in Features | 16 AUG 16
Featured in
Issue 181

25 Artworks: 1996–2000

To celebrate frieze’s quarter century, the editors choose 25 key artworks: one for each year of the magazine’s existence

in Features | 16 AUG 16

Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996, acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung on linen, 2.4 x 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist, David Zwirner, New York, and Victoria Miro, London

1996 — Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary

British artist Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary is one of the most controversial artworks of the mid-1990s. After causing a stir in ‘Sensation’ at London’s Royal Academy in 1997, the work travelled to New York in 1999 to be installed at the Brooklyn Museum for the show’s US iteration: the then-Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, declared that the painting offended him (despite not having seen it) and it became a subject of national debate.

The reason for the furore? Ofili’s black Madonna is decorated with painted and varnished elephant dung; one ball of it, covered in glitter, stands in for one her breasts. Details from pornographic magazines float across the vivid yellow background and the painting is displayed resting on two further lumps. Raised a Catholic, and as interested in spirituality as he is in art history, Ofili has described his work as a hip-hop version of old master paintings of the Virgin Mary. The artist’s use of non-traditional materials and his explosive intertwining of identity politics, religion and popular culture have become the norm for a younger generation of painters, such Sanya Kantarovsky, Ella Kruglyanskaya and Dana Schutz. — Jennifer Higgie

Other significant works: Liam Gillick, The What If? Scenario; Sheela Gowda, Gallant Hearts; Gu Dexin, Meat; Zbigniew Libera, Lego Concentration Camp; Mrinalini Mukherjee, Aranyani

Steve McQueen, Deadpan, 1997, 16mm film still. Courtesy: the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London

1997 — Steve McQueen, Deadpan

A powerfully built black man stands in front of an imposing wooden house. A small, square window interrupts its facade. Re-enacting the classic moment from Buster Keaton’s film Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) when the hapless actor looks set to be crushed by a falling building only to be saved by a well-placed window, the young Steve McQueen, his back to the house, stands stock still as the structure falls around him. Just under five minutes long, silent and shot on 16mm film, Deadpan is shown on a continuous loop. The camera, between sudden switches of angle, lingers on the artist’s body like an ominous, fetishizing eye. Although McQueen has gone on to make a number of critically acclaimed feature-length films, Deadpan distills elements that have come to be seen as hallmarks of his practice: an unflinching confrontation with the potential of violence communicated through the smallest inflections of the camera’s focus. — Paul Teasdale

Other significant works: Fischli & Weiss, Visible World; Rodney Graham, Vexation Island; Johan Grimonprez, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y; Sarah Lucas, Pauline Bunny; Tracey Moffatt, Up in the Sky; Pipilotti Rist, Ever Is Over All

Wolfgang Tillmans, friends, 1998, c-type print, 10 x 15 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Maureen Paley, London

1998 — Wolfgang Tillmans, friends

‘Each photograph Wolfgang Tillmans takes and prints is part of a collective,’ wrote Julie Ault. Tillmans himself has said: ‘I do want each picture to be understood as its own self-sufficient entity.’ friends embodies both of these positions. Three male heads on an orange-red pillow: two of the men (one with a prominent safety-pin earring) are cuddling, while the third faces the opposite direction. Although he is partially cropped out of the scene, his hair softly touches the shorn skull of one of his friends and he seems very much part of a moment of union and warmth. The constellation feels personal, but it’s also an iconic representation of three people challenging both monogamous norms and the assumption that males are supposed to bond without getting too intimate. Taken in the year Northern Ireland entered the Good Friday agreement, the Kosovo War commenced, and the year after Tillmans lost his partner, Jochen Klein, to AIDS, this picture, and the people in it, are a self-sufficient entity and part of a collective. — Jörg Heiser

Other significant works: Jane Alexander, Bom Boys; Monica Bonvicini, Plastered; Rummana Hussain, Is It What You Think?; Piotr Uklanski, The Nazis

Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Cabinet, London

1999 — Mark Leckey, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore

At time of writing, Mark Leckey’s video Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, has had 142,134 views on YouTube – a cult following rare for a work of art. It was created with found documentary footage – sourced years before YouTube provided online access to long-lost TV shows and documentaries – to trace a history of British dance culture and working-class youth: Northern Soul all-nighters of the 1970s, 1980s soul weekenders, the acid house explosion and the raves left in its dying embers. The video’s impressionistic soundtrack and the ghostly grain of VHS tape express how the textures of technology have shaped personal memory and shared pop culture. Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore would prove to be an influential work for subsequent generations of artists exploring the tensions of life between the analogue and digital realms, and the legacies of British pop culture. — Dan Fox

Other significant works: Doug Aitken, Electric Earth; Maurizio Cattelan, The Ninth Hour; Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent; Zarina Hashmi, Home Is a Foreign Place; Susan Hiller, Psi Girls; Laura Owens, Untitled

Francis Alÿs, Re-enactments, 2000, photographic print, photographer unknown. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, and David Zwirner, London

2000 — Francis Alÿs, Re-enactments

On 4 November 2000, the Belgian-born, Mexico-based artist Francis Alÿs was filmed buying a 9mm Beretta from a gun store in Mexico City. He then left the shop with the loaded weapon held visibly in his right hand and walked the streets with his collaborator, Rafael Ortega, filming him. About 12 minutes later, a police car sped up behind Alÿs and aggressively apprehended him. After negotiating his release, the artist convinced the officers to re-enact the arrest, with Ortega filming it again. The ‘real’ version of Alÿs’s performance and the ‘re-enactment’ are shown side by side in Re-enactments. Alÿs used this provocative action – at a time when the city was experiencing an elevated level of crime – to highlight the indistinct boundaries between the real and the staged in videoed performances. Though he has since expressed regret about Re-enactments portraying a clichéd, violent version of Mexico City, the work remains one of the most oft-cited of his poignant interventions into the public life of the city. — Christy Lange

Other significant works: Martin Creed, Work No. 227 The lights going on and off; Tacita Dean, Teignmouth Electron; Thomas Hirschhorn, Gramsci Monument; Julie Mehretu, Arcadia and Bushwick Burning; Mike Nelson, The Coral Reef; Christoph Schlingensief, Foreigners Out!; Santiago Sierra, Workers who cannot be paid, remunerated to remain inside cardboard boxes