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“Regarding Beauty: A View
of the Late 20th Century”
At the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to Jan. 17
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The Hirshhorn celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, and the museum plans to mark the occasion by partying like it’s 1993. That was the year Vegas-based critic Dave Hickey published The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. To be fair, it takes time for cultural leviathans to change course, notwithstanding the natural reluctance of museum skippers to follow the lead of a writer who derides the meaning-mediating efforts of their “therapeutic institutions.” To be fairer still, “Regarding Beauty” curators Neal Benezra and Olga Viso tackled beauty as a subtheme of 1996’s “Distemper” show and acknowledge that ideas for the current exhibition grew out of that one. Viewers who depend on the Hirshhorn’s large survey shows to help them keep abreast of developments in contemporary art may complain that many of the artists involved have, over the past dozen years, already occupied larger segments (Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, Willem de Kooning, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Lucian Freud) or smaller corners (Beverly Semmes, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Mona Hatoum) of the Mall’s great concrete doughnut. But there’ll also be the chance to bask in the fake-flower radiance of Jim Hodges, be taken in by film-flam man Douglas Gordon (who once screened Psycho for 24 hours), dance to the beat of car-killing video star Pipilotti Rist, and catch up with po’-boy declassicists Michelangelo Pistoletto, Jannis Kounellis, and Giulio Paolini. Besides, although insiders have been talking about “the Beauty Show” for months, the “Regarding” bit is at least as important. It would have been possible to assemble a show along the same lines that included none of the dozens of artists on display. The ’90s focus on beauty has been a critic-driven affair, and the Hirshhorn has booked, among others, the two sine qua non scribes: Hickey delivers the tellingly titled “Beauty: Art Without Artists” Oct. 20, and, on Oct. 27, catalog essayist and Nation critic Arthur C. Danto (whom some observers give credit for kick-starting the beauty vogue) tackles the avant-garde. CP