Of the nearly fifty photographs by Hervé Guibert on view here—the largest assembly in the US to date—all but a few exceptions are captured within intimate, directionally lit interiors. As a photographer, journalist, theorist, and AIDS activist, Guibert documented his relations with his friends, lovers, and the social energies around him. His journals—recently translated into a nearly six-hundred-page tome—and photographs showcase a meandering, vigorous subjectivity: insatiably observant, emotionally porous to the forces of everyday life, while seemingly uncaring of his own lyricism.
Guibert frequently photographed within hotel rooms, driven by a desire to testify his presence across temporary settings, and his lover, Thierry, is often depicted within these neutral, homely interiors. Some photographs follow his travels through Palermo, Amsterdam, and Rome. One example, Sienne, 1979, shows a man’s naked back collapsed over a cleared desk. Gleaming rays of light pour in through the open casement windows facing the body and cast a moody aura beneath illuminated, hovering smoke. Guibert approached self-representation evasively, often by photographing the accouterments of his workstations, such as in Table de travail (Worktable), 1985, or in Les lettres de Mathieu (The Letters of Mathieu), 1984, as a shadow peering over a bed strewn with journals and folded letters.
Guibert’s daily writings detail a fixation on disappearance, which stayed with him until his death in 1991 due to complications from an attempted suicide and AIDS. One year prior, he captured Autoportrait de Lieu et Date Totalement Oubliés (Self Portrait of Place and Date Totally Forgotten), 1990—an auguring, overexposed, and icily blurred self-portrait devoid of any surrounding context. After his friend and mentor Michel Foucault passed away in 1984, Guibert photographed his apartment and described the process as “not a pact of forgetting but an act of eternity sealed by the image.” This can be extended to Guibert’s own legacy, which becomes increasingly visible as one observes his photographic records and countless pages of affective notes. In spite of all efforts at self-erasure, his voice remains—too singular to be forgotten.
Louise Lawler’s exhibition “NO DRONES” traces the forms of some of her most cited and contested photographs, exchanging color and shadow for reedy, suggestive black lines that interrogate an image’s construction and potential for reading. As Lawler’s prior works have acquired a comfortable aura of notoriety and value within the presentational and commercial apparatus they critique, the artist pivots back onto these referents, reconstructing them as phantom pictures.
Hand On Her Back (traced), 1997/1998/2013, an inkjet print on vinyl adhered to a wall, directly confronts viewers passing through one of the gallery’s aluminum-lined thresholds. It delineates Lawler’s photograph of a cast sculpture depicting Aphrodite on casters at the New York Academy of Fine Arts. The print’s spare, languid marks elegantly toy with viewer desire, as if to reference what remains of the original photograph’s subtle critique after it collected critical acclaim and commercial appeal. This image also returns in a number of smaller, framed prints on which the artist has colored in some outlines with gouache. Covering the entirety of another wall, Pollock and Tureen (traced), 1984/2013, traces one of the artist’s most celebrated images—a domestic scene in which a floral tureen foregrounds the Jackson Pollock drip painting behind it—with baroque grandeur. Here the massive, imposing scale of installation approximates the 1984 work’s considerable position within art history and elevated exchange value. Marking its reappearance largely through absence, the vinyl image’s spectral, monochrome quality strikes a seductive visual paradox worthy of interpretation.
In representing some of her most recognizable works, Lawler makes space for more to be seen. While today’s effluence of images renders pictures increasingly disposable, here the artist subversively continues extending the life span of her photographic work to reengage critical analysis. Living past their previous incarnations, the tracings are indeed like ghosts in the gallery: haunting, seductive, mercurial, evasive.
“Slip” acts as a sort of pharmaceutical downer, sedating our immediate realities into a meditative blur. Brock Enright’s Secret 3 (all works cited 2014) exists as a pair of immaculate Dorito chips sheathed in gold leaf and accompanied by three equally luminous Doritos “flavors.” Here, snack-food banality is sculpturally propelled into extraordinary circumstances, gratifying the most fantastical potential of an otherwise lackluster commodity. A corpse of an actual house cat is installed on the rear wall of the gallery—appearing curiously tranquil despite its gaping stomach cavity and grotesque leathery skin. Aside from this untitled work, Michael E. Smith also presents Bobby, a propane tank with adhered piping, the barbeque necessity turned minimalist ready-made.
Contributions by Alex Da Corte and Rochelle Goldberg exist somewhere between IKEA functionality and altarpieces. Da Corte’s Star Trap (with Bird of Paradise), is a large fuchsia rug with a trapdoor opened to reveal utter darkness, while the hollow metal frame in Goldberg’s sculpture, Horizon in Recline, mimics the form of a living room sofa but has been voided of anything remotely comfortable. Monochromatic paintings by Graham Collins are left obscured behind dilapidated wooden frames and visible only through small slits between torn window tint. Peter Sutherland litters the gallery with his mesmerizing crystals and geodes that blend elements of photography with natural geological formations, which like the adhered photographs, are also records of time passed. Similarly, these and the array of accompanying works are only remnants, corporeal artifacts from the borderland between reality and imagination.
For his debut at David Lewis, Lund presents only two of his in-demand abstract canvases. These works are an elaboration of earlier efforts at pushing low-quality iPhone photos of iconic works (by Daniel Buren and Martin Kippenberger, in this case) through several layers of distortion and final material realization via silkscreen. One of the work’s more interesting details is how the unprimed, raw canvas below the layers of paint restrains the tonal pop that might push the work into a cloyingly seductive direction.
Lund is an artist whose name appears more often in cynical, link-bait journalism about secondary-market auction results than it does in critical reflections on the output of a patient, slow-burn artist gamely wandering the once-fertile wastelands of historical painterly minimalism. It’s an unfortunate truth that reflects a moment when visibility for young artists is increasingly linked to the profits generated by creepy art flippers who see work not so much as material facts to be lived with than as tokens of value to be traded in and up.
All which makes Lund strangely subversive: Dressed down and desaturated, these works flirt with the contemporary moment’s vogue for historical painterly abstraction. However, failing to deliver a fast gratification to the eye, the works instead draw viewers in a little closer, for a little longer, into something a little weirder. The second half of the show presents a number of sculptures outfitted from roughly human-scaled freestanding silk screens. Coated with the binary photo emulsion that would otherwise guide paint pushed through them in the artist’s studio, Lund’s screens instead guide only the light that enters the gallery’s bank of east-facing windows—complicating, in the process, some of the sight lines and wall-focused visuality of his canvases.
In “Novelty Court,” Emily Mae Smith presents paintings that employ a personalized iconography as a means toward unabashed self-assertion and its liberatory effects. For the most part, the motifs in these canvases are proprietary, culled from sources ranging from the Art Nouveau trade bulletin The Studio to Disney’s Fantasia, and they are fed by the artist’s robust interest in the history of design. Ghost Writer (all works 2014) is an extreme case, a painting which repeats the letter E five times in black paint on a white background; the middle bar of the letter, which would complete the character, has been replaced by a two-hued blue wave. Here, Smith alludes to herself through a corporatized logo, reformulating the spirit of Kurt Schwitters’s “Merz” series in the corporate graphic parlance of Microsoft’s Windows.
One conspicuous element that appears in three small paintings features a man’s toothy rictus as a framing device. The mouth reads as male because there is a handlebar mustache painted directly above it, and because of the gaping Chiclet teeth centered above and below the picture. For instance, in The Inspector, the teeth circumscribe a simplified image of a cartoonish backside. Hovering above the right cheek is a monocle, which brings to mind eyeglasses and other sight aids deployed by artists—from Pieter Brueghel the Elder to Jasper Johns—as iconographic code to mock myopic art critics. In this case, Smith adds a wry jab at the insatiable male gaze. Are we all really so obtuse and ass-hungry? Maybe. This type of graphic sophistication and screwball humor forms an incisive critique in its own right as it circumvents any dominant mode of picture-making in favor of singular intelligence and eccentricity.
Probing the relationship between historical preservation and individual memory, Patricia Esquivias’s film 111-119 Generalísimo/Castellana, 2014, traces stories around a 1950s housing project in Madrid’s current-day financial district. Much of the film focuses on ceramic murals originally installed for the balconies of the buildings; each mural depicts a different city around Europe, the intent during Franco’s reign being to project an image of Spain as a thriving, international state. Many were removed over time, some salvaged pieces of which are on view along with photographs and texts in this exhibition that, together with the video, constructs a historical narrative that oscillates between what is personal and what is factual.
