In recent years, David Hockney has turned to the walkways around his studio in East Yorkshire, England, where he has set his latest series, “The Arrival of Spring.” Hung according to medium, it begins with stark black-and-white charcoal drawings, which are followed by a multiscreen video installation that depicts winter in all its severity. The series culminates in vivid prints drawn on an iPad, illustrating the verdancy of spring. Pathways center every work, with the exception of 4 May 2011, in which a large tree halts our perambulation in an overgrown field populated by wildflowers.
Though each work is titled by date, a sense of linear temporal progress is misleading as the iPad works were made a year before the black-and-white winter scenes. The titles announce this disparity, signally the way seasons structure memory. We imagine that we are moving toward spring, but in fact we turn out to be indulging reflections of years past. Spatiotemporal disorientation most commonly reminds of the human relationship to the urban geographical terrainthe flâneur sauntering in Charles Baudelaire’s Paris or Guy Debord’s derive, an unplanned drifting while responding to psychological contours of the city. Hockney emphasizes our encounter with the pastoral landscape as more than ever distant and mediated by technology.
Calling attention to the haptic nature of drawing, technology highlights the tenuousness of the artist’s touch, being at once present and absent in the iPad prints. A parallel interplay with the embodied landscape occurs in Woldgate Woods, November 26th 2010, a point-of-view video installation in which nine screens present a snowy drive. Immersed in the blinding white of winter, slightly different camera angles allow the video to unfold as expansively as the drawings. Hockney manages to integrate different media and styles into a conceptual framework that invigorates landscape, a genre that too often struggles to be daring.
There’s a great tradition of garbage art, from Kurt Schwitters’s collage and assemblage works and the Situationists’ reconfigurations of trash culture to Rachel Harrison’s and Isa Genzken’s brilliantly mean-spirited monuments to the nastiness of late capitalism. And then there’s Dave Hardy, whose formal, poetic coordinates within this realm fall rather elegantly between Apollonian facture and unadulterated abjection.
Hardy’s primary materials for all six works in this exhibition are scavenged panels of glass and cast-off chunks of cheap, desiccated furniture foam (think the appointments of an especially low-budget porn or fittings of a local welfare office). The foam is dipped into cement and manipulated into lugubrious, voluptuous folds and fleshy mounds that call to mind both the contrapposto of classical figurative statuary and heaps of modernist sculpture gone to seed. Hardy’s materials are precariously leaned and balanced— connective supports being virtually absent, rather clever feats of engineering and careful uses of gravity keep these works hanging solidly together.
There’s also a pathos that imbues this family of sculptures—one can feel its spirit most acutely in the various bits of homely detritus embedded in the works’ surfaces. It’s in the dumb pretzel or shitty glue stick dangling from Destiny (all works 2014); the disused car lighter that was surely culled from some sad stripe of Honda circa 1982 (Lighghts); or that feeble erection of pink pencil jutting out of Cutout. It’s these seemingly off-the-cuff applications of little junk that heighten the vulnerability of these works, like knives into a fairy-tale beast, and cause the obdurate “thingness” of Hardy’s objects to melt here and there into moments of broken love and tenderness.
For all his achievements, for all his mastery, for all the support he has given younger sculptors, Mark di Suvero remains an infuriatingly undervalued American artist—and this despite the fact that the youthful eighty-one-year-old is the author of not one but two of perhaps the most visible artworks of the past decade. One is his remade Peace Tower, done in collaboration with Rirkrit Tiravanija and presented at the 2006 Whitney Biennial, in the trough of the Bush nightmare. The other is Joie de Vivre, 1998, the seventy-foot steel totem that formed the axis of Occupy Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park encampment.
Luney Breakout, 2013, the tour de force of his latest exhibition, climbs twenty-two feet, grazing the gallery’s vaulted ceiling, and, although it’s not painted, in many places its steel components have rusted to the artist’s beloved orange. Facing the sculpture frontally, the swooping curves supported by orthogonal legs seem anthropomorphic. Forty-five degrees away, the struts and curves resolve into a tangle of lines and planes. The plural forms of Luney Breakout shouldn’t surprise as for di Suvero, artmaking entails not purgation or disjunction but the synthesis of industrial rigor and winningly candid playfulness, of three-dimensional heft and lighter painting-in-space (the show also features two zippy paintings, as joyful as anything by Matisse), and indeed, of humanistic universality and unambiguous political antagonism—the last worn very publicly.
In an earlier moment of exclusionary judgment about sculpture, di Suvero’s open and promiscuous approach made him hard to pin down on one of Rosalind Krauss’s proscriptive diagrams. In our more capacious moment, it is easier to see such plurality for the triumph that it is—and at last to start to repay an artist we all owe so much.
I missed “Act I” of this exciting group show curated by Prem Krishnamurthy and Carin Kuoni, but traces of the eleven-day installation by HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? remain in the gallery for “Act II,” on view now. The walls are still painted black, and an edit of the art collective’s timely, twenty-four-channel video piece The Wayblack Machine, 2014, plays on a single monitor. It’s a moving montage of material culled from news sources and social media about the police killing of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9. Art’s turnaround time doesn’t often allow for immediate responses to world events, so it’s satisfying to see something made with such apparent urgency on the fly. Slideshows of newly iconic photos—protestors’ hands up in defiant poses of surrender, teargassed faces, tanks—are interspersed with digitally animated tweets that swirl into hashtagged gibberish.
The YAMS installation was billed as the launch for a new Internet archive, thewayblackmachine.net, but that URL takes you to a low-res splash page, a dead end. Maybe the radical project of building a digital repository for the documentation of “activism around black embodiment,” as the press release reads, is a kind of joke, purely conceptual—or speculative, at least for now. The show’s funniest work is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Synthia, 2000–2002, which literalizes the hysterical market fluctuations on which financial speculation relies. A tiny monitor hangs from a chain in a bell jar, showing real-time market data and video clips of a woman in corresponding states of mind. I visited the gallery on a bad day for Wall Street, I guess: Mostly, Hershman’s character slumped on a couch drinking alone. There’s a surprising thread of humor to “Post-Speculation.” While the black walls remind us this is Ferguson October, they don’t dampen the prankish synergy between the works assembled.
There is an expansive effort to create a steady sense of joy in the carefully constructed paper weavings and enamel paintings of Michelle Grabner. Her work feels steeped in the rhythms of ritual and dailiness, thoroughly tended to and loved, like a garden or a family. Count every strip of paper and modulated dot of paint—of which there are many thousand—and you get the impression that we are witness to a tabulation of blessings.
Grabner pulls her abstractions from the patterns of domestic life—the plaids of kitchen dishtowels or the zigzags and crocheted squares of the handmade baby blanket—then translates them into formally rigorous, allover compositions. The paper weavings are arranged like offerings on low plinths, vulnerable to dust, dirt, and human clumsiness. They are polychromatic and buoyant, reminiscent of Johannes Itten’s color studies, and carry a devotional charge not too unlike the craftwork of Shaker quilts or gift drawings, products of not-idle hands, that are meant to bring one closer to God.
The blanket paintings are autumnal, melancholic. They are sisters to the candy-hued versions that the artist made in the 1990s, when her now adult children were just babies. The yellows, oranges, and varieties of red are still there—they show up in the smaller works, but they’re paler, leaner, cooler, and in certain instances, quite occluded. The larger paintings are primarily grisaille, many covered with swarms of dun enamel spots, which give the surfaces the look of aged skin. But let’s not misunderstand—the countenance of a long and fulfilling life is always beautiful.
Jennifer Paige Cohen figures moments of corporeal hinge: the slouch of a shoulder, the crook of crossed knees. Consider Obverse (Fleece), 2014, which takes shape from troweled plaster and pilled fleece. One side disposes consecutive curves: the first, the slope of shoulder into forearm; the second, a rounded edge to an oblique triangle, seemingly organic, like an impossibly slender knee. The other side features the titular garment variously exposed and laminated by plaster, which stipples its surface in a mime of an afternoon shadow.
Like Obverse (Fleece), each of the twelve midsize sculptures on view pairs a body fragment with an article of clothing, sourced secondhand and eclectically patterned: think Bill Cosby’s sweater collection circa 1970. Cast in plaster and pale-gray stucco, the joints and limbs that populate these works settle into neither gender. The iteration of elbows seems a choice as much structural—a means of transition from vertical to horizontal—as symbolic.
Cohen seems drawn to the cast as a technique that negotiates solids and surfaces, articulating the body while dispensing with mass and enclosure. It is a tension that her fabrics enact in reverse, using flutes and furrows as a way to swell planes into space. Banked and folded, the contours of her work cleave to the logic of the Möbius strip, their serial inversions and extrusions confusing distinctions between interiors and exteriors. Everywhere, residues of the figurative conjure a lapsed experience of bodily proximity. In Cohen’s hand, allusion emerges as something continuous and unconsummated: the semiotic analogue of the sinuous forms that her sculptures trace.
A severe silence sets the tone for Claudio Parmiggiani’s first solo exhibition in the United States in three decades: In Untitled, 2014, a sixteenth-century ecclesiastical bronze bell, is gagged and gibbeted by its tongue above the entryway to this gallery—a portent that announces a puissant presentation of Parmiggiani’s oeuvre. And yet it tolls for no one. In the next room, a three-dimensional iron stake pierces an untitled photographic print of the artist’s palm—a self-inflicted stigmata that undermines the artist’s own authorial taction. Transversely installed is Che mangia questo pane vivrà in eterno (Giovanni 6,58) (Whoever eats this bread will live forever (Gospel of St. John, 6, 58)), 1997, which offers 365 loaves of bread cast in bronze and piled in a corner of the galleryironclad dogma in the guise of spiritual nourishment.
