It isn’t easy to assign contemporary artistic companions to Damian Loeb’s work, which orbits in its own satellite of what has been called hyperreal pictorialism. The sixteen paintings in “Sol-d,” named for an obscure astronomical cataloging term for Earth, show landscapes and starscapes that the artist has meticulously transcribed in oil paint by referencing his own digitally edited photographs and, occasionally, images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. These sources are fused into final works through a process that also involves Loeb’s own memory, as well as a type of meditated visualization—recalling Ansel Adams’s Zone System—to produce compelling pictures that are authentically illusive. The works emulate both photograph and reality; they are not exactly photorealist nor exactly real. Presenting nature at its most glittering flashpoints, the paintings on view depict blinding sunsets, the glowing moon close-up, and the Milky Way rendered in high-focus detail, each star obsessively accounted for.
A self-taught artist, Loeb paints to explore the craft itself as well as the nature of the world via his own experience, and does so with minimal engagement of larger critical conversations. If the show’s title cheekily alludes to commercialism, it is perhaps the only such anaphora: The works are unself-consciously apolitical, offering no comment on the metaphysical subjects that freely wander through one’s mind while regarding the universe’s expansiveness—mortality, spirituality, fleeting environmental perfection.
Instead, each image functions as a monumental trophy in the fashion of a Mannerist masterwork, labored over by Loeb for months at a time until a level of vibrant melodrama is achieved—one recalls the strategic orchestration of Gregory Crewdson’s cinematic scenery. The paintings’ glossy, uniformly shellacked surface textures draw one into the imagery itself rather than the way it has been captured: Paint is merely a vehicle to bring a picture to life via manufactured realism. While perhaps no picture could truly mimic the experience of seeing nature firsthand, Loeb’s works offer a surprising parallel: electrified versions of familiar views that, in their magnitude, romance one’s conceptions of ocular space.
Right: “Nos lignes sous les obus toxiques” (Our Lines Under the Toxic Bombshells), 2012, graphite pencil, indian ink, pigment ink on paper, 41 1/4 x 91 1/8“. Left: “Nos lignes sous les obus toxiques” (Our Lines Under the Toxic Bombshells), 2012, graphite pencil, indian ink, pigment ink on paper, 41 1/4 x 91 1/8”.
French artist Dove Allouche has a remarkable ability to renew his own language while remaining faithful to his original working methodology. His artmaking is based on graphic, chalcographic, and photographic techniques—particularly historical ones from the nineteenth century—that together result in visual manifestations rendered mostly in black-and-white tones and, at times, in color. The subjects that inspire him constitute a pretext for examining the effects that natural and artificial events produce on them, altering their structure and how they are perceived.
This is effectively demonstrated in the artist’s solo debut in the United StatesAllouche, born in 1972, lives in Paris, where he had an extensive retrospective at the Centre Pompidou last year. Here, he presents nine works from his “Surplomb” (Overhang) series and two works each from his “Désublimation” (Desublimate) and “Sublimation” series, all 2013, all of which focus on Angel Falls in Venezuela, the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the world. Allouche took photographic prints he made of the falls and then intervened with graphite and chemical agents, granting the images a suggestive plastic-pictorial effect based on an examination of their graphic and tonal qualities. This also occurs in two stereoscopic scenes of a battlefield from his series titled “Nos lignes sous les obus toxiques” (Our Lines Under the Toxic Bombshells), 2012. Here, Allouche reworked photographs from 1917, applying layers of ink, graphite, and colored pigments to prints of the images, continuing his study of light/shadow relationships.