The film depicts the artist’s laptop screen, showing her opening and switching between various image files. The disjointed slideshow establishes that her interest in the housing development hearkens back to time spent with her father, hinting that her concern with facts is also viewed through a lens of rekindled childhood imaginations. One narrative references a refashioned marble wall element that appears to have originally resembled a seashore—the artist jokes that perhaps residents’ fond memories from holidays at the beach will instigate the piece’s restoration. In a printed text, Esquivias retells how a renter decided against destroying his ceramic mural after hearing of the artist’s interest in the object.
Documents displayed on tables further illustrate the artist’s efforts to uncover the buildings’ histories, which included meeting with families of the architects and thwarted attempts to photograph more tiles. The artist’s anecdotes and research foretell how objects and surroundings receive value through circumstances perhaps as fickle as they are personal. Esquivias’s own instructive approach mirrors this condition as it seamlessly shifts between fact and childhood speculation, made believable via a puerile charm.
The fragrance from Sophy Naess’s eight hanging soap slabs pervades this small white-boxed gallery, where curator Lumi Tan has presented works by three artists. Embedded in Naess’s soaps are tiny things: Pieces of weeds and flowers float next to funny trash items and found treasures. The contents are carefully arranged, whether suspended in color blocks or scattered just beneath the soap’s surface, and each tablet depicts a different landscape of secret meanings and spells. A take-away printout lists the ingredients in two clean yet crowded columns, with items ranging from “EYE OF HORUS” and “OCCASIONAL MELANCHOLIA” to “FRANK’S SEASHELLS” and “BROKEN LOCK ON SIDEWALK.” There’s a cosmological bent in the milky and wistful layers comprising each slab: Over time, the soap changes, warping and bending, responding to the climate with sweat and discoloration.
Ryan Mrozowski’s repeating patterns of floating orange orbs have an almost sinister effect against Naess’s organicism. The visual weight of these paintings is tempered by their strange flatness, where orange moons and shadowy green leaves cover each canvas in striking matte designs. Sara Magenheimer’s Radio Feeling Table, 2014, comprises a white-tiled platform that hosts an odd array of objects, arranged according to graphic and formal qualities: cosmic blue and pale green lie like powder along the surfaces of two painted-white peanut shells; a wiry metal toy rests on a ripped blue rubber glove, resembling the SPLAT! in comic strips. Each artist’s idiosyncratic engagement with order attributes an unexpected sensorial complexity to everyday forms, where it becomes clear that viewing is both sensing and sensemaking.
In its latest show, the collective BFFA3AE has erected two parallel walls that cut diagonally across the gallery’s main room, sandwiching a handful of Mylar balloons, each emblazoned with a cheerful special-occasion message, an image of One Direction’s Niall Horan or iCarly’s Miranda Cosgrove. BFFA3AE—made up of Daniel Chew and Micaela Durand—is perhaps somewhat better known for Internet-based work, but here the group takes a thorough turn toward art IRL. Its recent output seems to celebrate the eager-beaver impulse to amass and admire that’s shared by distinguished art collectors and enthused middle-schoolers alike, as Niall and Carly’s mugs appear alongside pieces bursting with strains of Fluxus, Dada, and other art movements past. A monitor obscured by sheets of seaweed (a piece by Durand), for example, sits near a found soap dispenser in the shape of a lady’s shoe.
Across the room, rags by Chew are framed and decorated with stains, screenprints, and laser-cut lettering. Their titles (e.g., Look #15: Printed ‘trompe l’œil’ shirt - Printed ‘trompe l’œil’ skirt - Stretch linen thigh high boots, 2014) seemingly allude to both the cyclical transience of fashion and the semipermanence of collected art. Which leads us to the jumble of videos and paraphernalia—placemats, potting mix, and keyboards—in the gallery’s foyer. The room, we’re told, is BFFA3AE’s “retrospective.” When taken as a comment on the pace at which the art world consumes young artists, it’s not much. But considered as a hoard that represents both nostalgia and possibility to someone starry-eyed, it means everything.
What if Kynaston McShine’s landmark 1966 presentation of objects, “Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors,” had been global in scope? This is the question driving Jens Hoffmann’s inaugural two-part exhibition at the Jewish Museum, which brings together artists from South America, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe whose pared-down works share formal and conceptual affinities with those of their better-known contemporaries featured in the foundational show, such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris.
Dialogues between past and present, Western and “other” abound throughout this elegantly mounted exhibition. Geometric sculptures of varying sizes, shapes, and colors are flanked by blown-up black-and-white archival photographs of the original exhibition, which serve to extend the current installation in both time and space. In one arrangement, for instance, Argentinean artist Norberto Puzzolo’s Virtual Pyramid with Exterior and Interior View, 1967, a series of incrementally sized triangular frames made of painted wood, is set to face an image of Sol LeWitt’s No Title, 1966, a six-foot modular wooden cube. When seen together, these serial, nonreferential works offer a global reassessment of the complex visions and radical new approaches to sculpture in the 1960s.
However, the most inciting pieces resist, rather than mirror, the tenets of canonical “abc art.” The mixture of the modestly scaled, suspended mobiles of Polish Edward Krasiński, Brazilian Hélio Oiticica, and Venezuelan Gego in one room, or the subtle yet continuously bubbling, tubular machine of Filipino David Medalla in another, are but a few examples. Although this exhibition is a response to rather than a strict recreation of its predecessor, it culminates with an arresting, ten-foot-tall dollhouse—a painstaking model of the museum as it stood in 1966, complete with vibrantly colored Minimalist trappings—which provides a contrast to the achromatic photographs on view and allows one the chance to peer into a history nearly fifty years past.
Charles James’s life wasn’t all debs, soigné parties, and Slim Keith. By the time of his death in 1978, after a lifetime of striking up bad business deals and alienating scores of friends and supporters, the visionary fashion designer was living in sheer squalor in New York City’s Chelsea Hotel: sick and a pauper, months behind in rent. Despite having a small coterie of minders (or nightclubbing fans who occasionally borrowed some of his renowned frocks to party in), he died alone.
But James was far more than your average fashion-land burnout, and in this bravura retrospective, put together by the Costume Institute’s curator in chief Harold Koda and adjunct curator Jan Glier Reeder, we experience a man who posed and dallied with some of the early twentieth century’s wealthiest American and European bluebloods, but produced garments that only a sharp and stealthy avant-gardist could’ve dreamed up.
James’s confectionary ball gowns deceive the eye. They are, at first glance, stunning examples of ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s chic. But closer inspection (offered via mobile digital cameras and screens that provide extraordinary details of how each dress was constructed) reveals a love of asymmetrical structuring, unusual combinations of materials and, frankly, feats of painstakingly adroit jerry-rigging. James was notorious for fussing over his garments past the point of finishing, sometimes adding as many as twenty layers of fabric within a dress until it met his exacting standards of proportion. And some of these dresses, despite weighing as much as fifteen pounds, would just float on the wearer’s body, a result of James’s intuitive sense of mathematics, spatial dynamics, and architecture (he never received any institutional training as a dressmaker). Though James has always been referred to as an “obscure” designer, one can see his influence in the work of so many, such as Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Vivienne Westwood, or John Galliano. But thanks to this comprehensive, intelligent, and luminous exhibition: the shadows, no longer.
In “Pleh,” three very different artists—Gobby, Nick Buffon, Allegra Crowther—take up the onanistic tedium and thrills of obsession and boredom in dispirited urban desolation, a context familiar to New Yorkers resigned to spend long summer weeks in the city. Curator Alexander Shulan, who directs STL—the austere Chinatown satellite of Chelsea's Martos Gallery—presents a witty salon-style hanging of industrious and psychedelic comic-book illustrations and alluringly sloppy sculptural tableaux. The exhibition weirdly reminisces a certain generation of 1990s cable television cartoons—Rocco’s Modern Life or the more adult-oriented Duckman that present often-doomed, neurotic characters as disempowered subjects in a mechanistic, indifferent universe.
The drawings by Gobby (who has a cultish following in experimental music circles), frequently feature Shamus, an alter ego who seems never to have any idea of what’s going on around him. In the latest narrative, which has drifted in style over the past two years into more abstract and fantastical directions, we see Shamus journey to an oozing, allegorical fantasyland where the protagonist discovers his own corporeal desire—or is it decline? Fastidious and awkwardly sensual, these works take inspiration from mainstream Japanese anime, American underground comics, and Internet porn. They are the exhibition’s fast-talkers.