Negation and the transfiguration of absence remain central themes throughout Parmiggiani’s fifty-year career: Delocazione (Delocation), 2014, is the fuliginous remains of a once-existent frame hung on wood manifest in an image of a painting now destitute of materiality. Here, the volatility of fire and fume have transubstantiated into palpable pigment, evoking perennial visions. In Il Sogno di Marcellino (The Dream of Marcellinus), 1977, a pile of books placed on the floor supports a horizontal plaster cast of a classical visage; it’s topped by a model sailing ship in an oneiric lamentation on the status of the contemporary artist. Parmiggiani’s long employment of a classical Catholic symbolic tradition illustrates the paradox of all who, like Marcellinus, undergo the creation of their own narrative: free to navigate the unknown waters of their time yet anchored by the weight and authority of a historiography that precedes them.
“The Inside of the Outside,” an exhibition of Tatiana Kronberg and Anne Eastman, captures the tensions between the concrete and the immaterial inherent to the photographic medium in the context of our contemporary digital age. Kronberg’s large photograms of body parts and floral motifs have a visceral presence, and her unique prints echo the material turn back to traditional methods in photography. In contrast, Eastman nimbly displays her comfort in a wide range of media—from video to photography to installation—all engaged with the existence of the photographic image in a dematerialized format.
In the surrounding objects ~ bowerbird, 2014, Eastman displays nine gray shop stools with rotating double-sided mirrors hung by a thin wire underneath each seat. The mirrors are low and only reflect the viewers’ feet, effectively forestalling the Lacanian moment of self-identification (or the narcissism of the selfie). Analogously, Kronberg’s Love Song Translated #1, 2014, features a brash, white silhouette of hair and hands. In distinction to the openness of Eastman’s mirrors, Kronberg traps her figures in the hermetic space of the black, glossy print.
There is a graceful synchronicity between these two artists’ work. Several of Kronberg’s prints depict plants, harking back to the medium’s early relationship with botany (think William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins). Eastman also returns to the moment before the photographic image in her installation, together unattended, 2000–2011, in which she frames a contorted houseplant within a mobile. The peculiar, tortuous growth of the plant towards the square wall sculpture produces a protofilmic space, the mise–en–scène of a photograph.
Michael Bell-Smith makes jokes about art. Five of the eleven vinyl on white aluminum “paintings” on display are laid out like magazine mock-ups, with dreamlike squiggles and x-ed out colored squares surrounding Groucho Marx’s famous summary of set theory as a paradox of alienation, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” But under each iteration of this epigram appears a different name: Thomas Jefferson, Morrissey, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Ayn Rand. And Rabbit Season, Duck Season, a short, looping video, is ostensibly a heavy-handed explication of the 1951 Bugs Bunny short “Rabbit Fire,” in which Bugs and Daffy Duck each attempt to impose on the iconically befuddled hunter Elmer Fudd a reality that results in his shooting the other one. (Bugs, as always, is the winner.) Didactic subtitles, infinite sine waves, and a rotating clip-art Ouroboros insist that their alternation can continue forever, so long as a punch line is suspended.
The implication is that there is no substance but rhythm, and that what goes for Bugs and Daffy goes for every other thought process or social phenomenon, too. But when the view zooms in on a Web browser window and one screen replaces another, instead of the argument expanding to embrace the world, it’s revealed that it applies chiefly to itself. Bell-Smith’s jokes are tightly wound, transparent, and self-contained. They are equally poised to collapse into empty self-reference or massively expand their emotional and conceptual range.
This two-person exhibition, featuring Mira Dancy’s riotously colorful acrylic paintings and Sarah Peters’s tactile, terracotta sculptures, pivots on the template of the female nude as a ground zero for aesthetic experimentation. Dancy’s paintings merge sprawling, busy compositions with comics-style color reminiscent of Gary Panter or Mickey Zachilli—all magenta, acid green, teal, and banana yellow shot through with silver curves. Take Dream of the Unicorn Tapestry (all works 2014), wherein a figure casually stretches out her arms while her legs lie loosely crossed at the bottom of the frame. The intense patterning across both figure and background flattens the subject into colors and textures resembling a fragmented screen resolution or corrupted pixels. With the body scrubbed of any particular identifying details, the impression is of a very cyberpunk version of Gaugin’s lady land. Another large painting, Herfume Perfume, is triangular with a swarm of brushy forms that sometimes coalesce into something recognizable and sometimes don’t, building a dynamic momentum to its topmost point stamped with a blunt, purple font stating its title. Just like the phrasing, her paintings treat gestures as play.
Peters’s small, tan figurines are a quiet complement to Dancy’s exuberances. Perched on white plinths, their unglazed clay surfaces wear kneaded impressions and have slight, delicate features that look lovingly inscribed, as if with a blunt fingernail. Figurine with Looping Arms, true to its word, disregards armature in favor of soft, wormy curves with tiny, rough notches for nostrils and eyes recalling a ghoulish, anime-type rendering. In all these works, one notes that the female form is less baggage to be dealt with than a cipher to be tossed around in a fast and loose game of suggestion and rehearsal.
Installed on a massive LED wall at the Lincoln Center’s main plaza, John Gerrard’s Solar Reserve, 2014, could at first sight appear to be footage of the Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, during which Muslims circle the sacred cube of the Kaaba in their devotions. Initially indefinable objects slowly move around a central tower, echoing the sense of eternal circling central to that ritual. But Gerrard’s computer simulation is of something more secular: a solar thermal power plant in Nevada, its tower the focus of ranks of mirrors that tip to catch the sun.
Controlled by a team of computer programmers, the camera homes in on the monumental plant while simultaneously shifting perspectives from satellite-eye view to ground level over the course of an hour. It lends the perspective of the sun, even a deity looking down. There are links with Gerrard’s series “Smoke Tree,” 2006, as this work too runs in real time, seasonally and from day to night. The shifting patterns of light and shade, sun and the constellations make this installation a portentous meditation on nature, people, and the things they make.
Throughout art history, the technique of collage has commonly been used to create juxtapositions that highlight disjuncture and difference. Zarina’s latest exhibition, “Descending Darkness,” is a tour de force demonstration of how collage might be used differently, more quietly. Her limited palette of black and gold coupled with her restraint and precision produces delicate, minimal paper-cut collages, through which one may probe issues of spirituality and mortality.
For the triptych Shadow on My Table I, II, III, 2014, black strips are carefully arranged on a white background to re-create the angular patterns that result from light streaming through window blinds. In the diptych Northeast Light I & II, 2014, thin horizontal strips mottled with gold leaf alternate with thicker strips of black paper on a printed rectangular black background, creating an abstraction that manages to capture the uncertain crepuscular luminosity of shortening fall days. Alternating thick and thin strips of black paper are similarly arranged in Steps III, 2014, the pattern only emerging once our eyes begin to register the subtly different blacks used. In all these works the seams and edges characteristic of collage are never declared but are revealed gradually through close looking.
Other works, like Aleppo, 2013, are less austere. Fragmented into an irregular array of rectangular black frames, the composition evokes both the pages of a miniature manuscript and an architectural floor plan. Holes punched in gold-leaf paper both index the titular city’s recent devastation and mimic a mashrabiya, carved wooden latticework often found covering second story windows in old Arab cities. And finally, Folding House, 2013, a set of fifty variations on the house, one of Zarina’s favored motifs, demonstrates the versatility of collage as a technique despite, or maybe because of, the restrictions of simple geometry.
Two sculptural creatures both resembling the Cookie Monster, one in deep purple and the other avocado green, are the focus of Stefan Tcherepnin’s latest show, while a third version of the character in its traditional azure lies flattened in the shape of a kidney on the floor. Above them hang inverted bundles of mulberry branches, each lit from within by a single lightbulb that casts dramatic shadows on the walls and large, scrim-like partition dividing the gallery. The lighting along with the flagrant absurdity of the figures recalls the campy films of Mike and George Kuchar. Inside the gallery’s storage room, an ad hoc theater displays the video Learning Movie, 2014, depicting the simulacral Muppets roaming (and sometimes rowing) through wild, unpopulated landscapes.
Tcherepnin is known for his collaborative sound art, and one wonders whether this solo show was so conspicuously titled “Hypocrisy Ladders” as a comment on the authenticity of single authorship and value of works in the round, or if the phrase’s garishness merely reflects that of the exhibition’s somewhat hermetic content. Beside a random potted cactus at the darkened entrance, one encounters a lone ink drawing on the wall, depicting forms that resemble the branching shadows in the gallery inside. Along with the moving light of traffic allowed in from the street, the emphasis on shadow play throughout the show brings to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a kind of protocinema. In a sense, this exhibition’s daring consists in a depthlessness akin to the scrim backdrop of such dramas, here a stage where evacuated characters perform the story of our own anxious psychology surrounding the experience of art objects.
The films of Nuri Bilge Ceylanthe Turkish director whose long, stately new film Winter Sleep (2014) won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festivaloffer a defense of the narrative capabilities of cinema at a moment when television is pushing the medium to the edge. He began his career as a photographer and his intense still images, never exhibited in the United States, argue for the continued relevance and viability of narrative through images. “The World of My Father,” a series from 2006–2007, consists of seven images of Mehmet Emin Ceylan, who passed away in 2012 and had appeared in several of his son’s early films. Whether the films are staged or documentary, whether Ceylan’s father is himself or another, is of no consequence: Their narratives bleed from the image into personal life and public society; they make worlds as they refashion our own.
