Magazine article Artforum International

Dave Hickey

Magazine article Artforum International

Dave Hickey

Article excerpt

1 "Robert Gober" (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1997) Gober's installation, with its penetrated Virgin, subterranean tide pools, and waterfall stairwell, is my icon of the decade. In its intellectual rigor and plangent availability, it's as close as we're likely to get to the refinement and generosity of a seventeenth-century sculptural occasion. We may speculate on its wry deconstruction of Duchampian aesthetics, or we may, as one of the museum guards did, make a gesture indicating the flow of experience through the pipe and through the Virgin, and simply say, "Clemencia, Senor."

2 "Cindy Sherman: Retrospective" (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1997-98) Asked about the proliferation of artists who mimicked his style, Willem de Kooning said, "Hey! They can only make the good ones." (Meaning: Great artists have the privilege of failing.) Cindy Sherman, the most plagiarized artist of the last twenty years, should understand this. She can make triumphant work (and not many can), and she can crash and burn. Sherman's ratio of triumph to disaster is about ten to one, and since one triumph is worth a hundred disasters, she is, by my calculation, the artist of the fin de siecle.

3 Richard Serra's Torqued Ellipses (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998-99) Serra's Torqued Ellipses belong on a Top Ten of the last half-century as the apotheosis of aesthetics as kinesthetics--the ne plus ultra of "you had to be there" art. As much sculpture for the inner ear and the pit of the stomach as for the eye, the ellipses invest the viewer in their presence with a level of acute physical self-consciousness that, at this moment, is all the more glamorous and exotic for being totally unavailable on the Web.

4 "David Reed Paintings: Moving Pictures" (Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, 1998-99) Gertrude Stein said, "Anybody is as their land and air is." The sheer, dazzling appropriateness of David Reed's painting retrospective installed in his hometown of San Diego makes her point. Just as Stein moved to Paris to be an American, David Reed, clearly, moved to New York to be a Californian. Everything impudent about Reed's paintings in Manhattan--from the fluid, stress-free gestures to the crisp fields of hot color--takes on iconic intensity in Reed's native land and air.

5 "Vija Celmins" (Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, 1992-93) Oscar Wilde complained about the difficulty of living up to his blue china. I saw "Vija Celmins" at three of its venues; in each case, both the crowd and the institution were hard put to live up to the devotional eloquence of Celmins's work. It daunted people into silence and made the spaces seem tatty, smudged, and insubstantial. For all the work out there designed to make us feel less than moral, there's too little art like Celmins's, which shows us a way of being human that is stronger, quieter, braver, and less needy than we know ourselves to be.

6 "Ellsworth Kelly: A Retrospective" (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996-97) It could have been a fucking disaster: Ellsworth Kelly vs. Frank Lloyd Wright in a battle of eccentric autocrats. Kelly gracefully forestalled this eventuality by mounting his retrospective at the Guggenheim as a subversive homage to its architect, matching every nuanced curve and angle in Wright's building with a nuanced curve and angle of his own. In doing so, he established himself as the pivotal figure in mid-century American art--the master of an expressive, intellectual practice that never dissolves into concept or devolves into angst-ridden nostalgia. …

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