Nick Buffon’s sculptural tableaux, on the other hand, talk slow: they depict unremarkable urban architecture and depressing, messy interiors populated by empty beer cans, weedy and unattended vegetation, and forgettable abstract canvases. His works are abundant with slapdash detail and horny, locker-room humor. Gobby and Buffon have collaborated with set designer Allegra Crowther to create three video works—in the best, a green muppet wakes in some Bed-Stuy–ish apartment and goes about a happy, if humdrum, day: masturbating in bed, using the bathroom, playing music, and finally, partying on a roof—forever alone, of course.
A time-based media crackerjack, the late Christoph Schlingensief (1960–2010) seamlessly roved between the disciplines of experimental film, theater, television, radio, opera, and performance art. In the charged atmosphere of 1968, at the age of eight, Schlingensief had already directed his first work, a twenty-minute short in which a farmer waves a handcrafted flag to German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s renowned Wedding March—the film’s eerie political undertone and focus on a specifically German context would come to define his entire oeuvre. A champion of a post-Brechtian attitude, Schlingensief often tried to assault his audience out of complacency, tackling gritty subject matter such as neo-Nazism and the unification of Germany with anarchic verve. A household name in his native country, he is still little known in the United States.
This is thus a timely overview of an inimitable career. Featuring documentation of approximately two dozen performance works, the exhibition comes head to head with the complexities of presenting such a prolific, ephemeral practice. The subversive qualities of this enfant terrible’s provocative output are best communicated in the interactive displays. Highlights include Animatograph, 2005–2006, a pulsing, dark, rotating tree house meets postapocalyptic bunker in which viewers confront disturbing films and props as they climb up and around the fun-house installation. See too Talk 2000, 1997, the peculiar talk show Schlingensief founded in the basement of the Volksbühne (People’s Theater), which is shown here on two cubic television monitors on a revolving platform arranged like a living room with sofas, side tables, and lamps.
The exhibition also shines in its simultaneous presentation of The Germany Trilogy, 1989–92, and 120 Days of Bottrop—The Last New German Film, 1997, in a darkened chamber on the museum’s second floor. The cacophonous clatter—an alarming mixture of rumbling chainsaws, shrieks of terror, and gasps of pleasure—that bounces between the jutting, angled walls is true to Schlingensief's unruly spirit.
“Living with Pop. A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism” features barely any “original” works of art. As its title suggests, the exhibition—an investigation of the postwar West German phenomenon of Capitalist Realism—consists of reproductions, prints, and multiples of archival ephemera: invitation cards, flyers, press releases, brochures, guest books, letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles, neatly assembled in large, gray display cabinets. Even the forty-some-odd paintings included—most of which were modeled after advertisements and publicity photographs of consumer products—are not the virtuoso oil-on-canvas originals but true-to-scale photographic facsimiles.
In many ways, the exhibition captures the spirit of Capitalist Realism, the name of which was introduced in 1963 by the Düsseldorf foursome (Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter) to parodically counter the mandated Socialist Realism of East Germany and to respond with a sense of skepticism to the Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) of the West. Despite its text-heavy character, the show is visually dynamic and easy to navigate, with more than a decade’s worth of information (1957–71) arranged chronologically in sections that are bracketed by mural-sized black-and-white photographs of such key events as Richter and Lueg’s infamous 1963 Happening in the furniture store Möbelhaus Berges, or the group’s impromptu 1964 exhibition in the snow-speckled garden of Galerie Parnass.
The invitation to American Conceptual artist (and cinephile) Christopher Williams to frame the exhibition with a selection of films could not have been more discerning—after all, Williams is not only a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where the artists whom the show addresses met, but, more to the point, his photographic practice both revisits the Cold War and critically comments on the conventions of advertising. Presented on adjacent flat screens, the works he has chosen range from such art-house classics as Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1973) to popular flicks such as Justin Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), creating a continuously changing kaleidoscope of images that brilliantly speak to our late-capitalist, media-prescribed condition.
Zoe Beloff based her latest exhibition, “The Days of the Commune,” on the eponymous, little-known play Bertolt Brecht wrote in 1947 to commemorate the rise and fall of the Paris Commune in 1871, considered by many to be the world’s first proletarian revolution. Over the course of spring 2012, the artist directed a motley crew of professional and amateur actors, activists, and artists to perform Brecht’s drama at sites across New York City that loosely correspond to settings from the play. Throughout, the last dregs of Occupy Wall Street played an omnipresent role—invisible and unacknowledged yet felt everywhere.
The film and its attendant props, costumes, storyboards, and drawings on view here give a cumulative picture of three moments—1871, 1947, and 2012—that in their different ways represent both the last gasps of revolutionary fervor and the looming understanding of a battle already lost. The deliberately anachronistic manner of acting and stage design takes its cues from Brechtian theater, which forwent historical continuity in order to consciously overlap incongruous times and spaces. In Beloff’s case, nineteenth-century Paris is mapped over twenty-first century New York, emphasizing the artificiality of the performance while drawing attention to the present environment. The drawings of Zuccotti Park are emblematic of this tension: For Beloff, drawing is a manner of thinking in time. Her deployment of the medium in the face of the camera-ready protests demonstrates a different approach to the movement. Not beholden to the documentary tradition in photography, Beloff’s sketches are unencumbered by our need for instantaneous images, and this instead allows political imagination to take over.
Biological and psychological ritual are the backbone of Matthew Ronay’s latest exhibition, which presents a series of intimate gouaches rendered in a palette of vivid blues, purples, and reds. These amorphic exercises in what Ronay refers to as “muscle memory” were composed daily and focus, as does the practice of meditation, on the undulating of the human respiratory system. Unlike some of Ronay’s previous work, the erotic component of this series is nonexplicit, the focus instead on the intersection between the stimulating and the spiritual. There is the delicately sexual 12.10.13, 2013, which calls to mind the moment of conception, and 01.23.14, 2014, an intricate meandering of pale pink through tears in tissue-like red.
Of the one hundred works made as part of this series, only thirty-four were put on view, and the empty space creates a sense of drama, causing the viewer to wonder why certain days were omitted. The pieces are set irregularly in two rows, surrounded by barely visible gray-washed shadows of identical size, which are standing reminders of Ronay’s other visual meditations. The psychosexual symbology within these works coupled with the tension between the gouaches and their ghostly counterparts ignites questions of self-censorship. “Wavelength” is an elegantly curated reminder that ritualized creation has a strong history in both the visual and spiritual.
KNOCK KNOCK. Jerry Kearns’s latest show beats down its own door and invades the gallery walls with acid-colored expressions printed in large-scale comic-book bubble letters. Their onomatopoeic allusions—SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!—vibrate, animating the space and engulfing one in the narrative that unfolds in five wall murals and eight large paintings. The show simultaneously flattens and disbands Kearns’s layered, nuanced so-called psychological Pop paintings, which build on the American Pop tradition of painting begun by Roy Lichtenstein. Combining screenprinting and handpainting, the works bizarrely fuse American twentieth-century imagery relating to hero/villain archetypes, Christian zealotry, the Wild West, and the Bronze Age of comics. Our protagonist, Jesus, is rendered here as a campy, crown-of-thorns-bearing savior, galloping from one scene to another on horseback. Dressed as a slightly ditzy cowboy, he hopelessly confronts tricky, goblin-like outlaws—always, it appears, on the brink of ambush as he looks the wrong way.
The characterization of Jesus as semihero in an American Hero’s clothing speaks to the paradox of a Bible Belt mentality that celebrates Christian values of Good Shepherd peace and simultaneously parades violent ideals such as free gun commerce. Building on Kearns’s ongoing exploration of soft and hard power dynamics as well as gender stereotypes, these new works intertwine historic paradigms of American masculinity, the tomboyish aesthetics of 1970s animation, and the covert manipulation of “sublime landscape” paintings (which, as Kearns has noted, were originally produced as propaganda for notions of Manifest Destiny). Here, Kearns compels us to interrogate the ethics undergirding societal values using the age-old carrot-and-stick strategy: on one hand deploying subtle overlapping of culturally charged imagery that rewards deeper analysis, and on the other hand leveling us with the punch of cartoonlike murals that blast aggressive afterimages into viewers’ minds.
Here today, gone tomorrow. If last year’s overnight whitewashing of graffiti haven 5Pointz in Queens revealed anything, it's that the fleeting form of graffiti tags is as susceptible as ever to the whims of property owners and real estate speculation. All the more prescient, then, was artist Martin Wong’s vision to amass his extensive collection of graffiti works on canvas, wood, Masonite, doors, and any other conceivable writing surface. Aspiring to be the “Albert Barnes of graffiti,” Wong donated his collection to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994—“City as Canvas” is the first selected display of these materials.
