Killing Fields

How can we look at images like these, let alone in an art gallery?

The "Them" Question

There's a non-p.c., nevertheless vexing issue lurking in Thomas Hirschhorn's current Barbara Gladstone exhibition: The vast majority of the pictures of the blown-apart bodies on view are apparently Arabs. On the one hand, this is an effective way of pointing a finger at America's invasion of Iraq. Hirschhorn creates a kind of reverse Eucharist whereby Americans "consume" this flesh but rather than drawing life or redemption from it, draw shame and poison. We see our pathological lust for victims.

On the other hand, had Hirschhorn only portrayed the blown-apart bodies of Europeans killed in Madrid or London, had he located and placed in the gallery detailed images of those who jumped to their deaths from the World Trade Center, this would significantly alter the message of "Superficial Engagement," pointing a finger in quite another direction.

Concrete Shock, 2005
photo: Robin Holland
Concrete Shock, 2005

Details

Thomas Hirschhorn: Superficial Engagement
Barbara Gladstone Gallery
515 W. 24th Street
Through February 11

See also:
  • The "Them" Question
    A reverse Eucharist: contemporary America's pathological lust for victims made visible
    by Jerry Saltz
  • Related Stories

    More About

    I'm not preaching moral relativism or asserting that there should be an equality of death. Hirschhorn vehemently maintains that his work is not ideological and is about the human condition. Yet his portrayal of this condition, however heartfelt, is loaded with ideological baggage. This may be his intention; it may also be unavoidable. All editing is misrepresentative.

    Ramping Up

    The other evening, the Tishman Auditorium at the New School was packed with art professionals, museum mucky-mucks, and students, as seven speakers, or gatekeepers, took the stage. Moderator Tim Griffin, editor of Artforum, introduced them one by one—all former or current curators of a show that has been called "impossible": the Whitney Biennial. First, Marcia Tucker talked about looking for art in 1969 "that wasn't made by straight white guys in New York." Next came Elisabeth Sussman, whose visionary 1993 political exhibition was totally and wrongly dismissed at the time. Klaus Kertess addressed a generation of artists in 1995 who "were taking advantage of the fact that there was no Modernism anymore." Louise Neri eloquently described the "fictional worlds" theme of the 1997 biennial. Finally, Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne, curators of this year's model, refreshingly said they were forgoing "Top 10 lists" and just "doing a show, not a biennial." After Iles passionately asserted that "art can make a difference," Vergne ended the evening by saying, "I'm a virgin to the process. I hope it won't hurt but I look forward to a lot of pleasure." That's something I think we can all agree on; too bad no one asked the question on every young artist's mind: "How do I get into one of these things?"


    jsaltz@villagevoice.com

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