Pipilotti Rist at Luhring, Augustine

Detail ImageInstallation of Pipilotti Rist’s  Herbstzeitlose (meadow saffron or fall time less) at Luhring, Augustine

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An afternoon in Chelsea is unimaginable without walking into a darkened gallery, the lights having been dimmed for a video projection or a hulking installation. The Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist provides both at Luhring Augustine with her latest project, Herbstzeitlose (meadow saffron or fall time less)(2004). Utilizing a cutout diorama of the Alps, a tree branch decorated with recyclable goods, a mock Swiss country house, a table, three chairs and two encompassing video projections, Ms. Rist attempts to evoke … well, what is she attempting to evoke? It’s hard to tell.

The videos aren’t much help in clarifying matters. On the north wall we see a blurry rush of movement, maybe foliage caught in the wind; on the south and west walls are alternate scenes of the Swiss landscape, an eyeball, a tongue, a Ritter chocolate shop and a woman sucking on a toy cow. All the while a musical soundtrack, with its morose violin and loping bass, sets the mood. The press release tells us that Ms. Rist’s creation is an “interweaving of inside and outside, subjectivity and environment,” invoking “a dialogue between mortal and spiritual [sic].”

How much you enjoy Herbstzeitlose will depend on how charitable you are in defining “mortal and spiritual.” If the response of visitors to the gallery is any indication—they meander, engage in small talk and, if I saw it correctly, balance their checkbooks—New Yorkers aren’t charitable at all. They’ll have little do with Ms. Rist’s arrant pretensions and threadbare theatrics. Which leads me to wonder if the main qualification for being a hot artist—and Ms. Rist is hot —is the ability to encourage and sustain apathy in your audience.

(c) 2004 Mario Naves

Originally published in the October 10, 2004 edition of The New York Observer.

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