The exhibition also includes two other groups of work: three pieces from “Les Fumeurs noirs” ( Black Smokers), 2010, a representation “in negative” of underwater abysses, executed using a calotype process, and twelve works from his 2013 “Granulations” series, in which the solar surface comes to life again thanks to the technique of physautotype, where the photographs are developed on silver plates using lavender essence diluted in alcohol. These images, destined to vanish in the future, barely emerge on the reflective surface and, like ephemeral apparitions, visually elaborate the concept of memory and time, a true leitmotiv in Allouche’s research.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Though in her heyday she was more prominent than fellow bronze sculptor Alberto Giacometti, Germaine Richier has not had an exhibition in New York since 1957. This two-gallery retrospective rectifies that lapse in decisive fashion, reestablishing Richier (1902–1959) as one of the most pivotal figures in avant-garde European sculpture in the decade following World War II. The forty-six works here, from early nudes to strange late polychrome experiments, foreshadow a whole postwar generation: the Nouveau Réalisme of Niki de Saint Phalle, the melancholy humanoids of Lynn Chadwick and Hans Josephsohn, and the body-centered work of Alina Szapocznikow. Yet even as Richier’s sculptures scream their influence, they also stand utterly autonomous, with a force and gravity that belie their age.
Richier, classically trained when such education was not easy for women, left wartime France for Switzerland in 1939. She began creating patinated bronze figures of humans and insects—ants, grasshoppers, cicadas—whose rough surfaces bear scars and indentations, and whose bodies often have bloated stomachs or stand tangled in linear webs. Often read as an index of wartime trauma, the brutalized, pockmarked surfaces also destroy expectations of female delicacy and beauty. They testify to a European civilization at its frailest, and evoke not only the existential impressions of Jean-Paul Sartre (a Giacometti advocate) but also a more general Christian “man of sorrows,” whose scars bespeak an unbridgeable division between body and soul.
Richier’s art is less elegant and far more disquieting than Giacometti’s sculptures, and her works don’t fit into the easy categories of textbooks and permanent collections. Her obliteration, however, of the borders between academic and modern or sacred and profane has not lost any of its power in these intervening decades. And while her continued relevance should be read as an artistic achievement, it’s also an indictment of our failure, seventy years later, to build a society any more virtuous than the one that ground Richier’s Europe to dust.
Jordan Kantor works consistently with the visual afterlives of the French modernist tradition, as evidenced in his 2011 show, which included photographic reproductions of Monet’s paintings, passed through the further medium of slides. In his latest exhibition, which includes painting and collage, it is Manet whose work lingers in the wingsparticularly his 1867 self-organized exhibition that was subjected at the time to charges of absurd eclecticism (the gallery invitation alludes coyly to Manet’s “Anevue de l’Alma” exhibition, printed in the same design and featuring the word “tableaux”). Kantor engages with Manet’s paintings both explicitly (in Untitled [Boy with Pitcher, After Manet], 2008–2013) and implicitly: Untitled (The Guitar Player), 2013–2014, depicts a seemingly televised shot of Johnny Cash, recalling Manet’s Spanish Singer, 1860. Yet it is less an outright pastiche of the Frenchman’s imagery than a channeling of his irreverence; a probing of what his figurations might mean in a world saturated by visual reproductions.
Painting takes pride of place here, both in large and small-scale works. The commedia dell’arte diamonds in Untitled (Harlequin Abstraction), 2007, gesture to the Untitled (Clown Dance), 2012–2013, which in turn echoes—in its spare simplicity and murky background—the figurative simplicity of a dozing train conductor in Untitled (Paris, Sleeping), 2014. With its lingering glimpse of an old film segment, the crisscrossed pattern of Untitled (Film Leader, Partie), 2010, conjures up the harlequin motif, while also alluding to the dawn of cinema, and its unprecedented activity on the French avant-garde. In a related vein, a wall of eighteen collages finds disparate photographic imagery pinned to cardboard panel, featuring all manner of photographic sources—from African statuary to a disco ball—in varying degrees of graininess and blurriness; some of these appear adapted to painted representation, as in the prone body of Untitled (Neighbor), 2012–2013, with its flamboyant costume and nearby pumpkins conjuring, in turn, the clown motif with which the exhibition opens. Kantor’s exhibition refuses any immediate classification: If a conceptual thread unifies the images on display, its filament appears productively tangled between multiple works.