Some of Ceylan’s photographs are so rigorously composed that they look like film stills: His father gazes from a window in Midafternoon, 2006, or stares into space from his bed in Sleepless Night. In The Backyard, 2007, he’s caught facedown in the grass, exhausted and possibly crying; Freight Train in the Steppe, from the same year, captures Mehmet from behind, his gray hair echoing the snow on the grassland. Have we become too suspicious of such images—too certain that a cinematic impulse in still photography must be autocritical? I suspect so. And I would not want to think that medium interrogation is the only virtue of an image as powerful and beautiful as A Winter Day on Galata Bridge, 2007. Ceylan’s father looks out onto the strait dividing Europe and Asia, ice clinging to his overcoat, the sky filled with dozens of gulls. In the background, cloaked in fog, is Yeni Cami (The New Mosque). The Hagia Sophia, just out of the camera’s reach, presides behind. Cities are narratives, too, and must constantly be rearticulated in order to hold their meaning.
“What is romance?” asked Aki Sasamoto in a recent performance at JTT gallery. Clad in optical blinders, she stumbled about, welcoming the audience with beer bottles in hand. Astrud Gilberto tracks played on repeat from overhead, and the packed crowd reassembled almost magnetically around Sasamoto as she moved. Her art of making room in tight places is epitomized in these shows—four of which are slated for the exhibition’s run. In the off-performance hours, the gallery is a bare-bones café with do-it yourself service—beers are in the fridge, there’s an espresso machine, and the lighting is flattering.
Another vignette: Holding up a microphone to a floor fan to amplify the blowing air, Sasamoto slowly stepped backward so the wind drew a line in space that made us part around it. Then, lying flat on the floor—her face against a stack of flapping papers with handwritten words on the top left corners—she read the words into the mic, raising her head slightly to let each page fly against the shoes of those hovering around her. Some words were accompanied by a story, and others weren’t read at all. Commonplace gestures and objects are expertly staged in an intricate choreography of contingencies and clichés.
It’s hard not to feel wooed by Sasamoto, even when she’s slamming an impossibly tiny one-by-four-foot door carved into a mobile gallery wall in your face, then pushing the wall itself forward from behind until you are forced out of the space, an absurd gesture of inhospitality with endearingly comic effect. In the performance I attended, people stayed close after being evacuated, lingering at the entrance doors. What is romance? It’s like Sasamoto’s performances, where everything is suspended but somehow still secure; each object and nugget of space is infused with a new promise.
With someone as Internet ubiquitous as Artie Vierkant, it’s always pleasant to see the work in person. His latest exhibition, “A Model Release,” begins with the two-screen video piece Antoine Office, Antoine Casual, 2014, where Vierkant uses stock motion-capture data to animate a 3-D scan of a man. Rendered by turns in business attire and in a yellow T-shirt and flip-flops, Antoine gesticulates wildly against single-color backdrops and at one point his own flattened face.
The gallery’s back room is taken over by the second iteration of Vierkant’s ongoing series “Exploits.” In 2013, the artist began approaching patent holders, negotiating for legally acknowledged permission to create artwork based on their intellectual property. US 8118919 B1 (Air Filter and Method of Constructing Same), a patent for a layer of organza silk added to window screens for allergen filtration, is realized in altered form as a pair of hollow, white boxes, outfitted with mesh screens and silk printed with diagrammatic doodles and photogram-esque images of office clothing. Elsewhere, US 6318569 B1—a “detachable storage rack for a metallic structure for organizing and storing small bottles and containers within reach of the user”—materializes as large reflective metal rectangles hung on the wall, crossed by International Klein Blue shelves.
Given that copyright law already provides for the creation of derivative artworks without permission of the authors from whom their elements are borrowed, Vierkant’s negotiations are in fact legally unnecessary—and this is part of the point. A generative process rather than an attempt at legal rationale on its terms, each agreement becomes material like any other. Both the sculptures’ liberal interpretations of intellectual property and Antoine Office, Antoine Casual’s possession by stock material see Vierkant coax the formal structures of law out of objects, aestheticizing corporate language and imagery while engaging with their worlds.
Two silhouettes cut from sheet vinyl, one black, one butterscotch, hang from two coat hangers that are looped through wire to the canvas’s upmost edge. Slung against an acrylic gradient (pink-rimmed azure melted in lavender), each silhouette traces the contours of a body once full but now flayed: an enervated membrane, all surface and no sex. Sterile yet strangely seductive, like moltings from a space being, they treat the body as schema or sieve, limp and radically inorganic.
The piece, Hanging, by Kiki Kogelnik was made in 1970 as part of a series of cutouts traced from human forms and executed in silky, slick resins. A transplant to New York from Austria, Kogelnik settled downtown in 1962, where she befriended Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Carolee Schneemann, among others. (Claes, not on view here but made the same year as Hanging, takes the soft sculptor’s body as its template.) Her early art informel–style paintings quickly yielded to work that indexed the city’s emergent Pop aesthetic, grafting its concerns with high-tech materials, synthetic color, and transfer techniques such as silk-screening and stenciling onto her commitment to militant feminism.
Spanning 1964 to 1971, the twelve works on view mine the possibilities of the human in the age of Sputnik and spectacle. Scissors emerge as Kogelnik’s tool of choice, which she conceived of as both a surgical implement and a feminist weapon, in the manner of Valerie Solanas or Hannah Höch. Women’s Lib, 1971, shows a silk-screened Kogelnik, her skin a martian shade of green, wielding a pair of oversize scissors over a tangle of hangings. It’s a fitting self-portrait for an artist who considered the body a schizoid thing, disjunct and always desiring.
“The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the coming of the dusk,” Hegel wrote in 1820, which is to say, before the world ends, no critique is possible. There is no flight to be seen in Ann Lislegaard’s cool, enigmatic 3D animation of animatronic owls, their faceted white feathers in glistening high definition, and not much Minervan clarity either. The birds in Oracles, Owls . . . Some Animals Never Sleep, 2014, seen earlier this year at the Nineteenth Biennale of Sydney, are antiprophets who speak simultaneously in indecipherable bursts that are interrupted with sonic glitches. A few phrases borrowed from the I Ching can be made out through the static and feedback: “building relationships,” or “destroying machines.” Fragments that once prophesied change or fortune now just recede into our perpetual feed of blips and bloops.
Lislegaard, one of numerous Norwegian artists now winning international prominence, has a long-standing interest in science fiction. Oracle, Owls references Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and its dystopian character carries through to her other black-and-white video here. Dobaded, 2014, takes its name from a word coined by the experimental Japanese sci-fi writer Chiaki Kawamata in his novel, Death Sentences, where characters fall into a realm beyond consciousness after getting the word stuck in their heads. Lislegaard’s 3D animation takes place in a similar dream state, floating through domestic spaces whose dimensions seem to vary with each passage. Along with a blatant shout-out to J. G. Ballard, whose work appears on a bookshelf, the ghost of Duchamp hovers: There’s a spinning wheel, and the camera gets caught in a web of string recalling his 1942 sixteen-mile tangle. Then the owl appears again, auguring a future not of wisdom but of emptiness.
It’s said that it takes two decades for cultural nostalgia to solidify; after this time, past trends can revive as ironic countercurrents to the present fashions. In “Gold Diamond Park,” Gabriele Beveridge’s debut solo exhibition in New York, the artist juxtaposes sculptural elements to self-consciously question the criteria for trading and exhibiting ideals of beauty. Her work simultaneously evaluates the processes by which aesthetics fade out and return as cultural currency.
Exemplary is a series of seven tableaux of perforated metal panels that the artist took from the ceiling of a library in East London, where she lives and works. Their time-worn surfaces appear as aloof, wall-fixed minimalist grids encased in voguish iPhone 5–style lime, lemon, and pale-blue borders. Framed differently, these offhand historical references take on the look of what is currently salable, implicating the markets of high and low culture in a mutual reprocessing.
In Gold Diamond Park [Silver] (all works 2014), plastic hoops hang like gymnastic rings above a mannequin holding a feather to a crystal ball. Here, divination reflects uncertainties surrounding investments of the present: How will this artist, this body of work, the weight of this idea measure up in the future? A clue: No Questions exhibits a sun-bleached beauty advertisement and tie-dyed T-shirt on shop-display fittings behind a pane of glass. Like the faded affiche’s promise of an ideal look, this psychedelic garment––an accoutrement of 1970s counterculture cool, later resuscitated as a ’90s fad––is here preserved as acquirable high art. Wait long enough, and even forgotten kitsch could one day be worth its weight in gold.
Hundreds of cutouts from a 1960s Italian book series featuring masterpieces of sculpture have been propped up on a round table that spans eighteen feet in diameter in Geoffrey Farmer’s latest exhibition. There is Desiderio da Settignano’s Bust of a Young Woman, Giambologna’s Appennino, Constantin Brancusi’s Maiastra, Michelangelo’s David, and Antoine Le Moiturier’s hooded monks, nudes, medieval saints, small children, and tiny animals. Part of the installation Boneyard, 2013, the paper figurines stand as sculptures would, intimating the flatness of being Photoshopped in spacea slideshow of Western sculpture from antiquity to modernism in the round.
