My recent post on Artforum's bestowing of "new artist" status twice to the same person (in 1992 and again 12 years later) led to some unfortunate bashing of the magazine out in bloggerland. One writer told me in an email that he hadn't read anything good in AF since its September 2002 piece on Robert Ryman. This challenged me to look through a stack of 'forums since that date and find good, or at least provocative, articles. What follows is the first in an on-again off-again series discussing what I found. The posts won't always be "positive" (the one below isn't) but the idea is to have a discussion as opposed to just popping off.

January 2003 issue. (Yes, I know this was a year ago.) Philip Nobel's cover story on a Pierre Huyghe-curated exhibition gives the reader much to react to, even though the piece isn't critical enough by half. Huyghe and collaborator Phillipe Parreno purchased the rights to the Japanimation character Annlee (below, left) from "Kworks, a Japanese clearinghouse" for such things, and then a group of artist friends riffed on this piece of readily-available intellectual property. Nobel accurately describes the little girl Annlee as "sad," but then takes a critical kamikaze dive and declares her a metaphor for the Japanese themselves, citing Takashi Murakami's morose thesis: "Behind the flashy titillation of anime lies the shadow of Japan's defeat in the Pacific war. The world of anime is the world of impotence." Right, as we see in the enterprising Japanese space program in Wings of Honneamise, the bickering-but-always-successful robot-pilot cops in Patlabor, the ebullient gender comedy in Ranma 1/2... Anime isn't just Grave of the Fireflies but tell that to an American critic looking for a hook. (For the record, Huyghe thinks Nobel's interpretation of the project overromanticizes it. "We bought a virgin," Huyghe says, sounding like one of those cold, cold Euro-operators in Olivier Assayas' Demonlover.)

According to Nobel, Huyghe "slightly redrew" the character (see two computer images above right), which is true if "slightly redrawing" means removing her pupils, tilting her eyes the opposite way, giving her a perm, stripping off her clothes, and turning her into a robot ET. Huyghe then asked 14 artists to interpret this "open source Annlee" for a group show that traveled to major museums. Once he created the "freeware" prototype, the artists were stuck drawing her that way, that is, like his digital puppet and not the Kworks original (Nobel refers to the show's "many identical video avatars"). So what's the purpose of buying the brand, bringing the "empty sign" to life through multiple interpretations, and then transferring the copyright back to the character, as Huyghe supposedly did, if you're going to make the brand unrecognizable before the interpretation process even starts? The work has a superficial frisson of commodity art but fails as a meme-propagating business model, parodistic or otherwise. It's the sort of high-concept exercise that gives museum curators goosebumps, but based on the reproductions and Nobel's description I'd say it flopped. And now Huyghe "owns" the idea in the copyright office of artist opinion so no one else can ever do it again, not that they should.

This abstract "Annlee" wallpaper by M/M Paris, sorry for the grainy scan, is great, though:

- tom moody 1-15-2004 7:35 pm


Thanks for the timely feedback. I'll think about it.


- Philip Nobel (guest) 1-19-2004 7:28 pm

I would like to contact you and get some thoughts. I am a graduate student at NYU writing about Pierre Huyghe. I was drawn to your site here because you have the common sense to question whether or not this guy is any good. I find some of his work downright interesting, but as I wrap my brain around it all I can not get away from how much he relies on theory. Considering how explicitly critical he is of the act of representing and defining, he sure is quick to outline what his work means. I recently attended his talk at the New School and fell asleep.

Please email

- Anthony Clune (guest) 12-11-2004 8:03 am

Hi Tom, This article was very useful to me, since I am writing my thesis with Annlee as topic. (I am a last year masterstudent Art history at the university of Ghent (Belgium)) I first saw Annlee in Van Abbemuseum (eindhoven, the netherlands) and I liked the project a lot. If you have more thoughts on the subject, feel free to mail me on And just in case that either Pierre Huyghe or Philip Parreno should read this message: votre travail est une inspiration, si vous avez encore information pour moi n'hésitez pas de me contacter! Everyone who thinks they can help me, please mail. I am especially interested in the collaboration, copyright, identity and appropriation issues of the Annlee-project. I know this is a late post on a - probably - already closed thread, but thanks anyway.
- kristel 2-28-2005 2:41 am

Philip Nobel wrote the following hilarious paragraph about the Hearst Tower, in Metropolis:

But New York City--particularly Midtown Manhattan, where the Hearst Tower now stands in all its incongruous glory--is an uncompromising place, one that doesn't easily accommodate the architectural tricks, tics, and fillips that distinguish the "world-class" from the merely useful. Passing over the best-known hurdles--oddball zoning rules, penny-pinching developers, mobbed-up construction sites, hidebound trades--there is also the simple fact that towers there are built cheek by jowl, one great erection butting against the next as close as any two lowly tenements downtown. The Hearst Tower gives itself some breathing room, set back as it is within the frame of its borrowed podium, but it can't quite detach enough from the truly abominable presence of the tall brown-brick mass of The Sheffield apartments, adjacent to the west. And then there's the little issue of the meritless green-glass apartment tower across 57th Street to the north, rising with Hearst for most of its modest 42 stories--in which, incidentally, residents have still not learned to lower their shades before undressing.
via Curbed.
- tom moody 5-04-2006 8:17 am

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