“For Forgetting,” Laure Prouvost’s solo museum debut in the United States, is a messy, cacophonic installation that latches onto the visitor’s subconscious ambitions and desires only to rashly relinquish hold moments later. The artist affirms her dark-horse win of last year’s Turner Prize by creating a dense sensorial experience, turning the New Museum’s ground-floor gallery into a three-room maze plastered with sculptures, videos, drawings, paintings, office furniture, printed e-mails, knockoff handbags, and crumpled dollar bills, among other items.
The installation can be read through a web of art-historical references: The artist’s well-known interest in Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau 1923–37 is apparent in the chaotic collaged mural encircling the gallery; in several videos, Prouvost’s face is concealed behind a mask reminiscent of those made by Marcel Janco for the Zurich Dada; and the peephole through which visitors peer into a beachscape video montage can only allude to Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés 1946–66. Yet perhaps the best way to approach Prouvost’s confounding practice is as a form of aesthetic homeopathy—she treats our cultural afflictions by inserting a diluted form of its cause into her work. It’s pop-culture self-help modus operandi with a twist. Before we even enter the packed space, we face the words IDEALLY THIS SIGN WOULD REMEMBER YOU. The affirmative paired with the conditional and the askew marked here is replicated throughout the exhibition, particularly in the interspersed videos that mock seemingly magical acts of will.
The centerpiece of the installation is the film How to Make Money Religiously, 2014. It histrionically directs us to remember a series of increasingly frenetic images with grandiose enticements of wealth and station. JUST HOLD ON TO THE IMAGES, the artist proclaims, knowing full well the inherent impossibility of such a command. With these words, Prouvost taps into a cultural chord much greater than the illusionary promises of an ever-hustling popular culture.
Luther Price’s latest exhibition, “The Years Made Flies,” is not for the faint of heart. Ghastly, amputated sculptural figures comprised of dirt and plastic resin lie hunched and decrepit near the entryway (Ground Piece One [Five Life Size Figures], 1982–83). Further into the space, Price has compiled the regurgitated aftermath of dissected owl pellets like a bone collector into a grim, blackened mixed-media assemblage (Owl Bones I, 1984). While Price is known primarily for his underground filmmaking, the exhibition is a revelation of sorts for the prolific body of sculptural work he created in his early twenties as a student at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The material corporeality and aging decay of these impressive, under-known objects of Price’s artistic juvenilia point tellingly to the textured processes of his later practice.
Panel Piece One (Six Panels), 1984, typifies the concerns of Price’s early output. A haunting array of abject figures and neglected detritus are scattered across the six panels of the large-scale piece. Barbed wire, scuffed boots, gnarled teeth, and cigarette butts are all amassed to grotesque effect. One gets the sense that the decades that have passed since the work’s creation have only added to its worn, spoiled impression; a dirtying process that Price’s art continues to fully embrace.
The exhibition also features Price’s Light Fractures, 2013, which as examples of Price’s more recent work provide a productive counterpoint to the earlier work on view here. The Light Fractures consist of eighty 35-mm slides per carousel that Price handcrafted by introducing sediment and chemicals that distress the film emulsion of each slide. Projected against the gallery walls, these ravishing abstractions dazzle through their iridescent color and translucent light. Price’s early sculptural practice has itself come to light as a result of Participant Inc’s exhibition. The pairing of Price’s older sculptures and recent slide projections lucidly reflects the gritty form and material resonance of Price’s art, both past and present.
Matthew Porter approaches his photographs as one might a canvas. His abstractions accrue from multiple in-camera exposures of generic still-life ingredients—furniture, fabrics, and sundry bric-a-brac—that the artist composes in front of monochrome scrims. Transferred to digital files and printed in ink, the resulting composites are shallow, shadowless, and uniformly in focus. Shot straight on or from above, Porter’s studio setups flatten volumes into shapes. Depth is made something vestigial, and everything pitches forward, as if magnetized by the print’s surface. The results recall the tangled contours of Francis Picabia’s “Transparencies,” the plunging perspective of Cubist café tables, and the shrill, saturate compression of Matisse’s interiors.
