Schjeldahl on Rist

In “Feeling Good” (New Yorker, September 27, 2010; abstract here ), Peter Schjeldahl reviews Pipolotti Rist’s show at Luhring Augustine in NYC, and in the process, extols the singular artist and her commitment to pleasure.

I savored the subject and the conveyance. I admire Rist’s work for it fearless optimism and exuberance. She manages to make massive installations that are friendly and participatory. Schjeldahl’s words brim with enthusiasm, and he also contextualizes Rist’s work with a preternaturally long view.

A few of my favorite passages are:

The first two lines:

The Swiss video- and installation-maker Pipilotti Rist is an evangelist for happiness like no other first-rate artist that I can think of, except, perhaps, Alexander Calder. Like Calder, she is immune to solemnity, and her work appeals to more or less everybody.

This gem:

Color is more than the keynote of Rist’s art—it’s practially the theology.

Her pop cultural affinities don’t unite high and low so much as make them seem like interchangeable engines of pleasure. Rist resolves no critical problems of contemporary art. She just makes you forget there are any.

(I wondered about this same dialectic—this addiction to criticality as radical opposition—in my show Irrational Exuberance, and it was discussed in the closing dialogue, As Is: Pop and Complicity.)

…not that thought is allowed much traction. There’s a steady state of wonderment at having a body right here, right now…. Imagine, as Rist makes easy in the show’s main room, being a sheep in a lush meadow entirely surrounded, as far as you can see, by what you like to eat. Life surely vitiates such sublime contentment most of the time, but numbness to it seems an optional tragedy.

Just as positive psychologists want you to know: Optimism is a choice.

Schjeldahl takes a strong position in the course of explaining Rist’s significance:

Pleasure is a serious matter in and for art, which must justify itself continually in a global culture of mass entertainments. Glumness is an understandable but self-defeating reaction of people determined to somehow make a difference. Rist is remarkable for having insisted on bliss in an era, which peaked in the nineteen-nineties, when a parade of artists ambitiously expanded art’s physical scale and social address only to burden it, self-importantly, with theoretical arcana and political sanctimony.

As a critical writer, I aspire to this level of expertise and confidence.

Proof that writing about art need not be burdened by art-speak, pretension, or obfuscation:

Responsible as well as responsive to contemporary art’s enlarged public sphere, she maintains standards of craft and sincerity—outward discipline, inward necessity—that speak for themselves, without critical gloss or winking irony.


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