Artists of the Year

12 Rods, Jon Stewart, Howard Stern, Quentin Tarantino, Garrison Keillor, MF Doom, Lawrence Lessig, Randi Rhodes...

Which is why, with each successive building, book, or article he creates, Dutch iconoclast Rem Koolhaas only furthers the scope of his genius. Is there an artist at work today who's more heedlessly optimistic than Koolhaas? With the Seattle Public Library--his most visible American building, which opened last spring even as the SPL's spiritual offspring, the China Central Television Tower, began to rise brashly skyward--Koolhaas has finally seen his pop theories achieve velocity across the west/east arc of the northern hemisphere. Throw in Koolhaas's crackpot compendium Content ("dense, cheap, disposable," he calls it)--as well as Koolhaas/Lagos, a documentary on the architect's seduction by urbanity's most haggard whore--and we find the artist giddily hitting a stride unmatched by any modern architect since...well, ever.

All of this would amount to mere random mewlings were it not for the fact that Koolhaas, for all his pointy-headed ramblings and theoretical flights of fancy, remains a fundamentally silly architect. And I do mean silly. We may reserve the fuzzy honorific of playful for such fundamentally obtuse architects as Frank Gehry or Norman Foster; Koolhaas is silly. One look at his manic apocalypso of a library--a building akin to the large intestine, digesting the whole of bibliophilia in some sort of sci-fi bowel movement--is enough to see that Koolhaas's lofty ideas are never more than a leaping-off point for Future's most slap-happy intellectual sybarite and celebrant, a man for whom Dancing About Architecture is an unironic reality.

Bonus points: At the start of 2005, Koolhaas is still the only architect to publicly criticize the World Trade Center memorial, having called it a "massive representation of hurt that projects only the overbearing self-pity of the powerful." And a local angle: One need only look at Koolhaas's wonderful Guggenheim Hermitage museum addition in Las Vegas to realize the full-scale disaster of the bloated, leaden, self-aggrandizing addition to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Kenzo Tange, you may now decapitate Michael Graves.

Jamie Hook is executive director of Minnesota Film Arts.

 

Jehane Noujaim
by Chuck Olsen

I'm one of those geeks who gets most of his news from the internet, which bestows upon me a mystical power over mainstream media's trite conventions and obvious biases. Our government puts up a smoke screen, our media reports it: Indeed, there appears to be hot vapor emanating from the White House. I like to think I can see through all that and ask, Where's the fire?

But I have an embarrassing admission: I got duped. If anyone was reporting on the real fire--the unpleasant consequences of our actions in Iraq--it was Al Jazeera. Donald Rumsfeld called Al Jazeera "Osama bin Laden's mouthpiece." I tend to distrust anything that sputters out of Rumsfeld's wiry mouth, but somehow this idea penetrated my critical radar. Enemy propaganda. Not to be trusted.

Arab American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim presents a far more complex reality in her documentary Control Room. Noujaim gained access to both Al Jazeera headquarters and the U.S. military's Central Command offices in Qatar. Though only 20 miles separate the two, their perceptions of the U.S. presence in Iraq are light years apart. Noujaim (unlike you-know-who) wisely avoids pandering to either worldview, instead placing her loyalty with her captivating characters, including burly and genial Al Jazeera reporter Hassan Ibrahim and Lt. Josh Rushing, the disarmingly honest and charming press officer from CENTCOM. Rushing starts out parroting administration talking points, but his sincere and candid conversations with Ibrahim give rise to cognitive dissonance; you can almost see the bridge of understanding being forged in their eyes.

Noujaim's camera shows us perhaps the most important conversation of our time. Different channels, different truths--and these days, we need all the truths we can get.

Chuck Olsen is a Minneapolis-based blogger and the director of Blogumentary.

 

Garrison Keillor
by T.D. Mischke

Okay, I'm in the radio business and thus would love to see this art form recognized. But even if you view radio as a tad pedestrian, you have to make an exception for Garrison Keillor. This past year our Wobegon Wonder has been on a flat-out roll.

Of late, Prairie Home Companion has been displaying a new life that it hasn't known in years. The sharp, darker humor has resurfaced, as well as edgy political material that Jon Stewart could envy. Radio humor is handicapped by the absence of the visual--the place where most communication actually occurs. This makes Keillor's stuff all the more impressive. If your medium offers only the auditory, words rapidly become diamonds. And Keillor is the master miner.

Working another vein, the Ramsey Hill resident found himself unable to hold back some deep political passions. The result was the eloquent, earnest tome Homegrown Democrat, his answer to the likes of Ann Coulter and her special brand of toxic defecation. This slender volume laid out the logic for the decency in Midwest populism. No East Coast egghead think-tank speak here, just the simple allure of occasionally giving a damn about one's neighbor.

An insightful book and revitalized radio show weren't all that made 2004 Keillor's year. Director Robert Altman rolled into town to begin work on a film of Prairie Home Companion, with Keillor himself handling the script. Looking at all of it, I'm hard-pressed to find another artist successfully working in as many artistic genres. Just when you think Keillor has been taking a lunch hour off, there he is, penning clever pieces for Salon.com, or hosting the National Book Awards, where the stuffing was eviscerated from the stuffy. It seems the Northland's modern-day Twain may be peaking while most men his age are busy planning retirement or honing their golf swing.

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