Consider the strangeness of Plastic Form, 2013. There’s the vertiginous pitch of the table and the clustered seashells that hover above its surface, their flatness incommensurable with the table’s residual depth. The vertical zip of a nearby Ionic column promises orientation yet withholds the same: Frontally rendered, it assumes a strictly graphic function. An oblong, organic form, suspended before both table and column, further perplexes, its lattice a seeming metaphor for the composition’s unresolved layering, which less produces than evacuates space.
Porter’s historical references are self-conscious and somewhat jumbled: Machine for Living, 2014, takes its title from Le Corbusier’s quip about the modernist home; Force Lines, 2014, features the dazzle camouflage developed by artists to confound enemy warships during World War I; the press release quotes Matisse. The artist’s project further aligns with those of his contemporaries (Michele Abeles and John Houck, among them), who have achieved the cobbled look typical of digital postproduction by analog means. The question for Porter thus arises: Why constellate the present with a moment when the limiting conditions of artistic media seemed suddenly so acute (and, therein, so generative)? If the photograph today is eminently unstable, everywhere made the image’s conduit, Porter’s relays to a period when media could still claim certain, circumscribed identities oddly comforts. For all their incongruity, there’s a familiarity and an assuredness to Porter’s telescoped montages. Modernism extends its warrant, and art historians prime their slides. Assimilation is easy, but perhaps that’s the work’s appeal.
Rose Marcus’s solo exhibition “March” comprises four expansive ink-jet prints on vinyl adhered to the walls; each are cropped photo enlargements that depict shadowy figures from the waist down. The imagery (reminiscent of surveillance footage) and its materially impoverished presentation (the vinyl media relies wholly on existing gallery architecture) stir an ambiguous tone on the potential for resistance and individual agency amid an enveloping structural apparatus.
A tiled concrete floor shades the images’ backgrounds, while glassy reflections in the foreground cloud views of the bodies visiting within the space. The camera’s gaze is consistently removed—this partition between its subjects posits an insidious, critical air. In Lost the Boat (all works 2014), a dazzling orange tint flares over the shapes of limbs and shoes. Bodies loiter in stagnant attendance for an unforeseen event. Burghers shows three sets of legs and feet positioned toward one another in engagement. Each limb is static, passive, their arrangement forming a closed loop. We Are On It Working Ground Up shows boots and a profile silhouette of legs standing contrapposto, the figural position of antiquity that expresses a relaxed, calm temperament.
Urgency is not a theme put forth here. While these anonymous bodies gather, they participate as passive partakers who are less individuals than fictional subjects, brought together by a central eye. The artist’s punny exhibition title, which coincides with the series’ month on display, conjures a sharp visual contrast when formed as a verbthe confrontational tenor advanced through deliberately organized bodies is what lacks in the scenarios depicted in “March.” As these representations of loitering figures adhere in lockstep to the presentational structureexhibition wallsencasing them, an alternate proposal presents itself: Under which conditions can a social milieu be a site for resistance?
Jordan Wolfson is a filmmaker in the traditional sense, drawing more from the history of cinema than from art. The specific strategy of his celluloid, digital, and animated beauties involves layering, where one film exists within or on top of another. Success is derived from a calculated dissonance. See his 2006 short of a tuxedoed figure signing Charlie Chaplin’s parody of Hitler: “I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor . . . that’s not my business.” Or the footage of milk inserted into marching Diet Coke bottles in Con Leche, 2009, or his recent effort Raspberry Poser, 2012, where CGI renditions of the HIV virus bounce throughout generic interiors of department stores and New York’s SoHo, the treatment set to the sound track of Beyoncé. Cut. Enter the artist dressed as a crust punk with vitiligo sporting Iggy Pop paraphernalia. Can this work seriously engage issues of a techno-scientific postindustrial society via a technique entangled within the trappings of the very technology it purportedly critiques?