In the next room, a more traditional slideshow, Look in My Face; My Name Is Might-Have-Been, I Am Also Called No-More, Too-Late, Farewell, 2013, shuffles through political snapshots, anonymous portraits, ethnographic studies, and then-genre scenes of work, leisure, agriculture, and industry. A history is told by the shifting film stock—sepia to Kodachrome; black-and-white to dye transferthe tonal qualities reflecting the technological changes in film as new methods for printing enter the mass market. The clamor of disjointed percussion accompany the slideshow, alternating between a synced pattern with the images (footfalls on the stairs) and random sounds guided by a computer algorithm.
Farmer’s subject matter is time, he states, cut and reordered. This nonlinearity entices a contemplation of the looming past alongside a suspended present, which is made acute by the juxtaposition of cacophonous noises and the disquieting muteness of the photographic artifact.
Daniel Gordon locates his photographs through a triangulation of painting, collage, and cutout. His C-prints compose still-life fare in complex tableaux, which he lights in-studio and captures on large-format film. Sourced from the Internet and cut freehand from printer paper, each element is inserted in a topography that makes little effort to disguise its seams. Plants sport skeins of hot glue; vases build up from clipped geometries; and apples resemble disused origami. Paper figures as a material at once volumetric and planar, drawn into space through facets and folds or collapsed into flatness by an abruptly scissored edge.
In Summer Fruit (all works 2014), Technicolor edibles occupy a field of clashing dots, checkers, and stripes. If the still life has historically been keyed to imaginative consumption, presenting spreads for the viewer to fictively digest, Gordon’s scene precludes the same. His watermelons are conspicuously shrink-wrapped, his strawberries an unculinary cyan. Nature is made luridly artificial, as if to parody the still life as an art-historical cliché, wherein foodstuffs become vehicles of symbolic elaboration: a peach for fecundity, a peeled lemon for transience. Like the other photographs on view, Summer Fruit courts overdetermination. Apples and artfully rumpled tablecloths recall Cézanne’s late still lifes, while jars with doubled, upturned lids invoke Cubism’s signature mode of de- and recomposition.
This is to suggest that, for all their disjuncture, Gordon’s C-prints are deeply familiar. Photographic space is dispersed only to be consolidated under the sign of modernist painting and papier collé. It’s a seductive gesture, though one whose implications, both for photography and for modernism, are not entirely clear.
Starting a fire by striking a man’s face—is it a feminist idea? Match-bust, 1973, looks like a big matchstick with a human head for a tip. It’s twenty inches tall, but still you can imagine dragging it along a brick wall or a curb, rubbing off the nose and brow to get a light. This poetic piece by Birgit Jürgenssen (1949–2003) is one of a handful of early, Surrealist-influenced sculptures grouped in the center of the gallery. Another great one, Untitled (Horse), 1973, looks like a child’s hobbyhorse—except that a wavy dick sticks up from the seat of its hand-sewn velvet saddle. The phallic horse is echoed in a later work, Unicorn, 1991, a grid of photos that includes images of a table-saw blade, a solarized flower, and a serious woman posing in a unicorn costume. Most of the works on view are from the 1980s and 1990s, and employ experimental photographic processes: Jürgenssen painted with developer and fixer, scratched her prints, and used multiple exposures, photograms, and cyanotype in her dark, dreamy compositions.
She is best known for her participation in the Austrian feminist art movement of the 1970s. Along with her contemporaries, Jürgenssen protested art-world sexism and made works such as the iconic Housewives’ Kitchen Apron, 1975, for which she photographed herself burdened by a cartoonish oven around her neck. None of her mid-1970s pieces that so explicitly attack gender strictures are included in this exhibition, and the accompanying press release notes with ambivalence that the artist’s feminist reputation may have overwritten the complexity of her oeuvre. It’s sobering to consider that this aspect of her artistic-political identity might constrain an understanding of her diverse practice. This smart estate show provides a sampling not of “feminist art” but rather a sampling of three decades of elegantly caustic work by an overlooked feminist artist.
For his latest show, Josh Faught has produced a multivalent range of woven and crocheted work. Handwoven hemp has been dyed to match the hues of the past year’s fashion and then adorned with glitter, sequin trim, gold lamé, and bedazzled seashells, among other winking materials. Each work has been named after a past lover, and Faught has woven the name of the individual into the tapestry. In many, the woof and warp is so tight that it creates images and patterns, while in others, the fabric frays and spools, gesturing at the precariousness of the medium. At play are dynamics of desire for human intimacy and then for material culture, intimating how easily the two can become confused. Faught aptly titled the exhibition “Christmas Creep” after a merchandizing phenomenon that capitalizes on the commercialization of Christmas by moving the marketing date up to Halloween, signaling a queer commingling of fear and joy and the way memories and feelings become attached to objects.
Many of the subjects in “Christmas Creep” grew out of an installation Faught created at the Neptune Society Columbarium in San Francisco, an interment site for those who died of AIDs. A number of the works on view incorporate a motley group of objects—VHS tapes, rubber onion rings, plastic chocolate cookies—mementos of a fixed past but also part of an archive that can be reimagined in the present and future. An AIDS activist button reading “I’m a name not a number” is pinned into Sally Jesse (Scott), 2014. With the exception of a clock, the tapestry is abstract, the handworked surface of the material gesturing at the way an object can keep one alive.
“Three Cups Fragrance” takes its name from tea consumed in three successive brews of the same leaves. The précis offers tasting notes about this tea without a hint of further commentary. Routine, privately comforting, to recycle drink while savoring its transformations is not the action of one struggling to impress a visitor. But to watch the quiet concept of this show divide along a group of formally distinctive works is mesmerizing in its humorous light touch.
Oto Gillen’s portrait of a helicopter (Untitled, 2014), overdressed in double matting and a frame of sculpted corrugated cardboard, is one of several photographic pieces here whose figurative straightness contrasts with conspicuous concern for its support. The banged-up backing of Kyle Thurman’s gridded equine trade photos (A Possible Cast, 2014) echoes the images’ ephemeral utility, while Tom Humphreys’s crowning Untitled (Radiant Striped Edge, Man in Blue Jacket), 2014, absurdly monumentalizes a pedestrian whose shirt and jacket match the color of his iPhone, on a ceramic reproduction of a paper plate.
From here, the show performs a flip that’s reminiscent of a lens’s inversion of its intake, with traditionally mounted photographs whose textural focus brings them almost to abstraction, as in Moyra Davey’s playful 1979 triptych Tattoos and Elizabeth Atterbury’s gorgeous documents of staged sculptural environments, which could even be mistaken for photograms (especially Black Beach, 2014). A lone work in the round sits at the center of the gallery: Lukas Geronimas’s Custom Tub, 2014. This graffiti-etched fixture feels right at home, a culmination of the surrounding artworks’ sculptural desires. Layered with graphite, its rich silver looks as if it might have just come from the inside of a photograph. One thinks less about what it is doing here than how photography, with its chemical baths, became as intimate and necessary as our own bathing and cups of tea.
Matt Hoyt’s sculptures resemble stones, sticks, shells, and geometric curios individually not much larger than a golf ball or quail egg. He presents these pieces in tidy museological arrangements of two or three (sometimes more) and rests the groupings on flat, hand-cast sheets of MDF and polyurethane bases that have been dyed in muted hues to amplify the objects’ organic-seeming patinas. Speaking in the historical vocabulary of the objet trouvé, these small sculptures are bits of sly fiction. What appear to be pebbles or exotic sea shells are actually constructions of various putties, tempera paint, and the occasional cameo of other materials—bits of metal, plastic, or wood. These mediums are intimately handled in their process of becoming sculpture: Hoyt often spends months carefully laboring over, revising, and living with each one. Likewise, the finished works themselves invite handling and affective caress, offering a sympathetic surface that absorbs that most effervescent of earthly energies: the human touch.
In his latest presentation, Hoyt for the first time shows his works and their flat, colored bases on freestanding tables that he also designed, allowing visitors 360-degree access to the works (previously, the works were presented on wall-bound shelves). With unconstrained visual access, viewers can now explore the many crevices, recesses, and details of each work. A pearl-white, hollowed-out protrusion (with a mysterious slit) seems to have been the home of some imaginary deep-sea mollusk; a sun-stained pebble seems to tell the story of the deep Southwestern canyon where it was formed millennia ago. In this liberalized mode of display, the works now more than ever seem to resemble evidentiary material from fictive natural processes in the stories they tell—stories that are, in fact, only the hushed voice of a patient and subtle artist at work.
The area on the outskirts of painting, photography, and graphic design is a rocky place to set up camp, but Sara Greenberger Rafferty does just that, deftly, with the multivalent works in her latest show. On view are largely ink-jet prints on acetate—the product of variations on a technique that the artist has explored since 2012. Upon certain pieces, the artist has poured paint and solvents, and then mounted the cracked, shiny results onto Plexiglas.
The elements of each artwork oscillate between order and entropy, as if salvaged from a postapocalyptic world and then preserved in their sorry states. Some of their Plexiglas surfaces are punctuated by a constellation of screws: violent moments of humor. Frequently, a single representational element—usually boldly graphic, often implying a human presence—appears amid an abstract environment of drips and swaths of paint. Untitled, 2014, for instance, features the “woman” Isotype (found on bathroom doors) floating about shades of mauve. Curtain, 2014, depicts a drooping microphone at waist height: Against a silk background that’s entirely white, the instrument could be a prop held by an invisible comedian acting out a dick joke.
