Notebook, 1993-


The Year 2005 in Arts & Design / NYTimes

THE HIGHS AND LOWS \ 'Old Masters and New Ethical Lapses' by Michael Kimmelman. Published: December 25, 2005. NYTimes.

DEAD WHITE MALE HEAVEN It was a year of startlingly good shows of old masters and other historical bigwigs, including a pair of superb drawing surveys at the Met, devoted to Rubens and van Gogh, and a gem of a Memling exhibition at the Frick.

BEST WORK OF THE YEAR By a senior figure, hands down, it was Richard Serra's installation of eight huge sculptures at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, which pushed abstract art to a new level and set a benchmark for the new century.

NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN Among the year's sleepers were two shows at the National Gallery in Washington: one brought three monumental Renaissance sculptures from Florence; the other, "The Origins of European Printmaking," was a wonder cabinet of woodcuts, books and other art from the 15th century on.

FULL HOUSE The Whitney's low-key lineup this year had Tim Hawkinson and Robert Smithson and ended with Richard Tuttle, Ed Ruscha, Raymond Pettibon and Oscar Bluemner.

MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO AROUND Auction prices hit nosebleed levels, and speculators lined up even for Damien Hirst's photorealist paintings of emaciated crack addicts and soccer hooligans. Mr. Hirst's show at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea suggested that he jumped the shark, but investors weren't afraid to fork over up to $2 million. Anybody remember the name Sandro Chia?

SECOND WORST ABDICATION BY A MUSEUM The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's deal with a for-profit outfit to organize the "Tut" show last summer (full ticket price: $30). Naturally, the show was a hit, but at the cost of the museum's good name.

SECOND WORST ABDICATION BY A MUSEUM The very same Los Angeles County Museum of Art's arrangement with Eli Broad to build a gallery for his collection on museum property (city-owned, tax-free land), which he will oversee and the museum will pay to maintain. The gamble is that he donates the art someday. Meanwhile, he is also on the board of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

DIGGING UP TROUBLE The growing scandal over looted antiquities from abroad, not to mention soiling American museums, fed into a particularly destructive foreign stereotype of the big, bad United States, exploiting other countries.

SADDEST MOVE OF THE YEAR The New York Public Library disposed of one of the city's great civic treasures, Asher B. Durand's "Kindred Spirits," in a closed auction for $35 million, which the library's curators didn't even learn about until hours before the public read about it in the newspaper.

BEST MOVE OF THE YEAR The Museum of Modern Art, which now has all the charm of the Cherry Hill mall on Black Friday, at least managed to shift Monet's beloved "Water Lilies" from the second-floor lobby; there, swallowed up in the unlovely vastness, it had looked, as the critic Peter Schjeldahl so aptly phrased it, like a soiled Band-Aid. Now it resides in a busy room on the fifth floor, jutting from panels that are like giant flapping butterfly wings. For the moment this will have to do. Call it a Band-Aid for a Band-Aid.

LOCATION, LOCATION A tribute to the 1970's visionary Gordon Matta-Clark, at the Queens Museum and White Columns, recalled his eccentric acquisition of useless scraps of city property.

PUT OUT MORE FLAGS Whether you thought it was ingenious or kitsch, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Gates" in Central Park was clearly the biggest spectacle in a year full of them. Sidestepping the approval of insiders, it caused countless New Yorkers to debate the meaning of art. As promised, the gates came and went, leaving behind tourist dollars, a pristine park and the memory of a winter happening that refreshed admiration for Olmsted and Vaux's miracle.

THE BUILDERS \ 'Art That Requires a Hard Hat' - By Randy Kennedy. Published: December 25, 2005. NYTimes.

IN the contemporary art world, there's practically nothing that can't be used to get the job done. In recent years, artists have employed everything from plasticized salt to fingernail clippings to gallons of water from the Bermuda Triangle. Even DNA. (Joe Davis, a biological artist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has encoded a fragment of text by Heraclitus into a gene of a fruit fly.)

But over the last year in New York, artists increasingly needed something else: a good structural engineer. It was the year of hard-hat art.

Besides the most publicized example - "The Gates" by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park, 23 meandering miles worth of nuts, bolts, steel plates, fabric and PVC tubing - there was also Robert Smithson's long-envisioned "Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island," which involved building an island from scratch, complete with 10 trees, 3 huge rocks, a bunch of shrubs and tons of dirt. For a week the project turned a boatyard on Staten Island into what looked like a convention for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Pierre Huyghe, the French artist, also descended on Central Park with a construction team worthy of a Peter Jackson epic. In October, he took over Wollman Rink to stage an elaborate art "musical" - emphasis on the quote marks - whose set involved looming rock-concert floodlight towers and huge jet-black glaciers made from Styrofoam. Mr. Huyghe, who usually maintains the mondaine cool of a good Parisian, was practically giddy as he watched tool-belted workers swarm over the rink at his beck and call. "I am quite enjoying this," he said.

