The Artists’ Artists

Artists for Art’s Sake contacted a group of international artists to find out which exhibitions in the United States, were in their eyes, the very best of 2008.


Shelly Silver, in complete world (screened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York)

It’s easy to feel alienated from one’s fellow citizens; it’s not easy to combat that alienation. But Silver does. Her film in complete world weaves together street interviews with a hundred or so New Yorkers; ages, accents, styles, and races mix as people respond to questions like, Are you satisfied? and, Are we responsible for the government we get? Deceptively simple in its formal rigor, the film focuses on timbres of voices and shapes of faces, investing without reservation in the extended, non-sound-bite take in which all the strangeness, pathos, tang, and perspicacity of demotic speech unfolds. Spliced between the interviews, black screens backed by city sounds both link and separate the speakers; the city is a matrix, but all will be drowned out if we don’t listen carefully. If neither avant-garde silence nor infotainment cacophony can help us now, maybe what we need is Silver’s skeptical but tender vérité.


Daniel McDonald, “Bohemian Monsters” (Broadway 1602, New York)

 I read this show of miniature tableaux as an elaborate storyboard for a miniseries that Douglas Cramer might have produced about the East Village—Valley of the Dolls set on the LES and in Echo Park rather than Midtown and Bel Air. Washed-up movie monsters in roles of our favorite avant-garde types. Is the Bride of Frankenstein playing Kembra Pfahler? Is the Wicked Witch of the West playing Tabboo!? Who’s the Mummy supposed to be, Rob Pruitt? That’s me in the corner (Michael Stipe’s show at Rogan being another favorite of the year). Beyond wry social satire and attention to craft, there was an astute politics at work in what was McDonald’s first solo show.




“ Some Dry Space: Michael Light”( Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV)

Light’s survey of the West, predominantly shot from a self- piloted airplane using techniques descended from early military reconnaissance photography, delivered a bird’s eye view of the persistent “frontier”. For this exhibition, in an oversize handmade book resting on a tripod ( rather than on a pedestal), an inverted wall size photograph of a Los Angeles cityscape shot directly into the sun, and in photographs of endless Wyoming coal mines, California oil fields, hallowed out Utah mountains and vast desert landscapes portrayed with vertigo inducing tilted aerial perspectives, Light offered a nonfiction metaphor of the shock and awe violence characterizing American frontiers’ past, present and future.



Ryan Trecartin( Youtube)

Trecartin posts his videos on YouTube under the name Wian Treetin. This year he added the I BE-AREA, which I like for its vibrant colors, special effects and editing- though it’s too long for my taste. My favorite is( Tommy Chat Just Emailed Me), 2006. It’s a short video that shifts from girls on the internet, to girls on the phone, to girls inside the internet. Tommy is, I think, the protagonist, even though he’s hardly mentioned. Actually, maybe Tommy isn’t the protagonist. Maybe there are two protagonists: sound and image. Though both are subjected to Trecartin’s arsenal special effects, the video still comes across as one homogeneous piece. That’s what inspires me the most.


Larry Johnson (Patrick Painter, Los Angeles)

In one photograph, a beam of ghostly, pure white light streams from a crisply hand-rendered line drawing of a now-obsolete slide projector. A kind of spirit photography is evoked by the palette of shadowy black-and-white, which in other works is supplanted by the high-key lighting of pornography. In full color, the hand of the artist is photographed simultaneously fucking and erasing, with a pencil, a sketch of a clearly pleased and rather unburdened cartoon donkey. What, exactly, is submission in this image? That the animal alludes to the stung-to-death donkey from Luis Buñuel’s Land Without Bread only adds to my nervous affection for the artist.




“Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas” (MoCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles)

Former minister of culture for the Black Panthers and art director of its paper from 1967 until 1980, Douglas applied the ethos of his party’s motto—“A thing is only good when it brings real benefit to the people”—to his art. Committed to social justice, he represented the poor with dignity while aggressively attacking their oppressors through his aesthetically compelling and formally innovative illustrations, collages, posters, and drawings. Exhibited at this moment in our history—when an African American stood poised to win the presidency of a country at war not only abroad, but against its own citizens’ constitutional freedoms—Douglas’s output seems as relevant and politically astute today as it must have during the momentous and contradictory times that produced it.