There are both finish fetish echoes and Pictures generation concerns trickling through the show—a fascination with the materials that make up surface, and a tongue-in-cheek treatment of mass-market imagery. But in the end, the works are wholly contemporary: Rafferty carves new ground, taking a wry, sideways look at portrait-making traditions widely embraced to this day.
In a 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace noted our present culture lends the “freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms,” which is also say, the liberty to be very alone. This is certainly the case for the figures depicted in the work of Tai Ogawa: The Tokyo-based artist paints people in watercolors and then cuts each of their bodies out of the page like paper dolls. He adheres them to sheets of paper that he has sprayed with DayGlo hues; eight of these works are on view in his US debut, along with over a dozen watercolors. Some have houses and skyscrapers with figures zipping about on motorcycles. Others are more abstract—Technicolor dreamscapes where faces float with fishes in an endless sky (see Cattle Mutilation, all works 2014). Cars, boats, trains, airplanes, and buses are everywhere. Everyone seems very busy, and everyone has a place to go.
The actors of Ogawa’s world never interact. They are gods of themselves, as bright and as oblivious as ever to the isolation of their self-sufficient worlds. Ogawa once said that human interaction makes a life real, and that the people in his work are atomized, which essentially means they lack life. In Escape from New York, each figure is flanked by a shadow, which drains the neon out of the neon background in the shape of a body. Death lurks at each person’s heels, while zest and color masks a fatal proposition: What does it means to die while still alive? The walls of the gallery have been painted black like a cave, and the show is titled “Edge of Life.” The moral seems clear: Be careful not to amplify the life out of life. You will be left with nothing but a body.
The current, malign vogue for wearable gadgets could have panned out so much better if Nam June Paik were still around, there to remind us to interrogate, to laugh at, or to disrupt technology rather than accept it wholesale. His TV Bra for Living Sculpture, 1975, a pair of screens sported by a nude Charlotte Moorman, or TV Penis, 1972, a sort of television condom worn during a performance at The Kitchen, imbricated technology and the human body, but not into some cyborg third term. Even with his TV Cello, 1971, which Moorman played in a kind of carnal embrace, new media was used to enable new forms of human eroticism and potentialities, rather than to subordinate bodies to machines, or worse, corporations.
In this way, Paik—trained as a composer—might be much closer to Richard Wagner, the original tech-obsessed erotic mastermind of “the artwork of the future,” than to his alleged successors using tech for tech’s sake. This selective exhibition, the first in New York since Paik’s death in 2006, revalorizes Paik's sculptural works (notably the early radio-controlled assemblage Robot K-456, 1964) and reemphasizes his views of new media, which were, like Wagner’s, prescient but ultimately too romantic. Long before the rise of the Web, Paik saw television as not a one-to-many transmission, but a more plural affair in which individuals could intercede and reconstitute the mechanisms of broadcasting. Younger artists or anyone still naively confusing technology with progress would do well to heed Paik’s words from 1965: “Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important.”
“Four shoulders and thirty five percent everything else,” is a series of black-and-white gelatin silver prints of images shot within the desert landscape of southern Utah. Some pieces contain two, three, or four photographs in one print, three to five inches across or so, clustered together and bordered by the thick black of fully exposed photography paper. They were taken in an area marked by sight lines that delineate the field of vision between two facing cameras. Hubbard’s body moves throughout the picture planes, standing up, lying down, dressed, partially undressed, present, and absent. By transferring her body from her queer New York milieu and setting it against the backdrop of southern Utah, where society does not weigh so heavily on what our bodies can and cannot do in space, Hubbard recuperates alternate narratives and new possibilities for the body.
The photographs are miniature, but Hubbard’s presence in the frame creates scale, communicating the vastness and stillness of her surroundings in relation to her lithe movement. In one triptych, Four shoulders (the size of it) (all works 2014), the artist faces in three directions, one per image, and her arms are outstretched as if holding up an imaginary piece of paper or framing a future photograph. Her full arm extension is swallowed by the desert without so much as a thought, a position punctuated by several other key works, namely I/eye, a forty-by-fifty-inch gelatin silver print of an endless noonday Utah landscape with a tiny, spindly black camera on a tripod in the center, as insignificant as it is jarring.
As 2014 came to a close, several questions lingered: What happened to the radicality of abstract spirit, both in the formal sense and in its political import? Where can those two essential elements meet in order to reinvigorate traditional art forms such as painting and sculpture and veer away from the decorative and mediocre? Martin Puryear’s latest exhibition inscribes the political within the abstract without yielding ground on either side. His work evokes a tension between the intelligibility of his sculptures as revolutionary artifacts and as concurrently pleasurable experiments in nonrepresentational form.
The Phrygian cap, or red cap of liberty is an inspiration through out, albeit a reference likely lost on the uninitiated viewer. Big Phrygian, 2010–2014, is the work among this group most legible as a cap, and yet it is also a large, painted piece of cedar sitting on the floor, its relative size and historical remoteness from the titular object reducing its readability. Phrygian Spirit, 2012–14, a delicate work made of Alaskan yellow cedar, holly, ebony, leather, string, and milk paint, presents a tension between its two endpoints—a suspended pendulum-like ebony ball suggesting uncertainty and, on the other end, a stabilized rod attached to the wall representing immobility. Does liberty oscillate between these two extremes? Stepping back, Phrygian Spirit takes on the shape of the cap, the symbol of the antiroyalist forces of the French Revolution and the Rights of Man, which were catalysts for the Haitian Revolution. In our age, what embodies the Phrygian spirit? The protesters in the street? Puryear adroitly unpacks such questions with a repetition of formal elements.
Kathy Halbreich’s world-shaking MoMA retrospective of the slipperiest artist of the postwar era contained no less than 265 works. They’re all in London right now, and yet somehow there are still enough Polkes around to fill three simultaneous New York gallery shows: a photography showcase at Paul Kasmin, photocopier works at Fergus McCaffrey, and this nine-painting exhibition focusing on the artist’s use of fabric. In the 1980s, Polke delighted in ugly wallpaper (think of the floral-print Seeing Things As They Are, 1991, the anchor for Halbreich’s show), and several paintings here feature bisected grounds of patterned wallpaper overlaid with expressionistic daubs, or else cartoonish, pseudo-anthropological markings. Later works, with printed images recalling both his early raster dot paintings and his concurrent photocopier experiments, play with art-historical precedents. An untitled 1993 painting has the bottle and wine glasses of a modernist still life; a 2002 artwork intermingles a coral circle-patterned quilt with what appears to be a rejigged rococo tapestry.
In a 1977 text, Polke likened the experience of art to “not being able to defend yourself . . . or the desperate effort not to want to.” That is the effect of a painting such as The Raven, 1996: It includes a ground of both plaid and nautical-themed fabrics and a Gothic sketch of man and bird that is partially painted over in an uncontrolled skim of white oil paint. The work calls into question his sincerity and intelligibility—and our own desire for the same. Nevertheless, these smaller Polke shows have the (perhaps unavoidable) tendency to make Polke easily defensible. The genius of Halbreich’s MoMA retrospective was that, for all its rigor, it insisted that Polke was in fact uncontainable. This show and the other two on view in New York now have their reasons to pin Polke down, but I suspect he’ll slip away again.
In his latest exhibition, Takashi Murakami turns from the shellacked consumerism that has marked his recent output toward psychologically conflicted (if still shellacked) terrain. He continues to luxuriate in the outlandish—golden lions made of tinted high-chromium stainless steel tower at nearly nine feet (The Birth Cry of a Universe, 2014); a fifty-six ton replica of a sanmon, a sacred gate to a Japanese Zen Buddhist temple, eats up an entire gallery (Bakuramon, 2014). But complexity and strangeness dwell amid these impassive surfaces. The canvas-on-wood panel painting Isle of the Dead, 2014, is a Grand Guignol of cartoonish beings, their faces gnarled in grief, flesh writhing over skeletal frames. In an earlier time, these were the subjects of DuBuffet and Klee. Today, painted in acrylic and gold and platinum leaf, their anguish is nearly impenetrable, too lacquered to devastate.
Or is it? “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow” was inspired by the great Tōhoku earthquake of 2011, which ravaged several cities, set off nuclear disasters, and left twenty thousand dead. Poignantly, Murakami renders the horror with chromatic intensity; mortality abounds, but his characters’ pain, much in alignment with our current moment, is sealed behind a screen. There’s profound sadness in a world that often takes the market as religion, but perhaps there is space here for supplication. Murakami’s God may hide in a glistering gloss, but it is terrifically alive.
Throughout the late 1970s, Samuel Fosso—born in Cameroon and now based in the troubled Central African Republic—used leftover film from his day job as a studio portraitist to shoot his then-teenage self posing awkwardly in white briefs or sporting oversize sunglasses with hearts on the lenses or dolled up in bell-bottoms and ready to boogie. These images were not meant for public circulation (he sent them to his grandmother), and they came as the monstrous dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa—who appears on a printed tank top in one 1976–77 self-portrait—crowned himself emperor. By day, things were bad. By night, in the studio, you could make your own life.
