Artists Of The Year

We list the best of the best of 1997.

Nothing Sacred strikes new sparks off the usual petrified stories. In its episodes, frustrated male priests are taught, by women, to value their sexual vitality as an aspect of the divine. Warriors from dueling doctrines reluctantly bare their vulnerable places, toward a mutual respect. It's a talky show: Any temporary easement of pain or doubt arrives through communal effort, as energy (the sacred, if you must) passes from hand to hand and back again. That sounds treacly, and sometimes it is. But because Nothing Sacred prizes communion, the writers also know when to shut up and, per Iris DeMent, let the mystery be. Between the knowing and the unknowing, I've sat for a while and imagined a thicker definition of self.

Terri Sutton is a Minneapolis writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

by Jane Dark

Matt Adams

Compared to the work of manic idea-techs like Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry's architectural postmodernism is practically pedestrian; for all his success, his main contribution to semipublic space has been, well, huge fucking hotel lobbies. But stood against the structures that actually get built--far from the dreamy blueprints and plans--his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is a building that goes boom. From the outside, it's an optical dream, with a front door approached downhill. While you arrive, the museum, with its light-gathering titanium skin, ascends through the field of vision like a pomo sun. Inside, it's a series of suspended explosions--a reminder of the tension between the plastic arts and time's arrow. The effect, inside and out, is so phantasmic it's like a theme park for art (too bad the collection, as yet, is mostly Mickey Mouse).

And no wonder: Gehry's next big thing is the Disney Museum, an on-again/off-again love letter/bomb to his Los Angeles homeland. And in his spare time, he makes adorable lamps, etc., signed with his fish motif. The Guggenheim, meanwhile, finally pays off the promise Gehry made when he blew up his own residence ("The Gehry House" in Santa Monica) as a form of home improvement: Call it better living through terrorism. After a few years of music crit, one look at the new Gugg made me want to drop it all and start an architectural 'zine. Gehry makes art that makes you wanna make art too; in his world, the future is something to look forward to.

Jane Dark is a Bay Area writer.

by Jon Dolan

Great year for livin'. And 1997 was full of Artist of the Year options: Tom Frank's essays in The Baffler, Law and Order's Brisco, Amy Goodman's stern daily declaration "This is...Democracy Now," and my pal Joe Golden's advice on the perfidy of the human genitalia. All amazing to say the least. But I need pop music, and there wasn't much to go around. Biggie's money problems, Janet's whispers over Tip's "Joni Mitchell never lies," the new Dylan, and Yo La Tengo's "Green Arrow" all hit like shots of redemption. But they couldn't save the year in which the "great plunderer" Snuff Daddy invaded post-Biggie America like some sort of crypto-Columbus, and my beloved electronica remained a cellar dweller. So I freaked out and fled like a refugee...

To Cuba. There were tons of records there, but my highest Fidel-ity was to two artists: Celia Cruz and Rubén González (left). González is a 77-year-old piano player who debuted this year with a beautiful record called Introducing. His constantly unpredictable, strangely paced, but always elegant and slyly self-aware playing makes me as happy as that of my favorite American jazz pianists--Bud Powell, Monk, Bill Evans.

Celia Cruz has been around forever. To Cubists, she's as important as Aretha. A ferociously expressive singer (and my own Afro-Cuban Corin Tucker), her greatest late-'50s and early-'60s recordings--compiled this year on Rhino's 100% Azucar--speak a salsa I don't wanna imagine trying to resist. Her genius was for firing off syllables with machine-gun accuracy and filling in the holes with soul sauce. I use her "Saoco" as my benchmark for understanding how Cuban singing--hell, soul singing--should make me feel. I'm hearing it right now, and I rarely feel this good.

Jon Dolan is music editor at City Pages.

by Julie Caniglia

Some consider filmmakers the most egotistical of artists, and Atom Egoyan, despite being well-known for his modesty, is no exception. Up until now, this Canadian had written and directed (and, in one case, starred in) a series of masterful, coolly analytical art films in which virtually all the characters, as he's said, were shards of himself. (Hence his company's ironic name, Ego Film Arts.) But he eventually found this approach growing stale: He was, admittedly, running low on Things To Say. So the egoist willingly compromised himself but aimed high nonetheless, adapting the most unadaptable novel from acclaimed author Russell Banks.

Interestingly, one of Egoyan's own idols, Francis Ford Coppola, was reduced to doing a John Grisham novel this year (for reasons that point to fundamental differences between the U.S. and Canadian film industries). And unlike the blandly worthy The Rainmaker, Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, his sixth feature, is an unmistakable masterpiece. It has no momentous breakthroughs, no resolutions--and, despite a lawyer as a protagonist, not a single courtroom scene. The simple narrative, which edges as close to melodrama as this director may ever come, allows for a dazzling, almost prismatic plot structure. And the clear, cold mountain light of British Columbia--a naturalistic version of Egoyan's usual, somewhat clinical aesthetic--accentuates one of his major motifs: the emotional chasms between the most intimate people.

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