One of the earliest items exhibited is Wicked Gary’s Tag Collection from 1970–72. Compiled during the nascent years of graffiti’s ubiquity, the gridded display features the distinct signatures of almost one hundred pioneering writers. Among the more legible signatures indexed are Super Strut and Flint, For Those Who Dare; the posturing and bravado of both are a staple of the spirit of graffiti tagging. By 1981, the Metropolitan Transit Authority heightened police measures and installed razor-wire fences and guard dogs in train yards as initial efforts to “clean up” the city. Lady Pink, notable as one of the few female graffiti writers, foreshadowed the eventual effects of these developments in her 1982 self-portrait, The Death of Graffiti. The artist stands nude atop a mountain of spray cans pointing mournfully to a whited train as a graffiti-marked train passes behind it, the stark contrast emphasizing what has been covered in the first; a stifling feeling of inevitable gentrification pervades the scene.
Indeed, in 1989, New York City mayor Ed Koch declared the subway “graffiti-free” as a result of the cleanup efforts. That same year, Wong founded the Museum of American Graffiti in the East Village to bring archival attention to what he deemed his “aerosol hieroglyphics.” The project proved short-lived, closing within a year due to financial pressures. Yet the museum—the first of its kind in the United States—provides a lens into Wong’s sustained preservation efforts. An original vitrine from the museum’s inaugural exhibition is on display here. Covered in chain-link fences and signature scrawls, the case provides an appropriately urban, idiosyncratic display for a similarly alternative collection from a nearly bygone era.
The two-part exhibition “Ultrapassado” exclusively includes the work of female geometric abstractionists. Taking its name from the Portuguese term for transcending, the show in its second iteration comprises multimedia works that do just that; they go beyond the normative conventions of Rio de Janeiro–based Neo-Concretist art of the 1960s that sought to overcome its inheritance of European rationalism. Instead, work by artists Paloma Bosquê, Rosemarie Castoro, and Lydia Okumura illustrate that lyrical geometric abstraction continued and still continues to be explored in New York and Sao Paulo, broadening the scope and scale of this movement’s imposed geographical and formal limitations.
While Castoro’s drawing Y Feet, 1965, clearly addresses the jostling framework of Hélio Oiticica’s “Metaesquema,” her miniature sculptures speak to an entirely different relationship. The result in Two Walls Wired, 1976, for example, joins two facing white slabs of gesso and marble dust by bent strands of steel wire, suggesting that open-ended space rather than the conclusively hard-edged is the connective force that binds geometric abstraction. The sculpture even establishes a direct connection with a work included in the exhibition’s back room, Bosquê’s site-specific installation Ruído (Noise), 2014, which trades miniature walls for Carl Andre–like steel slabs on the floor and bent wire for threads of poured resin and buttermilk.
Okumura’s installation Different Dimensions of Reality II, 1971/2014, arranges nine white aluminum plates that seem to stagger up the gallery’s main parting wall. Upon further inspection, as the work reaches the confines of its room, the white panels turn gray, and the sculpture turns into painting.
Fifty years ago, architect Philip Johnson invited the edgy up-and-coming artist Andy Warhol to produce one of ten commissions for the facade of the World’s Fair New York State Pavilion—Warhol’s first and ultimately last public-art project. Working in the midst of his “Death and Disaster” depictions of car crashes and race riots, while taking his initial photobooth strips of socialites, friends, and, of course, himself, Warhol devised a work for the pavilion that would merge the profane and the portrait: blown-up silk-screened mug shots of the thirteen most-wanted men taken straight from the City of New York’s police department. As the story goes, someone in power had objections, perhaps to its coarse aesthetics, thinly veiled homoeroticism, or simply the banal subject material. By the time the World’s Fair opened on April 22, 1964, the 13 Most Wanted Men was covered in a thick coat of silver paint (a proposal to replace the work with twenty-five identical panels of a beaming World’s Fair President Robert Moses was, alas, rejected out of hand).
The making of the work, its quick demise, and its afterlife in Warhol’s oeuvre make up this meticulously researched and precisely installed exhibition. The fascinating murder mystery of the Men unfolds chronologically, weaving in appearances by potential culprits Philip Johnson, Robert Moses, Nelson Rockefeller, and most enigmatic of all, Warhol himself. Nine silk-screened portraits of the Men that were made the summer after the debacle form the core of the exhibition, which is supplemented by an array of other works by Warhol, such as Little Electric Chair, 1964–65, and Nelson Rockefeller, 1967, and archival materials documenting Warhol’s year of production on the pavilion, the World’s Fair exhibition, and the reception of the controversial destruction of the work. By the end of 1964, for Warhol, “Death and Disaster” had transformed into a Flowers elegy and the Men had mutated into the screen-test series 13 Most Beautiful Boys, 1964–66. What remains in this exhibition are the relics of an astounding transitional moment in the artist’s work.
This retrospective, which takes over the second floor of PS1, reveals James Lee Byars as a peripatetic showman whose work engaged some of the most compelling artistic questions of his time. Included in his variegated oeuvre is a collection of letters—the majority addressed to Joseph Beuys, Byars’s hero and most obvious influence—that evince the artist’s desire for creative correspondence. But, these letters, written in Byars’s intricately ornamented “star script,” evince a simultaneous fascination with gnomic indecipherability, as in all of his work. This conflicting set of impulses is equally evident in his “book” sculptures, which, in their irregular shapes and illegible typefaces, seem to flaunt their unreadability. Tropes of communication bleed into a sort of communion in Byars’s multiperson garments, such as the Pink Silk Airplane, 1969, which can accommodate one hundred simultaneous wearers. These call to mind contemporaneous works by Franz Erhard Walther, though the idea of the artwork’s activation through participation was already present in the interactive paper sculptures that Byars made after spending time in Kyoto. His World Question Center project, also 1969, was dedicated to compiling America’s “most interesting” questions—Byars’s response to Beuys’s contention that “everyone is an artist”—but left them conspicuously unanswered.
In Byars’s most original works, the opulent sculptures he produced from the 1980s on, his desires to show and to shroud are reconciled by embracing a Jodorowskyesque theatricality. Byars would interact with these works, which combine blood-red silk, gilded marble, and dramatic spotlighting, in temporal actions he called “plays.” The retrospective ultimately succeeds by presenting all of the artist’s work in such terms, with the galleries’ walls painted black and luminous gold, giving the impression of a black-box theater turned gnostic temple.
Nancy Rubins is known for her large public works composed of airplane parts, boats, televisions, mattresses, and other detritus mined from the boneyards of industrialized consumerism. Here she presents four sculptures formed from conglomerations of aluminum animals typical of fairground rides and children’s playgrounds—horses, ducks, and elephants among them—tightly bound together by wire cables. Three floor-based works rise from pedestals, expanding into multicolored cornucopias, while the largest piece, Our Friend Fluid Metal, 2014, also the name of the exhibition, emerges from a wall like zoological ectoplasm, billowing into the room above the viewer.
The brightly painted expressions of Rubins’s infantilized animals were once perhaps intended to augment the rider’s carnival experience, but with their redundancy, the paralyzed smiles and battered carcasses evoke hollow bewilderment rather than warm nostalgia, so that these works function as funereal totems to long-gone childhood pleasures.
While lacking the volume to inspire awe, or many of the other superlatives commonly applied to Rubins’s work, the sculptures do possess density and mass—qualities which strike an ominous tone. The creatures are so pitifully compressed and restricted in their suspended cages that they become not only a representation of detachment from youthful freedoms, but also a conduit for notions of seizure and abuse, relating less to animals than to the materials that Rubins’s menageries are made of. Although these structures are built from reconstituted metals, the greater suggestion is of a Benjamin Button–like societal regression should we continue to plunder and discard our finite resources.
Trisha Brown’s choreography is notoriously difficult to capture, with its swift turns and continuous transitional phrases. In early works such as Roof Piece, 1971, seen through the able lens of Babette Mangolte, multiple dancers transmit simple movements to one another across New York City rooftops, invoking both the performers’ and viewer’s capacities for recall. With each performance, Brown anticipated the way her work would be seen, questioning the disappearance so often ascribed to dance. The photographs, short films, videos, and ephemera that comprise this exhibition record Brown’s performances for posterity, in turn influencing Brown’s own practice. Mangolte’s exhilarating film Watermotor, 1978, shows Brown performing the eponymous dance in real time. It’s then slowed down by half—perhaps best evidencing what Craig Owens once called “mechanical inscription,” or the multiple perspectives and temporal freeze/flow of film and photography registered in the dancing.