Fosso’s penchant for dress-up has led to a lazy, trivializing shorthand designation of the artist as “the African Cindy Sherman.” Yet where the American artist disappears into unstable archetypes for her film stills, Fosso foregrounds his disguisements, either as visual articulations of his own chosen identities or as political tributes and critiques. “African Spirits,” his large-format series from 2008, sees Fosso dressed up as Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Haile Selassie, and Malcolm X (he looks really hot in the last, a leather fedora cocked low over his face), yet his most trenchant work of disguise is his most recent. In The Emperor of Africa, 2013, Fosso stands before a cheesy cloth backdrop of a beach, clad in a long flared jacket and a mandarin collar shirt: a black Mao Zedong gazing into the middle distance and ready to conquer. The image serves as a worthwhile corrective to the illusion that destabilized gender and sexual categories are enough on their own to bring about social change. At best, such self-fashioning offers only a temporary respite from the violence outside your studio door.
With the massive hack of Sony’s e-mail servers this month and the canceled release of The Interview, a bro comedy about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the threat and the mania of North Korea has once again entered the terrain of culture. This timely exhibition of propaganda and fine art (the distinction here is meaningless) from the world’s most terrifying country therefore deserves scrutiny: Look hard, think hard, and don’t write these images off. The dozens of posters here, dating from the 1960s to today, have none of the formal innovation of Soviet propaganda, though many replicate Soviet image-making techniques—intense color, bold captions, workers and soldiers leaning forward against incongruous backgrounds—in lifeless, cynical plagiarism. Their force derives from the intensity of their delusion or deception: the grand falsehood of a grinning factory laborer, an infantryman attaching a bayonet to his machine gun, or men of all races hoisting a gleaming book that reads “Juche,” the political philosophy of Kim Il-sung.
None of the posters’ artists are named, nor are the painters of the twelve canvases also on view in this show, which range from kitschy to awkwardly compelling. Many of the paintings come from the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, which employs some four thousand artists, making it one of the largest art-production facilities in the world. The soft-focus paintings of a pansori drummer before Pyongyang’s bombastic Arch of Reunification (Performance I, 2011) and of a smiling female conductor of a military band at the Mass Games (Gymnastic, 2011) are dreary to look at in isolation. However, placed against the more explicit propaganda posters, these works offer a bizarre taste of individualism in a country with no space for it. They also reveal the creepy use of female bodies in the government’s iconography. Inspection, 2012, sees a dozen female soldiers lined up before a giant bronze military memorial, each with lips pursed and eyes fixed, cannon fodder for a regime we mustn’t laugh at.
The sweeping arc of Western art history is the subject of this voluminous exhibition, which consists of hundreds of photographs, paintings, drawings, sculptures, videos, books, and other ephemera. The project begins with a presentation of Salon de Fleurus, a meticulously researched yet extemporized re-creation of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, surreptitiously located on Spring Street in SoHo, which has been managed by an anonymous doorman for the last two decades and closed last spring. This is followed by a series of five galleries that have been temporarily erected, each devoted to exploring a defining moment in the story of art: in reverse chronological order, they include the 1855 Exposition Universelle (the first large-scale contemporary art exhibition); the establishment of the Louvre and the Musée National des Monuments Français, during the French Revolution (the origins of the modern museum); the publication of Vasari’s Lives, in 1550 (the introduction of the artist biography); and Apollo in the Belvedere Romanum sculpture garden around 1503 (the secularization of art). Two didactic panels flank each gallery—one a historical summation of the room’s contents and the other an allegorical once-upon-a-time narrative of emperors and kings.
If this description comes off as unwieldy or strange, it is not the only off-kilter element. Together this meta-museum is based on a lecture first presented in Guangzhou in 2011 by Walter Benjamin, who has been dead since 1940. “The Unmaking of Art” circuitously reveals not just how fictionalized the tale of art history is but how its attendant tropes of authorship and originality remain central in our seemingly decentered contemporary art world. Traditional Chinese music wafts through the entire exhibition, awkwardly clashing with the European narrative and further hinting at all that is left out from this story.
As Congress considers a bill that would introduce artists’ resale rights, also known as droit de suite, to the United States, the timely group show “The Contract” promotes the bill’s underlying notion that artists should benefit from the price appreciation of their work. By requiring all sales of work on view here be subject to the 1971 Projansky contract—which stipulates that artists receive resale royalties—this exhibition suggests that, given the frenzied pitch of the contemporary art market (in which access is highly coveted), artists may now have sufficient power to demand resale royalties as part of their sales contracts.
Hans Haacke, the contract’s most famous adherent, and Maria Eichhorn, who interviewed Haacke and the contract’s authors, Bob Projansky and Seth Siegelaub, for her project The Artist’s Contract, 1996–2005, are grouped with Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda, Wade Guyton, Park McArthur, R. H. Quaytman, Carissa Rodriguez, and Cameron Rowland. McArthur’s Social Security, 2014, a desktop computer tower used by the artist from 2008 to 2013 and still replete with her personal files (of which no backups or copies were made), alludes to the relationship between artist and collector, characterized by vulnerability and trust (for the artist) and responsibility (for the collector).
Likewise referencing the complex and often compromised power dynamic between author and owner, Quaytman’s painting depicts a still from Andrea Fraser’s Untitled—the infamous 2003 surveillance video of Fraser’s sexual encounter with a collector—where the sales contract generated the work itself. Rowland's 49–51 Chambers Street—Basement, New York, NY 10007, 2014, a circular wooden table purchased at an auction of government property, evidences the endemic trend of privatization. Only by making the conditions of exchange central, even intrinsic, to the artwork itself, “The Contract” argues, can artists wrestle control.
Something is wrong with the centurions. They’re struggling beneath the royal box seating’s canopy. So why are the attendants still fanning the throne with peacock feathers? And have none of them seen the giant wheel the rest of the coliseum’s audience is fleeing—belonging, it seems, to a divine chariot crashing the mortals’ race? There are no explanations here for this or any of the other narratives implied in Peter Wächtler’s watercolors on display at Reena Spaulings. Neither for the row of plaster busts depicting unnamed people at the rear wall of the gallery (all works untitled, 2014). The insight that this show exploits is that the monument itself invents the story.
Go watch the video dominating the gallery—or rather, listen to it, since it is just a monologue voiced over banal landscape footage (as with the entire show, the elliptical connection between formal elements comically abstracts the viewer’s tendency to fill in the blanks)—and you will see what is so excellent about this artist. Wächtler is a narrative virtuoso, but his use of virtuosity is conceptually deliberate. He initiates a moment then disavows it, an antimodernist lesson in how to charm with silence—none of the lonely-partygoer, cornering real talk of an artist who insists on attenuating one idea into a series (or a novel—don’t neglect the collection of hyperabbreviated short stories that accompanies the exhibition: it’s the funniest book of 2014).
Any account of Chris Ofili’s career will invoke the scandal around his rise to prominence in the 1990s, when he merged large-scale figuration with old-fashioned base materialism. His Holy Virgin Mary, 1997, was nearly banned when it debuted at the Brooklyn Museum, but his “afro lovers” and resin-coated elephant dung would reappear, including at the 2003 Venice Biennale, where he turned the British pavilion into a nocturnal redoubt.
Ofili’s American retrospective highlights his play of light and contrast and showcases a decade of new work, including forays into sculpture and theatrical design and refinements of earlier interests in drawing and portraiture. Many ’90s-era paintings are on display, and they are worth the price of admission. Widely circulated in reproduction, those paintings take on new power when encountered here. Larger than life, drizzled with resin, and festooned with map pins and glitter, their psychedelic landscapes are revealed as an intricate network of color and line. Curators now, as they have done in the past, try to read politics into the work, but Ofili’s skill as formalist is contribution enough.
Two galleries show the artist in maximalist mode: He flaunts his influences (Matisse, Bacon, Douglas, Warhol) but synthesizes them fluidly, aided by soft lighting that produces an ethereal experience of immersive looking. Nine oil paintings (2006–2014) nearly occlude their content, rendered in deep blues and hung like Rothkos; a garish suite of more narrative scenes hang on walls reimagined as the textile work of a scene shop. They blur the line between work and display, and utterly transfigure the New Museum’s blank surfaces. Ofili is off in new directions, and seemingly in grand modernist fashion.
Moriah Evans’s much-anticipated debut at Issue Project Room begins before you enter, and you are let in one by one. This feels oddly both intimate and distancing, as if the dance is being privately disclosed to you but taking place for its own sake. You sit and are instructed not to transgress the orange line in the marble floor just past your feet, past which it is already visible that a very demanding piece of choreography is being executed. Executed: You will be aware throughout of the distinction between dance and dancers. It feels heroic, their achievement of this baroque, athletic repetition of vernacular vocabulary (kick line, pony, step touch, grapevine, waltz), abstracted and composed according to what seems like math. There is a tension here, which breaks, between a sense of dancers as artists—subjects enjoying the strangeness of their exuberant social gestures’ recontextualization—and as contracted workers, enduring a combinative exhaustion.
A feeling of support that touches conspiratorial humor prevails among the five onstage (Maggie Cloud, Lizzie Feidelson, Benny Olk, Sarah Beth Percival, and Jeremy Pheiffer). It must also be said that two are standouts, plain as day: Feidelson, with her absolutely determined exactitude, and Cloud, whose ease of mastery explains why she is the only dancer smiling. But however articulately bodied and interreliant they may be in their success, they come off as props, and Evans is obviously not alone among contemporary choreographers in her use of them as such. Evans has gained renown over the past few years; one might hope that her work, with its emphasis on examining the familiar, comes to celebrate the minds with whom it works just as it celebrates the range of motion they call home.
For her first solo exhibition at this gallery, Saira McLaren shows nine paintings and three porcelain ceramic pieces that evince a keen empathy for materiality, color, and the mutability of form. The sculptures, all untitled and produced in 2014, are craggy lumps glazed in mint green and patched with gold, and sport alternating pockmarked or scaled surfaces like a coral fished from the deep.
