace else? Is this (or that) work around the next corner, or is a different one over there?

The deja-vu principle carries over into the selection of works. Most of them you've seen elsewhere - either in the flesh or in reproductions. Katharina Fritsch's Rattenkonig (Rat king), 1993, resided for a long time in New York, Chris Burden's steamrollers flew in Vienna, Franz West's sofas were in Kassel in 1992, and the ant paintings of Yukinori Yanagi were hung in Venice. Jason Rhoades' work was just up in Basel and at the Whitney Biennial, Douglas Gordon initially installed his space in Zurich, one could zap the remote control to Pipilotti Rist's video monitors in art fairs in Berlin and Basel while sitting in her huge armchairs, and Gabriel Orozco's slender Citroen DS not long ago graced the cover of another art magazine.

If the works themselves aren't exactly revelations, what's noteworthy here is that they have never been exhibited in such range and combination before. For the first time, Fritsch's work, for example, has to stand up to that of Gary Hill, Stan Douglas, or Mariko Mori. And in this respect, her work succeeds. Slightly removed from the other installations, a narrow passage leads to her Rattenkonig in the center of the exhibition. Szeemann has set a trap for the visitor: the piece can hardly be avoided. As soon as one gets there, the majestic impression of the image immediately surrounds the viewer. The circle of rats appears to rule over the entire space, its dominion extending to the farthest corner of the hall. In all of this, the rats remain peaceful, properly composed, aware both of their own place and that of the surrounding work. They could even nonchalantly take a bite out of Serge Spitzer's giant system of pneumatic pipes, an interpretation of systems of communication and circulation that is as banal and trite as the artist's permanent presence during the show's preview appeared to be provocative. …

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