Since the 1970s, Brown and her company have investigated the terrain of lower Manhattan—whose buildings, seen from the windows of the space, provide an apropos backdrop and real-time reminder of context. Curated by Alex Fialho and Melissa Levin, and conceived by Sam Miller, this deceptively compact show foregrounds the conflation of site and sight, particularly in the “Equipment Pieces.” Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, 1970, uses gravity to defamiliarize ordinary movement: rigged to a harness, a performer descends down the facade of 80 Wooster Street. Photographed from below by Peter Moore, the figure is dwarfed by the architectural surface, whose pictorial flatness causes the vertical surface to appear nearly horizontal—“site-specificity” might here extend to the event’s relationship with its documentation. An iteration of Man Walking forty years later is included in a grid of color photographs documenting the company’s reperformances—yet Brown’s symbiotic relation to reproductive media, and her photographers’ collaborative voices, become lost to the digital, high-resolution ennui of contemporary image-making. In this survey of her practice, Brown’s play with the fugitive nature of movement is strongest when the process of seeing dance itself is illuminated.
Allan McCollum’s “The Shapes Project,” which began in 2005, was designed to create a unique sculpture for every person in the world, with an objective of producing over thirty-one billion different shapes. His latest iteration presents an explosion of color and dissimilarity that evoke ethnographic associations, emphasizing the impossibility of containing the profusion of difference that exists in American society.
McCollum presents pairings of multicolored shapes: Each has been attached to its own discrete wood panel and stacked with the others on the gallery wall. The result are several large grids that have been assembled for this exhibition; while the shapes are hung in specific compositions, later iterations can be organized in a variety of ways. While the arrangements invoke critiques of the grid and the monochrome, more crucial is the way the color and cut of the wood forms comment on gender and sexuality. With each unique twosome, always amorphous but oddly complimentary, there is a resistance to categorization and a deliberate rejection of the categorizing impulse of the eye. For McCollum, vision’s role as the foundation of difference is unseated and open to queer reformulations.
And yet it is melancholy that overruns the exhibition: Each couple is caught in time, forever sealed within a single, immobilizing box. If McCollum’s project seems initially about unity, his appeal here seems driven by anxiety: What would it take to fully break the normative ties that visually and culturally bind these figures together?
At a moment when social-media fatigue may be finally tempering the ebullient narcissism of practically a decade of “status updates,” Brian Calvin’s new works crystallize the inevitable malaise of an acutely self-aware population. His clever and luminous paintings—rendered in the Day-Glo colors of overexposed photographs—depict hyperexposed pretty young things casually mugging for an unseen observer, their faces flattened (visually and figuratively) with the stylized ennui of Modigliani’s oblong portraits. In Reflect, 2014, a nude woman gazes at herself in a makeup mirror, and alongside her we study her mildly uneven breasts. In other works, he zeroes in even further: the same pair of sensually parted glossed lips reappear throughout the show, and he often tightens the frame to reveal gap teeth and a dormant tongue.
Emotionally distant and elusively cool, Calvin’s characters convey the banality of selfie culture, and, like selfies, they evade any narrative arc. A California-raised artist, Calvin is occasionally compared to David Hockney, whose colors and subject matter equally evoke the ominously easy life of a sun-bleached suburbia, and to the New Yorker Alex Katz, whose graphic, flat compositions are visual siblings of Calvin’s, but whose paintings tend to suggest backstories and aftermath. Calvin takes a more existential approach to portraiture, treating the human face or body as a self-contained landscape, and in these new pictures he has both tightened and expanded his focus. Where his earlier works tend to portray the awkwardness of casual interactions between people, these breviloquent scenes close in on an epidemic of self-awareness: The objective filter of a close-up may magnify the physical, but it also protectively hides the soul.
Seven abstract monochrome canvases are displayed between unframed black-and-white photographs in Joshua Smith’s solo exhibition “The Blue Album,” some of which document a day trip to the beach that the artist took with two friends. Liz at the Beach, 2014, depicts one of his companions sunbathing along a calm ocean shore as she scrutinizes the screen of an iPhone. A large untitled arched canvas painted bubblegum-pink is positioned to the image’s right—its vertical orientation conjures a malformed Roman letter. The intimate proximity of Smith’s camera to his leisurely subject adds a tender air against the stark, sharply executed color field paintings that recall the abstractions of Ellsworth Kelly. Other untitled acrylic works assume forms that range from a crooked greater-than sign to a serif-like cane in maroon and jet-black, respectively. Upstairs, mounted within the flower shop above this artist-run basement gallery, is a cluster encompassing napkin drawings, old party photos, scenic snapshots, and monochrome studies with canvas shreds or Polaroid film exposure.
The insertion of tender, youthful, or domestic scenes amidst the historically onerous tradition of color-field painting suggests the artist holds minimalism as a space not solely for material rigor, but also for humor and affection. Only two untitled canvases adopt a customary rectangular form and, mounted beside each other, they evoke the scale of Felix Gonzalez Torres’s 1988 monochrome quadrytpic Forbidden Colors. With that work, the late artist sought to challenge the “divine dogma of modernism” and stressed the response to his abstractions would be factored by political contexts and biases. Smith might agree here, adding nostalgia and intimacy to the mix.
Opening after a mostly boring New York Fashion Week, K8 Hardy’s “Fashionfashion, 2002–2006” continues the artist’s ongoing fashion revanche with four large-scale zines, each blown up from originals the artist produced in the 2000s. Consisting mostly of self-portraits and handwritten text about ghosts, the zines fleer magazine beauty by staging the artist and some friends (dressed up, dressed down) in thrifty editorials. Part avant couture, part “riot grrrlesque,” Fashionfashion resituates the fashion image (“for the opposition,” one page reads), stripping it of its slickness to reveal its feminist, wry, DIY potential. Literalizing the idea of the spread, for example, Hardy opens her legs in one photograph to reveal bloodstained, dollar-sign-patterned underwear, what Hardy calls her “money shot.”
“The essence of fashion might be optimism, a malleability that makes it possible for misery and ugliness to be transubstantiated,” writes Ariana Reines in a Bomb interview with Hardy. In Fashionfashion, as in her popular Instagram feed, the transubstantiation of the body (mostly Hardy’s) across its presentational spectrum does something much of this year’s NYFW failed to do: It reveals, rather than conceals, the body’s expressive differences. Hardy’s text also considers the eerier, spectral life of our bodies’ images, reminding us that the self-portrait is a static likeness that continues to haunt (and influence) its subject even as it ages and changes: “The ghost,” Hardy writes, “is the thing that makes the way we look or the way we think we look.” Flipping the pages of the variously styled self, Hardy searches for a K8 that seems mostly elusive, mostly always different. Or: mostly always K8. We look good when we look like ourselves, whatever that might be at the time.
In “Made by Whites for Whites,” a sister exhibition to “Rescue” at Jack Shainman's Twenty-fourth Street gallery, Nick Cave abandons his signature Soundsuits—flamboyant and playful bodysuits fashioned out of everything from fabric, beads and buttons to metal, wood, and even human hair—for artifacts of a dark period in American history: blackface memorabilia. Circulating widely through the past two centuries these common household objects—featuring caricatures with jet-black skin, bulging white eyes, thick red lips, and wide toothy grins—surreptitiously domesticated and reinforced racist stereotypes. Cave rehabilitates these grotesqueries by placing them at the center of object arrays made from a variety of found garage sale kitsch, creating new contexts that suggest alternative reads.
A ceramic jar featuring a scowling face is the focus of Sea Sick (all works 2014). Placed high on a shelf, it is flanked by a pair of golden hands, thumbs facing outwards and fingers pointed up. Framed by repeated maritime scenes, the distortions of caricature read as an anguished primal scream against atrocities suffered during the Middle Passage, revealing the horrors hidden in and by the picturesque. Sacrifice features another, more curious head; made of painted wood and attached to the end of a pole, it resembles a club but was most likely used as a target in a carnival game. Cradled by a pair of wall mounted bronze hands, this uncanny assemblage evokes both the tender gesture featured in paintings of Christ’s lamentation and the barbarity of a beheading.
Through poignant but simple, almost homely gestures—raising some up onto pedestals, using casts of his hands to present others with care, enshrining still others in sheltering halos of exuberant kitsch—Cave redeems these abjections by transforming each into an altarpiece where we may begin to exorcise the lingering demons of racism.