The paintings are wildly colorful yet somewhat ghostly due to how they’re less painted than stained with dye and pigment. Gestural marks are marshaled into a focused flow, evoking fantasy landscapes or the flat, dense style of graffiti signatures. The colors—turquoise, hot pink, apricot, gold, and lime—dance around and through one another, here as a bold puddle or there as a wispy, worming line. Each element holds the hand of the other, as in the three smaller paintings displayed in the front room. One of these, Birds in Spring, 2015, features soft lines that coil and swarm around one another in a pattern that would look equally at home printed on silk as on a city’s brick wall. The jettisoned perspectives and lack of representational anchoring in these three works feel less encumbered than the larger paintings in the back of the gallery, which hint at psychedelic expanses of nature. However, Untitled (Reflection), 2014, is the exception within these larger works, featuring a row of three teal trunks exploding with gold and pink dots and forest-green streams that echo below in a reflection dripped over the lower part of the canvas. It looks washed away, as if a rain had come and dissolved its structure, leaving the picture to cry itself into a smeared abstraction. Ruined, but free.
Car parks, Sam’s Club, mom’s house, Target. At Panera Bread with your sister-in-law. Driving to Home Depot for shower hooks, a towel rack, new batteries. Take some more Tylenol, and you’ll still feel like shit. This stripe of existential cauterization sits at the heart of Libby Rothfeld’s solo show—her first in New York—titled “Good To Think With, Good To Think Against.” Rothfeld’s work acts as a sort of excavation of selfhood from suburban life, an attempt to find distinction within a landscape of mediocre vistas and big-box desolation.
Rothfeld’s three floor sculptures, all 2015, are mainly composed of distressed photographs depicting automobile interiors, adhered to planks of MDF with resin, which are mounted on tombstone-like cement slabs. Each work is skirted by sand embedded with small pieces of junk, such as old rubber bands and cracked bits of plastic. In Car #3, ceramic hands with pointed fingers on metal rods rise heavenward from a cluster of Subaru stars, while Car #2 has a row of three demure, bunny-eared fetish figures nestled atop a close-up picture of a grimy dashboard vent. Rothfeld is trying to imbue these banal images and materials with a mythology, a spiritual life—attempting to forge a haunted heart amid some sham ruins.
Warner Communications, 2014, is an oil painting of a floating monolith with the Saul Bass–designed Warner Bros. logo levitating before it. It sits on the back wall of the gallery’s closet, the floor within it littered with empty water bottles, cheap wire shelves, and flimsy sheets of painted wood. The painting feels like something pulled from a secret portfolio that could’ve belonged to Jack Goldstein—funny, smart, and in love with a dumb world that barely deserves it.
Given the current acme of self-referencing Buzzfeed culture—the phrase 90s nostalgia is a nearly ubiquitous descriptor for the millennials’ tics—Devin Troy Strother’s new works are a timely celebration of the cannibalizing nature of this generation’s zeitgeist. Here, Strother gives the 1990s Warner Bros. flick Space Jam top billing as an aesthetic jumping-off point for his lively installations, paving two of three rooms with basketball-court-inspired flooring and the third with loopy, space-themed carpet. Though three life-size cartoon-cutout Knicks introduce the show, Michael Jordan is center stage. Small cutouts of cartoon Jordan animate Strother’s lush paintings, which cheekily direct visual (and titular) references to Lynda Benglis, Cory Arcangel, and Rob Pruitt, among others. Five massive, shellacked black boxes stand Stonehenge-like around a basketball court hung with marble-and-bronze baskets; individually named for iconic b-ball stars (Who’s that big nigga in the room over there [TERRANCE]; Who’s that big nigga in the room over there [SHAQUILLE], both 2014), each structure is a McCracken-like homage to Kubrick’s monolith in that other space-themed movie.
Strother’s titles—a bronzed deflated basketball is called “fly like an eagle” (LeBronze), 2014; tactile paintings composed of pennants have names such as “we won nigga we won” (nigga, we never even scored), 2014—act as self-aware punch lines for each work, commenting not only on art history but basketball culture and its place in racial identity in America. With imagery that layers his stylistic and intellectual tribute to artists such as Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall over the glossy hologram aesthetic of the NBA, Strother boldly merges the inquisitive exploration of fine art with the bright-lights appeal of popular culture, flattening a hierarchy of cultural stigma.
“What do you call a feminine top?” John Waters posed to a captive audience one summer night on New York’s very own gay Xanadu, Fire Island. Smirking, he replied, “Why, a blouse, of course.” Having both written and directed such cult-classic movies as A Dirty Shame, Pink Flamingos, and Hairspray, the “Prince of Puke” has made a name for himself skewering contemporary culture and celebrating society’s misfits while gleefully offending conservative tastes along the way. And for his current show, “Beverly Hills John,” Waters once again turns his caustic eye toward the twin, rock-hard pillars upon which celebrity rests: mortality and eroticism.
Waters’s Fellini’s 8 1/2, 2014—an oversized wooden ruler with the titular text pressed into it in bold black letters—is an empirical bon mot to the Italian director’s, well, achievements. Meanwhile, in the black-and-white photostrip, Shoulda!, 2014, a lineup of five fatal femmes (Whitney Houston and Anna Nicole Smith among them) follow a film-still caption that proclaims, “SHE SHOULD’A SAID ‘NO’!,” a not-so-subtle meditation upon the darker side of fame. Elsewhere, three large-scale color headshots depict pop-culture icons post cosmetic surgery (Beibs, Lassie, and Waters himself). With plumped lips and augmented cheekbones that just scream Jocelyn Wildenstein, Waters’s digitally altered self-portrait, Beverly Hills John, 2012, mordantly places under the knife the entertainment industry’s obsession with aging and appearances.
But not all of Waters’s works are so playfully tongue in cheek. Among them, the black-and-white photograph Separate But Equal, 2014, appropriates Elliot Erwitt’s iconic image Segregated Water Fountains, North Carolina, 1950, depicting the racial prejudices that imbued the Jim Crow South. By swapping the terms “Whites” and “Colored” for “Gay Married” and “Gay Single,” Water emphasizes the growing alienation segments of the LGBT community feel from more assimilated members, which is anything but a one-liner.
This vest-pocket exhibition of two dozen photographs offers a valuable opportunity to see how quickly the terms of image perception are changing: how the period eye must now be measured not in centuries but in years. See the artist’s early, excellent black-and-white New York photographs—a predesecration 2 Columbus Circle (58th Street at 7th Avenue, Midtown, New York, 1978) and then West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York, 1978, which depicts a pre-gallery neighborhood full of low-slung Chevrolets. During the Met’s last outing of Struth in 2003, you still might have been happy to see the grit go, believing New York’s best days still lay ahead. In post-Bloomberg New York, where the crime-gripped 1970s city can seem a prelapsarian Eden, Struth’s unpopulated photographs feel closer to Eugène Atget’s images of pre-Haussmann Paris than to the typologies of his professors Bernd and Hilla Becher.
Struth’s most enduring and difficult works remain his museum photographs, whose depictions of dedicated art lovers or aimless tourists in Europe’s palaces of culture waver between faith in and doubt of aesthetic experience. A more contemporary reading of them might begin with a simpler observation: not one of the tourists is holding a camera or a phone. In the 2003 retrospective, these photographs offered a sly view of an ossified European culture. Ossification: We should be so lucky. Earlier this month, the Met’s newly appointed chief digital officer told the Wall Street Journal that the museum plans to track visitors’ movement throughout its exhibitions and permanent collection; if you pause for a moment in front of Madame X or the Etruscan chariot, your smartphone will ping with “an instant coupon for the catalog, or a meal being sold at the cafeteria that’s based on it.” Even the encyclopedic institution now treats its holdings as data in the service of profit, while the mass tourism Struth photographed decades ago looks bewitchingly unsullied: a last gasp before art’s pitiful reduction to shareable content.
Villa Design Group’s first exhibition in New York, “One Blow In Anger (Evidence 2011–2014),” sinisterly flirts with the porous, parasitically connected lifestyles and aspirations of bohemia and the bourgeoisie. Here, aristocratic values shape the blueprint for a restless social circle’s ambitions, and in turn isolate these young bohemians as they strive for la dolce vita. The thread connecting the exhibition’s framed array of fine sketches and collages on graph paper is Evidence of Childhood I–XIX, 2015, a nineteen-part tale etched on aluminum plaques that are positioned individually below the framed works. This noir fiction recounts the murderous exploits of some few arriviste minded bohemians, punctuated by self-fashioning, vengeful greed, episodic betrayal, and pools of blood. Posh, albeit sterile, symbols of luxury and taste act as ready-mades and are bestrewed about the gallery space, including reproduction Barcelona chair frames and atavistic Calvin Klein Collection sweatshirts emblazoned with the label’s hallmark fragrances (Obsession, Eternity, Escape).
It is very difficult not to take the cynical exchanges described between the parable’s figures, Master Jays, Master Clark, and Master Connick, as an allegory for Villa Design Group’s own perspective toward collaboration and artistic communities—indeed, the exhibition’s press text confirms this. The narrative, coupled with the group’s use of fetishy, aspirational luxury design objects as raw material for their practice, outlines a harsh critique of hegemonic bourgeois values and yearning social climbers. What’s unclear—and detrimental to the project—is how, if at all, the artists situate any concern toward their own function as fabricators of taste and material goods directly marketed to an aristocratic clientele. Leaving this unsettled, “One Blow In Anger (Evidence 2011–2014)” appears to subscribe to a myopic, particularly late-capitalist logic: that subversive politics can be somehow made while working with steady materialist cravings and latent yearnings for accumulated wealth.
