MERLE SCHIPPER

CATALOGUE CHOICES FOR 1997

The prime catalogue of 1997 can only be Exiles and Emigres: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler. Edited by Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Stephanie Barron, organizer of the show it accompanied, and published by LACMA and Abrams, this work would be important if only as a reminder to society today that the possibility of holocaust is not to be ignored, a cataclysmic event that occurred relegated to the past without possibility of recurrence. Filled with essays that recall Nazism in Germany and its impact elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, America, where many thousands of refugees relocated, it reflects heavily researched studies of the period on the part of contributors and the source works on which they drew.

Principal focus is on artists. There was Kandinsky, for example, who earlier cooperated with the Fascists, and was reluctant to admit later that his 1938 departure was due to politics, as essayist Keith Holz informs us. Sabine Eckman's Considering (and Reconsidering) Art and Exile examines the aftermath. These essays are starting points for other writers who contribute valuable, if often little known aspects of the condition and its outcome. They include discussion of the work of Varian Fry, not an art-world figure, but a member of the American-organized Emergency Rescue Committee, and responsible for the recovery of many artists and others (although he was later discharged by the committee members who were anti-Semetic), in an essay by Elizabeth Kessin Berman, while other writers discuss the outcome for various artists such as Chagall, Mondrian, Dali, Leger and the many who settled, if briefly, in New York, along with Albers at Black Mountain College and Moholy-Nagy at the New Bauhaus in Chicago.

Vivian Endicott Barnett brings to light the matter of support for 1930s German art in this country, and Lawrence Weschler discusses the community of artists and intellectuals who settled in Southern California, a list that includes several whom I recall hearing as speakers in a Thursday afternoon lecture series at UCLA in the 1960s.

There is much here that might surprise readers, such as reference to a portrayal of Hitler in a Fool's Cap and, in counterbalance to that, one of Mies van der Rohe's submitting a swastika-emblazoned design at the Brussels Worlds Fair of 1935. Jacques Lipschitz responded to events with his David and Goliath Prometheus (1943), a work which was later destroyed because of the controversy it aroused, but which served as an allegory of resistence against totalitarianism. There is much valuable and enlightening reading here, and it bestows a new level of meaning to Art History.


 Scene of the Crime, with text by Ralph Rugoff, accompanied UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum's major contribution last year. While text cannot recreate the show, Peter Wollen's Vectors of Melancholy compares work there with Robbe Grillet's observations and Walter Benjamin's comments on forensic photos, and points to the connection between crime photos and conceptual art, suggesting the artist playing a role as surveyor of the scene.

Rugoff's More than Meets the Eye offers his concept of a forensic idea of "process" beginning with Pollock, considers the suggestion of criminal action that is present in Rauschenberg's Bed, as well as in work by Yves Klein, Nikki de Saint Phale and others, and comments on Ruscha's Royal Road Test (1966) for which a typewriter was thrown from a moving car. He sees the suggestion of forensic in the work of many artists, among them Baldessari, Conner, Valance, Burden and others, as well as in Anthony Hernandez' photos of the homeless.


Bill Viola, published by the Whitney Museum with Flammarion, accompanied another LACMA show that was one of the most intriguing and engaging museum events during the year, and this catalogue is a treasure. David Ross, who served as curator of the exhibition, and was instrumental in lending video artists a serious platform while he was a curator at the Long Beach Museum, has followed Viola's work for twenty-five years. Ross has remained attentive to Viola's "concern for the recognition of the sublime and the evocation of transcendent states, along with his sense of the absurd as well as the profound." He examines a number of works, not all of which appeared at LACMA. A conversation between Lewis Hyde and Viola outlines the views of an artist concerned primarily with spiritual issues in a secular world.

Bill Viola ,detail shot from
"Stations", 5-channel video
installation.From the exhibition
"Bill Viola," at LACMA.

Carole Caroompas, "Deer Caught
in the Headlights," mixed media,
66 1/2 x 61", 1997. From the
exhibition "Lady of the Castle Perilous," at Otis College of
Art Gallery.

 

Cindy Sherman,"Untitled #224", photograph, 48"x38", 1990. From
the exhibition "Cindy Sherman,"
at the Museum of Contemporary
Art (MOCA).

If the many references that pervade Carole Caroompas' work, whether literary, sexual, personal or otherwise, need some explaining, then the catalogue to Caroompas' Lady of the Castle Perilous, which appeared recently at the relocated Otis College of Art and Design Gallery by LAX, will not fail to illuminate you. Curator Anne Ayers' The Woman Who Knew Too Much clarifies many of the literary sources there, and probes the multidimensionality of the work. Referenced are the artist's interests in shamanism and in feminism, her background and biography, along with her engagement with music, in tracing the evolution of her body of work. Notably, Ayers points to the use of myth and to her references to Virginia Woolf, along with "that star-crossed sexy team of Hester [Prynne] and Zorro." M.A. Greenstein's lively and entertaining essay further considers some of the same issues along with Tibetan Buddhism, E.R., and Caroompas' "Cirque du Soleil effort to bridge myth and reality." Her friendly chiding not-quite-disguises a perceptive critique, if also an admiring one, of her work as well.

"Jeff Wall" (published by the Museum of Contemporary Art and Scalo Vering, Zurich) is the big, handsome catalogue that accompanies the Vancouver-based artist's MOCA exhibition. Show organizer Kerry Brougher (who has since departed MOCA for a position in the UK) acknowledges the dual importance of Conceptual art together with a deep sensitivity to nature, especially in reference to the landscape of the artist's native British Columbia, in the creation of his fictional worlds.

Brougher points out the relationship between photography and painting in the work, while noting the artist's opposition to convention in examples such as Stereo, a depiction of a male nude in a manner customary for that of a female. The relation, too, of the artist's photography to films such as those by Bunuel, and the use of computers in creating the light boxes which present the work are also discussed, along with influences that range from Titian to Cindy Sherman.


Speaking of Sherman, the subject of the recent MOCA retrospective provides another outstanding large-scale volume for your shelf (published by Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and Thames and Hudson). Dealing with the artist's career over the last twenty years, it is loaded with her self-portraits in disguise, Sherman serving as the subject of the camera. The variety of images suggesting widely various personality types are always accompanied by a level of wit. Amanda Cruz looks back at a career which began with her Untitled Film Stills, and extending to the artist's recent focus on the grotesque in the use of mannequins and dolls. Elizabeth Smith discusses influences such as Goya and Bosch.

Finally, and most recently from UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum, is Proof Positive, Forty Years of of Contemporary Printmaking at ULAE, 1957-1987, published for the exhibition organized by Washington's Corcoran Gallery. Following an introduction by Jack Cowell, Tony Towle's essay recalls his experience as "secretary" at Universal Limited Art Editions under Tanya Grossman, a role that included serving as a printer's assistant, among multifarious duties. Here he recalls working with such artists as Johns and Rauschenberg, while Sue Scott discusses her work there under Bill Goldston, master printer there, and who eventually ran both the print studio and the business. She also recalls the artists there and the practices they undertook in executing prints.