The focal point of this exhibition is (Female figure), 2014, an animatronic real doll, dressed as a stripper and skewered by her pole, performing in front of a mirror. What a selfie she makes, a screen onto which your desire can be projected, or another image to add to your Instagram. This is a pivotal point within the artist’s practice; his work has moved from the silver screen into three dimensions. The method remains the same, the figure dances to an irregular sound track: sometimes Paul Simon and sometimes Lady Gaga, among others. Cut. Pause. Wolfson’s voice whispers, “My mother’s dead, my father’s dead, I’m gay,” as if to offer access to his “inner” self. While the litany could be interpreted as a transgressive pimping of post–hetero-normativity, it returns us to a modernist myth: authenticity verified by the artist’s touch, cold material infused with aura. The loop performed by Wolfson’s simulation—much like the installations of Philippe Parreno, which perform the structure of cinema—turns on and off, seemingly responsive to viewer engagement, only to have been preprogrammed. The repetitive choreography anticipates a second question, and it’s hard not to entangle Wolfson himself in this one: Is the performance ever over?
The most recent presentation of the late Michel Majerus’s work takes over all three of Matthew Marks’s New York spaces. The smallest gallery presents his 1999 “Tron” series, in which monochrome wall paintings have been overlaid with identical silk screens from the titular movie’s poster. Majerus understood the power of repetition of commercial images, but in a far less sardonic way than his Pop forbears. He would have reveled in memes, blogs, and social media: that is, the non-ironic appreciation for vociferously sharing and putting one’s mark on what everyone else is looking at.
Majerus produced work with nearly electronic speed, creating over 1,500 paintings and silk screens by the time of his death in 2002 at age thirty-five. A quickly identifiable color palette of snack-food orange, cereal yellow, Barbie pink, and video-game green unites the show. Majerus sources from Basquiat and Warhol with equal fervor as from Gameboy and Nintendo. The tone of such sampling remains ambiguous, giving the works an added heft decades later. In two untitled 1996 works, Majerus silk-screened images of Toy Story characters and Super Mario, respectively, onto monochrome-painted aluminum. By giving these technologically produced characters an effective spotlight, he highlights how rapidly they would become obsolete images. The quick, ironic joke also reads as superior prescience for how image and humor would come to be so entwined in the digital age.
On view at Marks’s midsize location is work made between 1994 and 2002, all of which toys with the desperate language of cheap entertainment: In one gallery we find PORNOGRAPHY NEEDS YOU in billboard type, MOTIVATION in corporate sanserif, and NEW COMER in a faux-galactic font. But the come-ons aren’t always so concrete: The largest of Marks’s galleries presents large-scale work in which the results unravel. The phrase NEW COMER reappears in an untitled 2000 work, competing with motivational speak, graffiti, and painted blurs. And sometimes thoughts collapse into half-formed texts, floating between actualization and paint, as in Ding On, 2000, in which unformed text searches for a surface. Here, even as paint should bring figurative definition to disposable pleasures, it only makes their flimsiness more pronounced.
Joanne Greenbaum is an artist who lives in her studio. It is easy in her latest exhibition, the inaugural show at Rachel Uffner’s new gallery, to sense the olfactory appeal of her process—and, in fact, her practice offers another idea of the studio as a factory. Instead of Warhol’s cool Fordian mass production, the one-person Greenbaum factory creates singular, unique works of organized chaos. For example, the repetitive scrawled doodle marks evident in some works suggest a hand neurotically filling a coloring book at pace, while the broad-brushed, casual painterly gestures aspire to bring a discrete tentacle shape into focus. Alongside these opposing attitudes are drips, scumbled brushstrokes, melting puddles of color, and discontinued architectonic shapes, all of which playfully jigsaw together a bigger picture that hints at degrading logic and systems—as if Greenbaum were changing thoughts midstream. Adding to this disorderly impetus is the range of media she works with, including paint, ink, Flashe, marker, oil stick, and pencil, which are all often combined in the same space.