Imagine a sexual identity outside of the tedious LGBTQ-whatever-whatever-whatever acronym, one that doesn’t fall into the rank and file of stultifying political positioning or compartmentalization. Imagine bodies who’d balk at the notion of belonging to anything other than themselves, their ideologies indefatigably linked to the viscerally erotic—getting you off while scaring you shitless. Welcome to the savagely erogenous theatre of Genesis BREYER P-ORRIDGE and Pierre Molinier, two beacons of glittering black light amid a pallid sea of dumdum process-based abstraction by fuckwit, twenty-something straight boys.
Remember the better part of the 1990s, when being labeled a pervert, à la Pat Califia, Ron Athey, or Annie Sprinkle was a badge of honor? Experiencing this exhibition reminds me of what we see so little of in the art world anymore: risk. Money talks a lot today, and it’s bred an infinity of banality. Molinier’s photomontages are the stuff of magnificent obsession: jewels of pain, desire, and horror scrupulously built from the atom up. Nearly every costume, mask, and prop featured in his photographs were either created or altered by him, much in the way he “created” and altered his own flesh—transmogrifying the pat sexiness of lingerie, stiletto heels, or an erect cock into symbols and sensations infinitely more hallucinatory, majestic, and satanic.
BREYER P-ORRIDGE’s Polaroids document the surgeries and sex positions s/he shared with he/r departed other half, Lady Jaye, with whom s/he embarked—and continues to embark—on the project of Pandrogeny, a rigorous and metaphysical interrogation of gender and identity’s fallibility and mutability. What Molinier tried to do with his own body, BREYER P-ORRIDGE has done quite literally, undergoing a wide range of procedures to look like and become one with Lady Jaye. What s/he’s created manages to go beyond art—it’s a rebus of divine possibility—and a revived hope that real strangeness and beauty haven't entirely vanished.
A paradox: Art history seems to have slowed down and sped up at once. On the one hand, the 1990s are already the distant past, surveyed in exhibitions such as the New Museum’s “NYC 1993” or the Montclair Art Museum’s “Come As You Are,” opening this February. On the other, that decade has never ended, everyone is still reading Relational Aesthetics, the social turn will never die. Walking into this essential exhibition of the late Jason Rhoades, you instantly feel its dual time signature. His PeaRoeFoam project of 2002, reconstituted here, reads a bit like a last gasp of crashed-and-burned “scatter art” of the late ’90s (though Rhoades, as his drawings reveal, was a far more rigorous contrapuntist than his sloppier buddies). But it’s also an economic and ecological collision course that feels wholly and disturbingly contemporary.
What distinguishes this project from later work, such as his id-above-all Black Pussy, 2006, is its economic dimension: A factory clock ticks away, while a work station for Rhoades’s assistants (or “factory workers”) sits in the center of the gallery, covered in PeaRoeFoam: a commoditized sculptural material Rhoades created by colliding two organic elements—gray-green dried peas and blood-red salmon eggs—with glue and eco-unfriendly white Styrofoam beads. The artist let his workers sing karaoke during production, and for its 2002 presentation at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien in Vienna, he imported the workstation wholesale then invited viewers to serenade other museumgoers. These days, though, no singing is permitted. A decade ago, Rhoades’s mock-Fordist gunge factory was still a place to party—but with the posthumous sacralization of this artist and others from the ’90s, PeaRoeFoam is no longer a disposable commodity but something much more valuable, in both aesthetic and economic terms.
In the rear gallery, a film documents a young, naked woman with a billowy 1980s hairdo and slip-on heels who reclines stiffly, her back arched, on a small stage. She has pillows below and around her, but they don’t provide support. Photographers and assistants dart around the platform, adjusting her body parts and the pillows while providing running commentary of the scene. The edges of the platform are rough and unpainted; at its periphery are big lights and a camera, tools, other people, and a dog. After the shoot, the girl has trouble standing again as the lights are shut off. The film is Harun Farocki’s 1983 Ein Bild (An Image), which patiently observes the creation of a centerfold for German Playboy. The outsize interest in bland visual production is characteristic of the artist who passed away in July. Here, too, the staging works as an ideological microcosm, reproducing perfectly the priorities of a much larger system that cannot be seen.
The exhibition also includes Farocki’s most recent, and sadly last, body of work. Titled Parallel I–IV, 2012-14, four video pieces systematically unpack the world as rendered by computer games. Twenty years after Ein Bild, the subject is still the constructedness of the visual field. The videos combine a player’s typical vantage on the game with screen views of what programmers see when building the game, as well as footage of the latter at work, while a stolid voice-over provides commentary. Yet a lot has changed. In Parallel I for instance, simulated movement in trees, clouds, and waves gives rise to reflections on perpetual effects without stimulus. In sharp contrast to the aforementioned photographic subject, Parallel IV approaches a female character in a game. Described by the narrator as “between person and prop,” she inheres at the margins of the game’s universe, incapable of interaction, bobbing slightly with a permanent smile. Farocki was clearly attentive to the unsettling societal implications of an action-motivated aesthetic framework arising in response to singleplayer attention, carefully scripted yet appearing to have no limits nor end.
On encountering the empty wall-mounted tubing of Agnieszka Kurant’s End of the Signature, 2014, it is possible to miss the mere seconds it takes for dark neon to shoot through the twisting structureas if suddenly scrawled by an invisible handand materialize into a sign. For this work in the artist’s current exhibition, “Variables,” Kurant collected more than one hundred signatures and used specially designed software to merge them into a single, collective one, which a nearby machine writes and rewrites with a pen. Maps of phantom islands, one topographical, one color-coded for national territories, appear in a side gallery. The room is empty save for a soccer ball on the floor, an animatronic object that inches away, its movements so slight as to be almost imperceptible.
Not seeing becomes as important as seeing: Kurant’s works, often automated like mechanical Turks, conjure art even with blind participation, influenced by economies in which play gets converted into labor. For A.A.I 1-6, 2014, the artist collaborated with a lab in Florida to deploy termites to build six mounds out of glitter, gold, and jewel-colored sand, echoing the Kurant’s stake in collective intelligence, a theme that pervades the exhibition. Placed on a pedestal in the gallery, the structures take on the authority of ruins and press at a democratization of mark-making. In a more minimal gesture, a U-shaped conveyer belt leads into a mirror, and our gaze completes the path of this fiction-generating device, forever feeding into itself with our gaze. Nearby, in Air Rights 1, 2014, a rock floats electromagnetically just above its plinth: Suspended between our world and one just beyond it, Kurant points to that exact location where understanding yields to astonishment.
For “Live and in Color,” Derrick Adams refracts the current nostalgia for all things 1980s and ’90s through arguably its purest form of expression: television. Bright, succinct, reveling in its own exuberance, a series of large-scale collages depicts familiar black characters from popular shows, whose genres are hinted at through the witty planar structuring of color and patterned textiles—swatches of kente cloth are transposed into a man’s shirt, bright Monopoly money printed fabric sets the stage for a game show. Each collage is framed by the facade of a television set made from flattened cardboard and faux-wood paneling, a redoubled mediation that conflates the razor-cut paper edges with the textural fragmenting of electronic feedback: television as seen through collage as seen through television.
Adams’s referential hybrid—including the reductive geometries of Constructivism, the planar rhythms of African masks, and Romare Bearden’s improvisational layering—synthesizes into an economy of form that collapses faces, hair, and clothes into the vivid rainbow stripes of the TV color test screen. Chromatic resonance is at the heart of this playful yet incisive evocation of cultural visibility and perception, his need to excavate beyond the impassive surface of pop. Embodying this slippage between two and three dimensionality, the “Boxhead” series transfers the collaged “screens” into sculptural busts. In lieu of a face, the sculptures’ heads are formed by multifaceted brightly colored shapes, topped by Afros, leopard-print scrunchies, and other hairstyles that contribute to the works’ shift between anonymity and cultural specificity. As contemporary debates about the onscreen roles and characterizations of black performers rage on, the phrase “live and in color” recalls television’s “golden age” while evoking the breathing, vibrant presence and nuanced hues of Adams’s subjects.
For her latest exhibition, Lily van der Stokker has assembled a fiercely united front of matte, Pepto-Bismol-pink painted wooden boxes, furniture, panels, and walls bordered with ribbons of fuchsia and the occasional dollop of creamy yellow for a daisy’s center. The artist—a purveyor of margin-style doodles blown up to mural scale—begins the show with Yelling Women (all works 2014), a sculptural speech bubble protruding off the wall like an advertisement, proclaiming, “only yelling older Women in here Nothing to Sell.” It’s a preemptively dismissive gesture, and critical in turn for how it winks at the invisibility in which established women artists continue to labor, especially within the market (nothing to sell, nothing to see?).