If you want to see another piece of heavy-lifting construction art that is still around, at least through Jan. 22, visit the Whitney Museum's Altria gallery at Park Avenue and 42nd Street, where the Brooklyn-based artist Rob Fischer has filled the space with works that revolve around ideas of building and demolishing. The centerpiece - its title, "Your vigor for life appalls me," is borrowed from R. Crumb - is a 35-foot tower made from what appear to be closets and hallways, all held together with scaffolding and clamps. (An engineer had to sign off on the structural stability of the piece.)

Shamim M. Momin, the branch director of the Altria space, recalled that during the three weeks it took to assemble the installation, she and the artist changed their minds about the placement of another piece, a 3,500-pound Dumpster that has been balanced on its end and covered with mirrors. One of the Whitney's head art handlers, Filippo Gentile, looked at her in disbelief and told her he needed five minutes to walk outside and be alone, she said.

"But then he came back in completely calm and said, 'O.K., where do you want it?' "

THE NY SCENE \ 'Visions From Nigeria and India and a Van Searching for Utopia' - By Holland Cotter. Published: December 25, 2005. NYTimes.

ANOTHER season of griping and cheerleading. Art fairs bordering on sales conventions were promoted as the most fabulous things. Aggrieved voices complained about the politics of hype, and about new art looking tiny and shiny and thin. A few old-time idealists dared to wonder if the art world shouldn't, maybe, offer a noncompliant critical alternative to the real world, of which it is at present an indistinguishable (and, let's face it, inconsequential) part.

At the same time, there were a few non-industry models to consider. Most were delivered by artists, including a few making long-overdue New York debuts. The sculptor El Anatsui, who lives in Nigeria, appeared in a two-gallery solo show of glowing, fabriclike wall hangings assembled from thousands of liquor bottle caps. These coats-of-many-cultures referred to traditional African, colonial Africa and a contemporary Africa that is neither and both. (One of the two exhibitions, at Skoto Gallery in Chelsea, is on view through Jan. 21.)

An enchanting first New York show by the Indian artist Ranbir Kaleka melded painting, video and digital art in surreal tableaus that brought visionary encounters to life with a magician's hand. Mr. Kaleka also appeared in "Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India" at Asia Society and the Queens Museum of Art, which spun off fine solo debuts by Subodh Gupta and Raqs Media Collective (Monica Narula, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Jeebesh Bagchi). Together they radically expanded the conventional definition of Indian art.

From ever-expanding China came work by the Beijing-based photographer Liu Zheng. His series "The Chinese" combines the psychological and social acuities of Diane Arbus and August Sander in a documentary sweep across a powerful ancient culture writhing under the pressure of modernization. In Mr. Liu's magnetic and repellent pictures, China's present and past, its living and dead, are often hard to tell apart. We would do well to become acquainted with them all. The future is theirs.

After conspicuous absences, two midcareer artists, Sam Durant and Isa Genzken, showed new bodies of work that were a logical development of what came before and a revelation. Both artists were everything they had been, and more. Rirkrit Tiravanija's Hugo Boss Prize solo at the Guggenheim Museum was a mind-widener that extended beyond the museum's walls. It consisted of a radio transmitter for broadcasting uncensored news, along with a handout sheet instructing visitors how to build one of their own at home.

Three established figures - Carl Andre, Andrea Fraser and Martha Rosler - published collections of writings, each a gold mine of against-the-grain thinking. And, speaking of extending institutions, the opening of temporary space in the Hotel Chelsea by the dealer Daniel Reich for performances and experimental work, planted the seed for an Other Chelsea.

Certain artists, some very young, most with first shows, quietly rethought the way art looks or works. Among them, let me mention performers like Ei Arakawa, Brendan Fowler, Kalup Linzy and Tara Mateik; the sculptors and installation artists Anya Kielar, George Ferrandi, Klara Liden and Johannes VanDerBeek; painter-sculptor-conceptualists like Michael Queenland and Max Schumann; and such indescribables as a five-woman collective named for a project that brought them together, "J. D.'s Lesbian Utopia."