The tension created by this seemingly automatic mark-making sits at the juncture of drawing and painting—that is, between the structuring logic of line versus the emotive suggestion of color, which in another era would have been construed as the struggle between the intellect and the romantic. This edginess could also be construed as embodying the persistent heat of city living—the city being an analogue to the factory in modern life. The eight large, untitled ninety-by-eighty-inch paintings, hung tightly in this tall, squarish space, create both the intensity and the diffusing and disorienting energy associated with urban life. Ultimately, though, Greenbaum’s ebullient outpouring can best be characterized by a single word: gleeful.
Attempting to trace Brian O’Doherty’s artistic concerns through his seven decade career is akin to falling down a rabbit hole. This would undoubtedly please the artist, who delights in the type of misdirection that aims at inspiring deeper thought. His output includes mazelike grids (Vowel Grid, 1970) among other labyrinths-inspired imagery like his rope drawings (notably Rope Drawing #120: Here and Now, 2014) in which warrens of colored segments are teased by ropes in three dimensions to create masterful parallaxes.
These works, on view as part of a joint exhibition presented by P! and Simone Subal, demonstrate the continuing currency of O’Doherty’s thinking. AOU, The Broad Vowels, 2005, comes from the period he worked under the pseudonym Patrick Ireland, which he assumed between 1972 and 2008 in protest over the political situation in Ireland. Here, O’Doherty employs trompe l’oeil through color and line to illustrate how the eye can confuse, mislead, and obfuscate. Also depicted are painted shapes of the titular vowels, which come from Ogham, an ancient Celtic language written as dashes and lines and never spoken aloud, that emphasize his interest in delineating underlying visual patterns to describe systems of existence, thought, and communication.
For O’Doherty, beyond trick lies reason. Just as the artist’s “Inside the White Cube” essays—originally published in Artforum between 1976 and 1986—indicates how a gallery space is anything but neutral, these paired exhibitions enable a reading of O’Doherty that discusses ways of seeing beyond surfaces. A Geographical Notation on Equivalence and Multivalence of Meaning (Arse / Ass), 1965, describes the potential for glorious misunderstanding when attempting to communicate about sex in Ireland versus the United States—the different meanings of the words “tramp” and “bum” being a case in point. O’Doherty’s famous portrait of Marcel Duchamp as an electrocardiogram, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, Lead 1, Slow Heartbeat, 1966, is shown here, too. As with Ogham, the heartbeat is unspokenultimately, however, what could be more fundamental to a person’s existence.
In “Pastiche Cicero,” artist Timothy Hull nods to overlooked and off-the-cuff art of the ancient world, sourcing graffiti found at the Athenian Agora and in Pompeii as imagery for his cheeky, archeologically themed paintings and wall installations at Fitzroy Gallery. As its title suggests, the show presents stylized reproductions of classical phenomena: The oil painting Copy of a Copy of a Copy/Blue, 2013, depicts a two-handled urn that Hull has reduced to a graphic stamp, its pictorial simplicity tempered by an elaborate texture of obsessively wrought brush marks. The drawing For Amonis, Who Died at 29, in 610, 2014, transcribes an ancient epitaph in its original alphabet, but in blue gel-pen ink. Meanwhile, on the pace between drawings and paintings, tiny shelves support cheap faux-Athenian vases (the kind found in Greek diners), which hold sprigs of olive branches—perhaps peace offerings to the gods of good taste.
In a tucked-away backroom, a mixed-media installation Reel Around the Fountain, 2014, (named after the Smiths’ song) stages a hybrid bathroom: A modern porcelain urinal is the centerpiece, while Greek glyphs and homoerotic graffiti, writ in dripping paint, cover the surrounding walls. A scented candle burning atop the Duchampian toilet casts shadows and gives the impression that the stall is intended as a site of devotion rather than desecration. Here, as throughout the show, Hull treats a mixed bag of cultural symbols with both humor and reverence—an alchemical recipe that grounds the modern artist’s mark in a long lineage of scrawls and satires.
