Carnegie International earns high marks. Large show of well-chosen art reflects recent trends

THIS year's Carnegie International - the Carnegie Museum of Art's triennial survey of recent developments in contemporary art - is huge, and it's shrewdly chosen. It will, I suspect, be even more successful - or more disturbing, depending on one's point of view - than the previous one. Its 100 works by 39 artists were selected by John Caldwell, the museum's curator of contemporary art, in collaboration with a six-member international advisory committee. It includes paintings and sculptures, as well as works in other media, such as photography and video.

The artists range from such relative old-timers as Richard Artschwager, Georg Baselitz, Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, Julian Schnabel, and Cy Twombly to such newcomers as G"unther F"org, Peter Halley, Jeff Koons, and Sherrie Levine. Special attention is also given to Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, two seminal figures in late-20th-century art who died since the 1985 International.

The International's history goes all the way back to 1896, when it was established by Andrew Carnegie to educate Pittsburgh and American audiences, inspire local artists, and enrich the museum's collection by acquiring ``the Old Masters of tomorrow.''

Although its format has changed several times (at various periods it has been an annual, a biennial, and a triennial), its overall intentions have not. Any American art lover who grew up in the 1920s or '30s will remember the International as the premier art event of the season, and as the only real showcase for recent world art available to those unable to travel abroad.

Its occurrence was a national news event. And small wonder, for almost every artist of note was included. Some won prizes; most did not. But their inclusion enabled the museum to purchase examples of their work.

In this way, the Carnegie Museum acquired paintings by, among others, Rouault, Ensor, Whistler, Sargent, Cassatt, and Hopper. And this policy continues today; its most recent purchases include works by Nauman, Lewitt, Serra, and Kiefer.

Plans for the 1988 International began in 1985 with a trip to Europe by Mr. Caldwell and John R. Lane, who was then the director of the museum, to familiarize themselves with what was being produced abroad, and to discuss with European colleagues how they should structure the next exhibition. Thus began a process that was to continue for almost seven months and would include three trips around the United States as well as another European journey.

The final decision was to continue the International as a show of artists chosen individually on merit. The artworks were selected the same way, one by one on an individual basis, most often with the active collaboration of the artists.

The result is a show that is big, brash (although less so than the one of 1985), and as up to date on today's advanced art as is Artforum magazine on the ``in'' gallery world or Vogue magazine on women's fashions. Overall, it bears as much resemblance to the Internationals of a few decades ago as the Concorde jet does to Lindbergh's airplane.

Much of that has to do with streamlining - both in designed effect (the entire exhibition looks as though it were an extended piece of Conceptual art) and in thinking. This is as safe and ``correct'' an exhibition of advanced, late 1980s art as one could imagine. There are no ``mistakes,'' no embarrassments of judgment or taste. It's so perfect, in fact, that had it been assembled as a requirement for an advanced course in ``Art That Matters, 1985-88: The Consensus,'' it would, without doubt, receive a grade of A.

Everyone who ``should'' be in it is in it - although occasionally with some surprises. Chief among these are Baselitz's startling but effective wood carvings; Jannis Kounellis's huge and awesome ``Untitled''; Wolfgang Laib's beeswax, brick, and stucco walk-in enclosure; Elizabeth Murray's freer-than-ever ``shaped'' canvases; Bruce Nauman's disturbing and unforgettable steel and cast aluminum ``Carousel'' (for my money, a real ``Old Master work of tomorrow''); and Susan Rothenberg's strong and surprisingly colorful figurative paintings.

Given the opportunity to take one work home with me, I'd choose Kiefer's ``Campaigns of Alexander the Great'' (provided I could find space for it). It and the two other Kiefers in the show are more recent than anything in his retrospective, now at New York's Museum of Modern Art; they indicate that he is moving ahead as rapidly as expected.

Richard Artschwager, Per Kirkeby, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, and Anna and Bernhard Blume also score handsomely. On the other hand, I could have done without Sherrie Levine's trivialities and Jeff Koons's sanctified pieces of kitsch.

Finally, mention must be made of the most moving work in the show, Joseph Beuys's ``The End of the 20th Century.'' Its 44 basalt stones, some upright but most flat on the ground, and all partly wrapped in felt, occupy a room all to themselves. The title tells it all. As John Caldwell writes in his introductory essay to the exhibition catalog, ``The work could easily symbolize the crumbling of meanings and values - as well as the need to restore them - as we approach a new century.''

To which I would only add: This International could just as easily symbolize the crumbling of meanings and values in art - as well as the need to restore them - as we approach a new century.

At the Carnegie Museum of Art through Jan. 22.

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