The quintet (J. D. Samson, who is a member of the rock group Le Tigre, Cass Bird, Lex Vaughn, Dusty Lombardo and Sasha Anthome) traveled across the country in a van, sharing resources, talking to people, and creating art - photographs, videos, music - all the way. In the process, they found the utopia they were after: they were it. They have since produced a great full-color calendar documenting the experience, symbolically making 2006 an extension of their trip, and a wide-open alternative year.

ARCHITECTURE \ The Highs and Lows. 'A Vision of a Mobile Society Rolls Off the Assembly Line' - By Nicolai Ouroussoff. Published: December 25, 2005. NYTimes.

LET'S be optimistic. Some spectacular buildings were completed this year - and what matters more to an architecture lover?

The London-based architect Zaha Hadid, a precocious talent who is only now winning the kinds of mainstream commissions she richly deserves, wrapped up two stunning buildings, both potent examples of how Modernism is being reimagined for the 21st century. And Rem Koolhaas's 1,300-seat concert hall in Porto, Portugal, should finally establish him as one of the world's great designers as well as the profession's mightiest thinker.

Ms. Hadid's boomerang-shaped BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany, with its sensual curves and purring assembly lines, did for the computerized auto plant what Giacomo Matt\'8f-Trucco's Lingotto Factory in Turin, Italy, did for the old labor-based model in the 1920's: project a powerful vision of a mobile society. At the same time, she has rejected the regimented order that gave the machine age a dehumanizing quality.

Ms. Hadid's science center in Wolfsburg, Germany, also comes to terms with Modernism's authoritarian strain. Built in the shadow of a Nazi-era auto plant, its dynamic concrete form, evoking the prow of a ship sailing through space, sits on gigantic inhabitable cones that allow the surrounding street life to flow directly underneath. It celebrates her knack for fluid, seamless spaces that blur the boundary between interior and public realms.

But for me the biggest sensation was Mr. Koolhaas's concert hall, Casa da M\'9csica, packed with urban energy as if in response to Porto's sleepy atmosphere. The building's chiseled concrete form, resting on a carpet of polished stone, suggests a bomb about to explode.

None of these buildings are in major global cities. All three are designed by "star architects," a term that elicits eye-rolling or outright contempt in some circles today, as if popular success is indistinguishable from selling out. Flush with new projects, a widely respected architect told me recently that he felt nostalgic for the days when there was little work for anyone, as if unemployment were better for the creative soul.

It may be true that talents like Ms. Hadid and Mr. Koolhaas have sucked some of the oxygen from members of a younger generation struggling to find their footing in a celebrity-driven profession. The jury is still out on that one. But either way, these buildings prove that architecture is in the midst of a renaissance. Whatever one imagines about the egos of their architects, these projects exude a social dynamism and freedom - a thriving democratic ideal.

What's more, such buildings force us to re-examine corners of Modernist history that once seemed relegated to the scrapheap. Their architects are clearly influenced by talents as far ranging as Kevin Roche, Hans Scharoun and Oswald Mathias Ungers, whose tough, sometimes brutal forms were once excluded from the Modernist canon.

The problem is how few people seem capable of such a generous view of history. Recent landmark preservation battles in New York suggest that the civic powers-that-be insist on defending a narrow view of the past and of Modernism in particular. That became apparent during the crusade to preserve Edward Durell Stone's so-called lollipop building at 2 Columbus Circle, a landmark of late Modernism, when the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission refused to schedule a public hearing to consider its designation. As a result, the facade is being utterly revamped.

This was an atrocious betrayal of the public trust. A similar debate is unfolding in Berlin, where the German government plans to demolish the 1970's Palast der Republik. The former home of the East German Parliament, it played host to cultural events and festivals as well as political conferences during the Communist years.

Both 2 Columbus Circle and the Berlin building represent important moments in their cities collective memories. The pressure to remake or raze them is arguably a form of censorship, a drive to cleanse history of anything but a strictly prescribed view of the past.

The most heartbreaking example of this attitude can be found in New Orleans, which had essentially been reduced to a theme park long before Hurricane Katrina hit in August. A conventional formula of convention center, casinos and themed historic neighborhoods was embraced to attract tourist dollars. That transformation, which went hand in hand with the neglect of the local infrastructure, was as responsible for suppressing the city's textured character as the ensuing storm and breached levees were. Now those same profit-minded forces, with their insistence on a touristy image of New Orleans, are circling the city again. They may well succeed in draining the city of what little life it has left.

We should be clearer about who the enemy is. Narrow visions, not big egos, are the problem.}



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