There are three galleries around which curator Douglas Fogle’s Carnegie International revolves. One features nine intense Vija Celmins paintings of starscapes. The Carnegie’s Hall of Sculpture features Mike Kelley’s take on a grade-school science fair run amok. And finally there’s Richard Hughes’ room of human abandonment, a hint of what, say, a steel town might look like if the locals suddenly went Anasazi. [At left, Hughes’ 2007 The Big Sleep and a 2008 untitled wall-piece.]

The theme of Fogle’s more-or-less triennial — there’s so much art production around the world that macro-surveys are no longer have authority or integrity, and Fogle has wisely chucked that concept — is humanity, contact. As Fogle told me two weeks ago, his idea was to make a show about “this human desire to connect with another person or another world in a way… I ended up thinking it should be a show about humanity and have a human quality, that it should be about connections, about the idea of trying to connect with someone else.”

But what Fogle didn’t mention was that his idea wasn’t to show art that was about connecting in a romantic, fuzzy, Match.com kind of way, but a show in which contact is a survivalist imperative born from dystopia. Fogle’s International, subtitled “Life on Mars,” is the smartest bleak museum show I’ve seen in years. It is not a warning of what will happen if humankind doesn’t respond to global warming, AIDS, famine, or any one of numerous global problems: It’s too late for that. Instead Fogle presents artwork after artwork portraying a world far gone, a world beyond preservation. Sometimes people have left, sometimes they’re disfigured, and sometimes the reference is more abstract.

Tyler Green
Modern Art Notes