The Art World: Feeling Good

From The New Yorker, by Peter Schjeldahl

The Swiss video- and installation-maker Pipilotti Rist is an evangelist for happiness like no other first-rate artist, except, perhaps, Alexander Calder. Rist’s rigorously disciplined hedonism elates anew at the Luhring Augustine gallery. The show, “Heroes of Birth,” centers on a darkened room with five ranks of white scrims hung diagonally across it. Wall-mounted projectors stream soft-edged videos of sheep grazing and at play in an Alpine meadow, and of crisp, roving computer animations of pale-green and lavender circles that, in concentric arrays, wax, wane, and gyrate three-dimensionally. Color is more than the keynote of Rist’s art—it’s practically the theology. The effect is both incessantly stimulating and particularly restful.

Rist, who is forty-eight, lives in Zurich with her longtime partner, Balz Roth, and their seven-year-old son, Himalaya. She was born and raised in Grabs, a Rhine Valley town near the Austrian border. She studied commercial art, illustration, and photography at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, then video at the School of Design in Basel. From 1988 to 1994, she played flute and bass in a female band, Les Reines Prochaines. In another room of the show, scores of mostly women’s undies, from vintage bloomers to lacy notions, hang from the ceiling in a vertical configuration of two incomplete cones, joined at their bases. Richly colored wallpaper repeats kaleidoscopic patterns of joined female hands and of indistinct male genitals.

Mentions Rist’s film “Pepperminta.” Rist is remarkable for having insisted on bliss throughout an era when a parade of artists ambitiously expanded art’s physical scale and social address only to burden it, self-importantly, with theoretical arcane and political sanctimony.

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