“Double Trouble” makes for a rare experience. Not only is it the first solo institutional presentation of Sturtevant in the United States since a small 1973 show in Syracuse, New York, it also allows one to see the artist’s work at the museum that holds many of the so-called iconic pieces that she has used as her working material: On one floor you stumble upon Marcel Duchamp’s Fresh Widow, 1920, a reduced scale French window, where the name of the artists’ female alter ego Rose Sélavy is inscribed as COPYRIGHT ROSE SELAVY 1920 at the base of the piece, while in another gallery seven of these glasses have been lined up on a black wall (Sturtevant’s Duchamp Fresh Widow, 1992/2012). There is wallpaper with human genitalia on one floor (Sturtevant’s Gober Genital Wallpaper and Gober Drain, 1994/95), which is also on view as part of Robert Gober’s retrospective on the first floor. One encounters “Warhol,” “Felix Gonzalez-Torres,” “Joseph Beuys,” “Stella,” among others, it's as if all are actors cast in a play staged by Sturtevant.
Long before it was a household term, appropriation was, for Sturtevant, simply another word for a brush creating what she refers to as a “total structure,” which is perhaps the institution of art, its social context, and its politics, as well as the narrative of twentieth-century art that the Museum of Modern Art has actively participated in constructing since the institution’s inception in 1929. This, then, is a show that has been at MoMA for a long time, though it has remained invisible. Sturtevant flipped the Duchampian coin and put a disco ball in front of the readymade gesture. She wanted to make an “artwork that could disappear,” but one that aimed to expose the discourse of art from within.
The stage is a medium in itself for Ryan McNamara. While this has been gestured at in McNamara’s earlier output—including his 2012 show “Still” at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, which considered the production and circulation of performance images—his latest exhibition uses theatrical accouterments, specifically the spotlight, as formal devices, expanding the breadth of how the gallery can frame art as performative. A cluster of moving-head LEDs stand like antic sentinels at the center of the gallery, highlighting—and sometimes black-lighting—the show’s sculptures, “performance plaques,” and wall-bound reliefs in timed intervals.
The exhibition, curated by Piper Marshall, is titled “Gently Used,” referring to the worn materiality of the objects on display. Taken from McNamara’s performances, previously donned costumes—invariably a mix of futuristic flair and camp comedy—are repurposed through sculptural means, providing a second aesthetic life to the indexes of McNamara’s ephemeral live art. For instance, in Misty Malarky Ying Yang, 2014, fabric outfits from McNamara’s recent High Line performance are encased in colored Plexiglas in a freestanding swinging panel display. And in Unitard Stretch (Purple), 2014, seven unitards are pulled across wooden stretcher bars, producing an interlaced, entwined composition. Statically installed in the gallery, these works and others stand as tongue-in-cheek follow-ups to McNamara’s sprawling performances.
Images from McNamara’s productions make their way into many of the works as well, including the decoupage MEƎM (Silver), 2014, whose titular palindrome reflects back on itself and references the narcissism of the Internet age. Invoking the choreographed spectacle of McNamara’s award-winning performance MEƎM: A Story Ballet About the Internet, 2013, an overload of photographs of figures from the dance float atop the canvas’s Factory silver background. More posed than poised, the gestures captured range from Thriller-esque hand claws to awkward, twirling bends. Every seven minutes the exhibition’s spotlight hits MEƎM with a black light, soaking the work and its immediate surroundings in an ultraviolet glow. For McNamara, even the white-walled gallery is a platform for shifting, immersive effect.
In 1684, a hall of mirrors was erected in Versailles as an immersive stage that would send countless reflections of a single expression into the world. If today the screen fulfills the function of the mirror, we’re left with a troubling question: Is the digital image more complete than a reflection? It’s an anxious proposition and one occupying Calvin Marcus, though the Los Angeles–based artist doesn’t make digital images. He favors clay and sticks of oil, tempered hardboard and corrugated cardboard, creating small sculptures—a sleeping ceramic shark, a crib-like wooden cage, doll-sized houses lit with purple LEDs—unique worlds brimming with angst and desire, works that deal in the poetics of nostalgia and repression.
For his New York debut, he presents one series, “Green Calvin,” 2014, which consists of ten monochrome green paintings, each with a ceramic green chicken fixed to its center. The color evokes a greenroom—the space where actors wait before performing—which spotlights our current liberty to put our lives on camera, to personally sculpt public identity. The clay, pulled and pushed to create a cadaver of a plucked fowl, looks soft and creepy. Marcus has carved out a face, his own, in the center, and each expression is very different, as if he has caught and sculpted various reflections. It’s all a bit nightmarish—finding one’s visage in raw flesh, being forced to pace in an infinity of selves—evoking the delirious level of upkeep our digital bodies require, the burden of manipulating reflection into image.
At the back of the gallery, there is one departure from Marcus’s labyrinth of green souls: a door that has been installed in the wall. It does not open. A broken clock has been adhered over its glass window—it’s the only image in the show.
Six sex-soaked abstract paintings from the 1960s make up Duane Zaloudek’s first New York exhibition in twenty years, and they fulfill a promise of art that is not always met: to move past beauty to desire, and to imbue form with the hot, sticky breath of life. Unlike his later, sparer paintings, which stamp down on sensory pleasure, these early works, painted in Portland and rhyming somewhat with the West Coast abstraction of Billy Al Bengston or Paul Jenkins, use circuitously erotic forms—solid shafts and bifurcated ovals, whose erogenous charge is compounded by a palette of cadmium red and rich, organic green. You’ll leave like Pygmalion: unhealthily in love, and desperate to join body to image.
The four paintings on canvas here are each called Milarepa, after a beloved eleventh-century Tibetan master—and advocate of karmamudrā, a disciplined sexual practice—whom Constantin Brancusi, a touchstone for Zaloudek, idolized. (At times, Brancusi imagined himself as Milarepa’s reincarnation.) Three of the works, from around 1965, feature pairs of large, drooping ovoids in the upper ground, bisected by firm vertical tubes that are themselves affixed with smaller ellipses. If the anatomical resonance in the first three canvases is unavoidable, the fourth one, from the end of the decade, joins the ovoids and the transversal shaft into a single tantric form. What’s more, Zaloudek introduces a stranger, more jagged black element that pushes the paintings beyond representation and into the realm of the senses. They pulsate, they shudder, they seduce and exhaust; they turn the riddle of abstraction into a carnival of pictophilia.
In “Speaking of People,” artists cut, collage, and repurpose Ebony and Jet—two magazines launched in the mid–twentieth century for black audiences—to draw attention to representations of race in print. In her inventive sixty-piece grid, DeLuxe, 2004–2005, Ellen Gallagher has added googly eyes, Plasticine, and paint to models’ faces in magazine ads to distort and transform the figures, as well as the promises that they advertise. Lorna Simpson further points to the fantasy of mutability inherent in such images in Riunite & Ice, 2014, a series featuring a floating female head on which she has collaged and painted different hair styles and accessories, a seriality that underscores both potential self-reinvention and the nature of the magazine as a medium.
Other artists isolate images of products advertised in these magazines, as Glenn Ligon does in his 1985 series. By pairing handpainted images of African American male hair products, such as Nu-Nile, Dax pomade, and Afro Sheen, with depictions of Giacometti and Brancusi sculptures that were shown in MoMA’s 1984 “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art” exhibition, Ligon draws attention to how notions of blackness are disseminated, usurped, and remade in both high and low culture. Hank Willis Thomas also spotlights the circulation and representation of blackness in Black Is Beautiful (1953–2014), which features every woman in Jet’s “Beauty of the Week” column from the magazine’s print run, creating a compendium of changing approaches to black female beauty. Such work transforms isolated individuals into a single, monumental installation, demonstrating how print culture permeates our everyday world and serves as a material to be mined and defamiliarized by artistic intervention.
In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, the narrator recounts testing grown-ups by presenting them with a drawing of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Most adults recognize it as a hat, causing the drawing’s maker to never again discuss “boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars” with them, but instead “bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties.”
Judith Scott’s sculptures give a sense of shape-shifting between things like hats and processes like boa constrictors swallowing elephants. They are typically amorphous forms—mostly large yet small enough that they could still be cradled by an adult—that were produced by tightly binding and weaving fibers, generally multicolored yarn and fabric, around clusters of common objects. In a few instances, the underlying, often industrial materials—plastic tubing, wooden sticks, and clothing, for instance—poke out. More commonly, however, different things come to constitute a unified entity that is completely strange, but perhaps all the more so because it retains a sense that there is something we know very well hiding inside.
Scott was born with Down syndrome; she spent her life nearly deaf and was unable to speak. In her forties, Scott joined the Creative Growth Art Center, an art studio in Oakland for artists with developmental and physical disabilities, and her entire body of work was produced during the following eighteen years. Rather than pathologizing the artist, or divorcing these astounding artworks from their maker, this posthumous retrospective at the Sackler Center for Feminist Art prompts a reading of her work that is informed by ideas shared by feminism and the growing field of disability studies: that an art object is both connected to and dependent upon not just the lived experience of its producer but also a surrounding network of equally embodied subjects that are an integral, albeit frequently unrecognized, part of both making and the making of meaning.