Cube root

By GREG COOK  |  March 1, 2010

Horn seems to ruminate on nature and impermanence — water, youth, ant farms. It's as if she were trying to preserve fleeting things, like that wave in the pink cube. Paired Gold Mats, for Ross and Felix (1994-'95) offers two crinkly sheets of gold foil laid one atop the other. It's a portrait of two of her friends: the artist Félix González-Torres and his partner, Ross Laycock, both of whom died from AIDS in the 1990s. When light hits it just right, the space between the two sheets flares fiery orange.

Horn's effects tend to be purposely modest and muted. She can impress you with a fresh, curious way of looking at the world — like her photos of the luxurious plumage on the backs of birds' heads. These surprise you because at first you might not realize what they are. But if you don't consistently give her the benefit of the doubt, the art can feel precious, affected, teetering on the edge of where minimal becomes slight. Even staring into the heart of that five-ton pink cube, I start feeling that there's no there there.

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MUSEUM HIGHLIGHTS: A GALLERY TALK Fraser’s radical “institutional critique” has become as mainstream as The Daily Show.

Molesworth is departing from the Harvard Art Museum for the ICA as "Andrea Fraser: Boxed Set," which she curated for the university's Carpenter Center, opens. Fraser is one of the leading lights of a type of postmodern art dubbed "institutional critique," which asks pesky questions about the traditional white, male hierarchy of Western art.

The five videos here, each running about a half an hour, begin with mock museum tours from 1989 and '91. "The museum's purpose is not just to develop an appreciation of art but an appreciation of values," Fraser says in 1989's Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk. But what values?

Fraser presents museums as monuments to wealthy patrons that were built and managed by the patrons' cronies. "They were always eager to do their best for their native city," she proclaims with the cheery blandness of a newscaster in Welcome to the Wadsworth (1991), a monologue she performed outside Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum. Then she veers into rants: "Mankind would have been better off if they never left their farms. . . . We have a moral obligation to have beautiful homes. . . . A city is not intended to be a reservation for unproductive people." Ultimately it's a critique of class, of the civic good works that are touted as benefitting the common folk but more often just reinforce the privileges and smug callousness that can come with wealth.

Over the past decade, Fraser's work has become more notorious — like her 2003 video Untitled (not part of "Boxed Set"), in which she, uh, explored the economics of art by having sex with an American collector who paid her $20,000 to co-star — and more narrowly focused on the art world. Official Welcome (2003) records a performance in front of a museum audience in which she plays the roles of the effusive curator, the sensitive artist, and the cocky artist who thinks, "The only interesting people are the people who say 'fuck off.' " Later she strips down to a tiny bra and panties ("I'm not a person today, I'm an object in an artwork. It's about emptiness.") and then removes them, too ("It takes a lot of courage to do what she does"). She's targeting those proud claims for "radical" art that is, at best, just outrageous.

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