Throughout the installation, text blurbs with polite phrases and small chat sayings such as “nice” or “best regards” pepper the corners of paintings or lie in cut vinyl, cloud-shaped puddles around the base of sculptures, as in Huh 2. A stack of painted boxes over nine feet tall, draped with flat, thin vinyl cartoon drips and crowned with toilet paper rolls epitomizes the artist’s wayward translation of banal commercial design and products into an individual vocabulary. Over the past three decades, Van der Stokker has displayed an impulse towards totalizing ornamentation and a curious commitment to sentimentality bordering on mawkishness, as deep and light as the flat, pink puddles here. But it’s this very lightness, combined with a generous consideration for beauty, which renders her gestures radical when art is dominated by sparsity and political grandstanding.
Urgent and metaphysical, Fred Wilson’s latest exhibition is an elegantly rendered meditation on the African diaspora. His sculpture The Mete of the Muse, 2006, occupies the center of the main room. An ancient Egyptian figure made of bronze with black patina stands beside the figure of a woman, also made of bronze but painted white, sculpted and posed in the Greco-Roman style. Across the room and facing that centerpiece is Ota Benga, 2008, a bronze cast of a young man stolen from Congo and exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair and Bronx Zoo; a delicately tied white scarf suggestively drapes the base of the sculpture.
Surrounding these is a series of paintings of flags from African and Caribbean nations, including The People and M, both 2010. Only the black parts of each flag are painted—the rest is left blank. Juxtaposing this series is Untitled, 2009, an installation of sixty-three wooden plaques describing the color symbolism of the flags on display. Don’t, 2010, also a work of black acrylic on canvas, strikes a different note by presenting various versions of American flags layered one on top of the another. Meanwhile, carefully arranged on the wall of the second room, Wilson uses black and reflective tear-shaped blown glass for the works Cadence and Whether or Not, both 2014. On either side of these works are three Venetian-style works whose titles echo Othello: Act V. Scene II—Exeunt Omnes, 2014, I Saw Othello’s Visage in His Mind, 2013, and No Way But This, 2012—less a literary allusion than a gesture toward a new form of empathy.
This salon-style hanging of David Benjamin Sherry’s work is made up of a profusion of paradoxes—campy landscapes manipulated in the darkroom, punk-inspired portraiture, and an enormous sculpture of a Kelvin thermometer—that require an investment in slowness, a willingness to consider how potent social commentary can emerge from the meandering crevices of a mountain. It is as if Jimmy DeSana and David Lynch met on the road and decided to mine the gung-ho American idealism of Edward Weston and Frederick Sommer for its previously unconsidered potential.
Sherry’s insertion of queer themes into the trajectory of modernist photography gives us space to stop and consider the erotic body of the image itself. Crisply rendered and awash in flamboyant colors, Sherry’s landscapes, shown concurrently at Danziger Gallery, are in a perpetual process of unity and visual decomposition akin to that of the human body. In Deep Blue Sea Rising, Oregon, 2014, for example, Sherry’s vision of the American landscape breaks down into the tactile skin of the sea, only to be brought back together by swaths of pigment. It is a similar operation to Amy Sillman’s rendering of her friends as quasi-abstract figures, as in her painting N & O, v3, 2006.
It is no mistake, then, that presiding over the exhibition is a self-portrait of Sherry in drag, an image that sets in motion a new understanding of photography as an embodied medium, even in the impersonal haze of the digital age. Through a distinct intimacy with the land, the body, and the darkroom, Sherry’s photographs strive to be as supple and complex as skin itself, and in so doing, they call into question the passé one-dimensionality of formalist photography and Romanticism.
A lambent quality suffuses Bill Lynch’s mostly untitled and undated paintings on scavenged plywood, executed during the last thirty years of his life. A furtive incandescence hovers inside them. Euphorically ambiguous, in the same breath they celebrate Chinese Ming dynasty flower-and-bird compositions, which hold complex symbolization and interior resonance, and Mesoa-American shamanistic burial textiles. In the former case, heavy impasto eclipses the lyricism that we associate with the genre, likening them more to the Chinese modernist tradition of Zhao Shaoang, whom Lynch admired. Floral and vegetal forms hang next to spiderwebs; lurking monkeys, twisted trees, and blue-and-white porcelain flirt with both aesthetics and affliction. Puzzling clues like the grave marker in Untitled (Marker), 2010, suggest but ultimately withhold any definitive last word.
Lynch’s exuberant pursuit of banal beauty leaves monstrous moments of congealed paint surface in its wake, not to mention perceptual disparities. In Untitled (Red Goblet with Deer), n.d., as we look down upon a tabletop with plates, we simultaneously look out onto a vignette of a figure gazing into a far-off seascape. Lynch employed this rückenfigur alongside other traditional devices, but his perspective is tremendously invigorating and unusual. In his renditions, the rectilinear surface becomes a place of close-looking at paint, at the uncompleted stroke, and of considering spiritual meaning in a contemporary world. A book of Zhao’s artwork and correspondence can be found in Lynch’s estatethe artist passed away in 2013 after suffering from schizophrenia for many years, and this show was curated by his friend and fellow artist, Verne Dawson.
With few exceptions, the artists in “The Material Image,” curated by Debra Singer, eschew straight photography, favoring instead sculptural, painterly, and collagist approaches to the medium. Process—not narrative or documentation—is foregrounded, and the results are oftentimes carefully constructed, seemingly hermetic, self-referential compositions. While some, including Amy Granat and Nick Mauss, employ nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century procedures such as the cliché verre and the photogram, others, such as Lucas Blalock and Marina Pinsky, combine analog and digital techniques to achieve fantastical, multilayered worlds. For many, the studio (with its attendant tools) is not only the site of production but also the subject of their work. This is true of both Michele Abeles and John Houck, who upend wonted figure-ground relations to create uncanny staged still lifes.
At the center of this abstract, intermedia turn in contemporary photography is Barbara Kasten, a champion of László Moholy-Nagy who since the 1970s has produced quasi-constructivist photochemical abstractions. Of her four works on view (one for nearly every decade of her career), Architectural Site 3, June 14, 1986, 1986, an electric, unmanipulated photograph for which she used color gels and mirrors to turn New York’s postmodernist Equitable Building topsy-turvy, is a standout. One can’t help but see the pictured Benday dots of a still-discernible Roy Lichtenstein mural as auguring the imminent arrival of the digital pixel—the miniscule dot responsible for the unchecked proliferation of images and, some might argue, end point of photographic novelty. The stakes have been set for the artists at task.
Over the course of several decades and some of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century in Paris—including both world wars and the revolts of 1968—the street-sweeper and artist Marcel Storr prolifically and privately produced a trove of drawings that imaginatively re-imagined the architecture of his native city. In Storr’s utopian view of the French capital, stylistic references to its past serve as a means to dramatically redefine its future. The present exhibition centers on works from the 1960s and ’70s, when Storr’s drawings grew larger in scale, abstract in style, and psychologically dense in context. It was during this time that the reclusive artist began to gain public attention for his work, but also when he began to suffer from the paranoid belief that Paris was headed for certain nuclear destruction, at which point his drawings would act not only as art objects but as technical guides for the city’s reconstruction.
In one drawing (Untitled, n.d.), for example, the Eiffel Tower dominates the Parisian skyline. Here, however, the iconic structure is rendered in psychedelic hues and vibrating lines, and is surrounded by uniform ziggurats. The scene’s abundance of detail virtually obscures its total lack of human presence, suggesting that Storr’s future city is defined by its symbolically historic architecture; in contrast to the subjective experience contemporarily espoused by the Situationists, buildings serve as a means of defining urban space. This sense of historicism is further emphasized by the exhibition’s installation: Drawings are presented under direct, focused light that lends their vivid coloration and outlines the appearance of stained glass, stressing the space that Storr envisioned between archaism and utopia.
On December 1, 1961, Claes Oldenburg’s Store opened on Manhattan’s East Second Street. For sale were replicas of banal objects—a plate of meat, a fur coat—made lumpy and lascivious. Each came as a burlesque of the commodity it represented, an enactment of its status as a fetish: lurid, slutty, and psychotic.
