Deep thoughts, deep show

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The Carnegie International is a great show–it requires a full day of looking, or even two.

Any of the art could have been made anywhere. The painting and video looked especially strong. Apart from a few moments of joie de vivre, it’s a pretty serious slog about the meaning of life, the reason we’re on earth.

A lot of the work is difficult, but we felt it was fruitful spending the time to decode it; and it definitely was an antidote to the navel-gazing that doesn’t go anywhere beyond reflecting the popular culture.

The catalog is a beauty with three Biblical bookmark ribbons in the colors of the show’s ribbons–your daily missal on art that thinks about goodness, badness and the cosmos.

There are three shows within the show, miniexhibits of work by Robert Crumb, Lee Bontecou and Mangelos. We won’t comment here except to mention that they also are concerned with universal questions and they give context to the other artists.

Here are a few of the reasons, in alphabetical order, of why we loved this show: We’ll both come in later with more thoughts and pictures. We took a ton of pix and know you want to see them.

Francis Alys–Hundreds of paintings, sketches and objects in a setting that evokes a study hall (shown at top), part of his display of an ongoing project, ”The Prophet,” to study the world and try to make sense of the horrible and wonderful things that happen there. There’s an artist’s work-book quality (left), with revisions and emendations, and lots of beautiful, Cezanne-colors paint. Born in Belgium, he lives in Mexico City.

Mamma Andersson–For a completely different approach to paint quality, but not necessarily to subject matter, Andersson’s thin application of paint implies a world that is temporary, disposable and embattled. Swedish. (Andersson painting right)

Kutlug Ataman–”Kuba” a 40-channel video installation (left) won the $10,000 Carnegie Prize–a good selection. It is a communal portrait of Kuba, a shanty town of criminals, drug addicts and religious radicals, who tell their stories on 40 mismatched televisions on a thrift-shop array of tables and chairs looking like a classroom of school desks. Ataman didn’t try to tease out the fact from the fantasy in these stories, and you get the questioning of truth from the subtitles, the multiple stories, the delivery via tv. Commissioned by Artangel and coproduced by Carnegie International, et al. Born in Turkey, lives and works in Turkey, Spain and London.

Robert Breer–”ATOZ” A film animation of photos, paintings and drawings that’s a joyful, playful, energetic take on the abc’s. An unconventional use of animation by the oldest artist (born 1926) in the show. The dancing, high-speed imagery was mesmerizing, humorous and an ode to life. We missed his other video, “What Goes Up” (detail right). Boo-hoo. Breer is from Detroit and works in Tappan, New York.

Fernando Bryce— Hand-drawn, ink-on-paper recreations of political posters, tourist brochures, newspaper pages and government documents that highlight the lies of the revolution–from both the revolutionaries and the counter-revolutionaries. “Inter-American Affairs” (detail left) is 230 works, and Bryce, who was born in Peru, now works in Berlin, Germany, as well as Lima.

Kathy Butterly — Non-functional, small (approx. 3 to 8 inches high) clay objects that are joyous, humanistic, fantastically beautiful in a show with not so much beauty or joy; the Crayola-colored glazes in some cases were18 layers deep. (detail right) Pulling from many different cultures–Chinese lions, American cartoons, Egyptian ornamentation–these detailed labors of love had a squishy, droopy and drapey, skinlike quality. The work was perfectly placed between cartoonist Robert Crumb and animation cartoon meister Robert Breer. Born in Amityville, New York, Butterly works in New York City.

Maurizio Cattelan–”Now,” a wax and resin JFK in a completely open coffin on a bier, barely visible in a darkened room. (left) He was vulnerable (without his socks and shoes), demystified, humanized and totally false (his head was intact). A crowd pleaser, open to interpretation, and definitely revealing of age-specific reactions. Born Italy, Cattelan lives in New York.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia–Can you believe pole dancers? DiCorcia’s 10 untitled chromogenic color prints are show stoppers. The almost life-sized dancers, most upside down, look more like athletes than sex objects. Filled with religious and Old Masters references, they hold their own between the Greek statues in the Sculpture Hall (detail right). Born Hartford, Conn., diCorcia lives in New York City.

Saul Fletcher–These tiny photos, many 3 1/2 x 4 1/2, the largest 8” x 6 1/2”, document a sort of secret performance and installation in his house, creating a cosmology of saints of questionable virtue. But the series offers a complete belief system that is open to interpretation. The work is painterly and intimate as holy cards. It’s not about photography per se. (detail left) Fletcher was born and works in England.

Katarzyna Kozyra — Koszyra’s video installation, is a rethinking of the Stravinsky/ Nijinsky “The Rite of Spring” in the context of gender and aging. Gender confusion adds humor and stop-action photography gave the motions a frenzied, comic quality. The three old guys were the chorus — Motown for the old. The virgin dances wildly until she flops down dead. (installation right) Kozyra also had a commissioned performance, but we didn’t see it. Born in Warsaw, Kozyra works there and in Berlin.

Julie Mehretu–More ambitious than what she showed at the Whitney, Mehretu’s stadia series, the swirl of the vacuum of our empty culture and its militaristic jingoism in the huge series of paintings of stadia convinced us that this was powerful work. (Stadia series detail left) Born in Egypt, Mehretu works in New York.

Payne and Relph–Oliver Payne and Nick Relph’s animated “Comma, Pregnant Pause,”(right) commissioned for the Carnegie, lampoons the tyranny of corporate-supplied technology and its false promises– on people hooked up to their technology as the real world is passes them by. Charming and humorous. There was another video but this was the one we saw. Born and live and work in London. (You may remember seeing their work at the ICA in the 2002 “Shoot the Singer” show.

Neo Rauch — Seductive, Hitchcockian nightmares, illustrate almost-real spaces and situations. (“Brandung” translated, where the waves break, left) The bureaucracy of the universe breathes down the necks of the players in his paintings, with people in uniforms and governmental buildings that loom mixing with symbols like bones in a box and double-tailed fish. The paintings parody old, propagandistic textbook illustrations and are unsettling. He continues to intrigue us. Born and lives in Leipzig.

We’d love to hear if you went out to Pittsburgh, what you thought of the show.

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