Gina Beavers’s latest paintings (all works 2014) preserve Oldenburg’s morbid obscenity, taking up the genre of the still life in its French inflection as nature morte. Derived from images posted on social-media platforms, their subjects—a “smokey eye” tutorial, junky nail art, a smile girded by braces—conflate the animate and the inanimate, figuring flesh as something lifeless and flaccid. Depicted straight on and close-up, several are serially composed, reflecting the use of online “collage apps” that mime the structure of desktop display. As in Oldenburg’s Store objects, questions of morphology are at stake here. Small in scale, Beavers’s canvases consist of sedimented layers of palette-knifed acrylic built up with modeling paste. Less pictorial than topographic, each positions paint’s materiality as a metonym for that of the body’s, making the latter seem cadaverous by comparison.
Crotch Shots from the Getty Villa, a five-part display of depictions of Greco-Roman genitalia snapped from statuary at the titular museum, is the show’s highlight. Riffing on the age-old equation of paintbrush and phallus, the work collapses the logic of the polyptych, a favored format for Renaissance devotional imagery, onto that of the lewd selfie. Color is vivid and at moments tenuously mimetic: in the lower right, a spectrum of moist mauves; in the upper center, a gluey gray, like day-old oatmeal. The resulting forms are equal parts comic and repulsive, factual and abstract. In Beavers’s hand, a sculptural afterthought becomes swollen and larval, recalling to us the strangeness of our enclosure by sweat glands and skin.
Including several series which have never before been on public display, “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1979–1989” takes a rare glimpse into the early work of the Los Angeles–based artist’s forty-year career. The exhibition fills a crucial gap in understanding his development: In the formative years of Conceptualism, Gaines—a longtime colleague of Sol Lewitt—created a complex, rule-based approach to his two-dimensional gridwork, which consisted of numerical sequences in pencil or ink on large sheets of gridded paper. Those familiar with Gaines’s more recent work may be surprised by the lack of any visible mention of the politics behind this seeming painstakingly developed methodology, epitomized by the nonrepresentational numerical sequence “Regression,” 1973–74.
Gaines’s foundational interest in systems-based abstraction as an implicit ideological critique over explicit political sentiment is showcased through these early works. In each work in his twenty-six part series “Walnut Tree Orchard,” 1975–2014, Gaines represents a barren walnut tree three ways: as a black-and-white photograph, a drawn outline of the tree, and a numerical sequence mapping the distance of the tree in relation to all the trees represented before it, in effect creating a numerical orchard. Here, impartial mathematical sequences provide an alternate logic for viewing the world. At the same time, the outline of the tree bears traces of the artist’s hand, which lends a touch of the spontaneous in an otherwise orderly mathematical formality. Finally, the mapped tree orchard is indicative of Gaines’s stake in both duration and the effect of time on perception. His commitment to revealing systems of representation is repeated in other series—including portraiture in “Faces,” 1978, and the human body in “Motion: Trisha Brown Dance,” 1981—each deploying systems that skirt politics to land on identity.
In “Rebels Are Reasonable,” Fend brings a spirit of understated subversion to three interrelated projects—a deadpan video documenting the ebb and flow of the sea, sets of panels, and a series of redrawings of flags from around the world. In an effort to unseat traditional orientations of countries in the global South to those in the North, Fend exposes the flag as nothing more than an empty symbol often bearing the legacy of imperialist violence.
Flags, 2014, consists of ten aluminum panels over which abstractions of national flags have been printed. Fend illustrates ten distinct regions, including the paragon of colonial history, the United Kingdom, whose flag becomes a distorted, abstract mess that is a far cry from the respectability for which it affectedly strives. Printed with inkjet, the images are marked by horizontal lines, and are revealed to be as flimsy as national borders themselves, or, by extension, the artist’s authorial role. As a white man from the United States, Fend could be thought of as representative of the imperialist project in his well-researched but nevertheless self-aggrandizing reformulation of the borders and cultures of others.
That said, Fend uses the impersonal kitsch of the printer cartridge to take on very serious issues of public space; this method paradoxically effaces the artist’s presence from his self-admittedly personal activist work. We must contend therefore with a productive absence of answers that emerges from Fend’s irreverent and self-critical relationship to materials. By folding criticisms of his own political views into the show, Fend makes a punk-inspired intervention that opens his work to multivalent critique.
In Diddy/Lakes, 2013—the first in the recent series of Arcangel’s work featured here—a seventy-inch flat screen displays a photo of the perennially recycled rapper boarding a private jet. As in all of the Lakes, the image has been digitally animated to hypnotically reflect in a rippling pool by using the eponymous Java applet, a popular tool of the 1990s. The effect—redolent of the adolescence of the Internet—reminds us of the rapid, tandem evolution of technology and taste. Applied to familiar but forgettable images sourced from the Web, the animation suggests that a watery grave of oblivion haunts our cultural memory. Arcangel also pulls imagery from his back catalog: for example, Russell’s Rainbow/Lakes, 2014, samples one of the artist’s Photoshop gradients. In giving equal weight to artistic abstraction and snapshots from social media, the installation points to the flattening of visual culture by digital archives.
In past exhibitions, Arcangel has consistently juxtaposed different bodies of work in different formats, foregrounding the intractable materiality of digital technologies. However, for this show, he cleared out the room, carpeted the floor, and mounted the screens vertically, like portrait paintings. The installation consequently recalls models of art production and spectatorship that are at risk of being outmoded but are ripe for reinvention, just like the celebrities and technologies we see here. To that end, Arcangel uses “new” media to transform banal images into artworks with sensuality, humor, and depth. The Lakes thus surf the Möbius strip of high and low, art and tech, even as they speak (and destabilize) the codes of painting, sculpture, photography, and film. Tl;dr: The digital is art’s mother tongue.
While Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the scope of global surveillance have been met with every imaginable response, the least common seems to have been humor. In Sadie Benning’s “Patterns,” images of that peeping police state—metadata, found photographs, weaponry—are woven, often playfully, into wall-based works, suggesting less the ominous tone of the panoptical regime tracing our lives than the comedy of (military-industrialized) errors those lives have produced. Benning first cues the comedic point with a sedate green shag carpet the artist installed in the gallery, a sly evocation of cheesy, pre-PRISM suburban living rooms.
Benning tweaks a culture defined by compulsory gender normativity, impulsory gun mania, and the consumption of toxic materials (cigarettes and oil), reducing its signs to warped tokens of an everyday that increasingly makes very little sense. In Bathroom People (all works 2014), the near universal (and outmoded) symbols for male and female restrooms are paired and patterned across a medite board, with each tiny avatar torqued slightly to alter their familiar shape until they sort of dance, sort of lose their gender. In Mask, a found photograph of a driveway wall comprising anarchic tessellations of bricks sits below a Zorro mask spying on the scene. While sometimes abstract, Benning’s patterns occasionally take nervous shape—as mysterious signals or, more ominously, as guns, as in Gun Blanket. It’s a subtle comedy keyed to the network-y atmosphere of our dark times. And without a gallows present, perhaps we could call it systems-management humor.
Find. Fold. Photograph. These actions form one of the basic strategies of Erica Baum’s exquisite practice, for which she mines outmoded, moribund printed material, such as library card catalogues and yellowed dime-store paperbacks from the 1960s and ’70s, to create simple yet infinitely engrossing “found collages.” For “The Paper Nautilus,” this bibliophilic artist has brought together new works from three distinct series: “Stills,” “Viewmasters,” and “Naked Eye,” which capture the halftone, molecular blueprint of their subjects.
Though her well-known concrete poetry constructions are not on view, text (and the literary pleasures associated with it) remains instrumental to her recent pictures. The exhibition itself, for instance, takes its name from a 1940 poem by modernist writer Marianne Moore (1887–1972), who, like Baum, is known for having recycled and explicitly recontextualized the words of others. Meanwhile, despite the oftentimes abstract and elusive quality of Baum’s imagery, her redolent titles, such as The Warren Commission, which is coupled with a grisaille Josef Albers lookalike, and Kent State, which accompanies a more conspicuously bifurcated image (one half of which pictures silhouetted soldiers against leafless trees), not only color her mostly black-and-white compositions, but also allude to their sources.
Whether image- or text-based, Baum’s pieces are replete with references both familiar and obscure—the Suprematist paintings of Kazimir Malevich, the graphite grids of Minimalist Agnes Martin, and the rule-based Conceptual work of Sol LeWitt are but some of the most frequently cited. However, the very richness of her production resides in the considerable space it leaves viewers to fill in the gaps, to free associate visuals and narratives of their own making, and, most of all, to engage in such intimate ways with material on its way—or perhaps already—out the door.
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.
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.”