Heidi Bucher began using liquid latex in the late 1970s upon her return to Zurich after a spell living in Southern California. She most famously used the medium to produce what she called Häutungs or “skinnings.” Applying it atop fabric that had been carefully pasted onto the surfaces of buildings—most often but not exclusively the interiors of structures she had inhabited—Bucher would let the latex dry and then peel it off, producing a supple rubber sheath literally embedded with traces of the past, a physical transcription of the memory and history of the space. Somewhat presciently, Bucher’s process suggests that the past is not adequately accessible through narrative alone: The passing of time is also material—a near-geological process of molecular sedimentation—and this requires novel tools. That Bucher, who died in 1993, is not more widely known is a strong indication that the project of feminist art history is far from over. Her pathbreaking work presaged such iconic nineties work as Rachel Whiteread’s House, 1993, and Do-Ho Suh’s The Perfect Home, 2002, and she justly deserves the attention she is currently getting.
Delicately suspended from threads, the “skinnings” that make up Herrenzimmer (Study), 1977–79, are arranged so as to recreate her father’s study, allowing one to walk into what feels like a ghost of that room. Parquet Floor of Study in Winterthur–Wüflingen, 1979, a wall piece, alludes to a dialogue with Minimalism. The crisscross pattern of the first surface is clearly visible across the forty-two identically sized sections of the piece, which, when not on display, can be neatly stacked and put away in the accompanying monogramed antique chest. Having developed a sculptural method that seems to seize time, Bucher, in later works, used latex to arrest another flow—that of water. In Jetzt Fliesst das Wasser Aus der Vase (Now the Water Flows Out of the Vase), 1986, water pours out of a levitating purple vase, collecting in a long pearly pool across the floor. Ultimately, the real strength of these works may be entirely unintended. The cured latex, yellow and stiff with age, heightens their abjectness—the end of the pool of water looks like a dried-up condom. Time has triumphed after all, hardening Bucher’s skins into hides.
“Things I want—not to do mother again. Things she wants—to do mother again . . .” These words are scrawled underneath a black-and-white photograph of a mostly nude woman seated spread-eagled in elegant surroundings with her face redacted by a black bar, part of Leigh Ledare’s multiplex series “An Invitation,” 2012. The photograph is backed by an enlarged reproduction of the front page of the day’s New York Times, which, coupled with the woman’s blacked-out face and suggestive stance, charges the work with a preternatural mixture of standardized and subjective temporalities, public and private boundaries, anonymous and familial modes of representation—all trademarks of Ledare’s practice. The “mother” to whom the artist refers in scribbling script is his own; his earlier body of work “Pretend You’re Actually Alive,” 2000–2008, depicts her in a variety of erotic scenarios. In contrast, the woman in “An Invitation” was a stranger who solicited the artist to take these photos for her husband (a contract on display stipulates that the couple and Ledare each receive one set). There is no more mother here, but in Ledare’s debut show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, the artist’s fraught relations with female subjects are visible everywhere.
The second series on view, “Double Bind,” 2010/2012, consists of two sets of photographs of the same woman—Meghan Ledare-Fedderly—taken by Ledare (Ledare-Fedderly is the artist’s ex-wife) and Adam Fedderly (Ledare-Fedderly’s current husband) in the same remote location several months apart. In a brief, text Ledare describes the series as a “comparative structure” that then overlays with advertisements and erotica collected by the artist. Three vitrines in the center of the gallery show Ledare’s and Fedderly’s photos, and the collected print ephemera. Among the highly idiosyncratic archive one document is particularly elucidating: a Life review of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Coming of Age, 1970, the feminist chieftain’s tome on society’s discordant relationship to the elderly and aging. While the female muse obviously continues to be Ledare’s sustenance, the passage of time as it is refracted through both the camera lens and webs of human relations appear to be the force driving his work.
Malick Sidibé’s current exhibition of photographs offers a glimpse into the dynamic youth culture that emerged in Bamako during Mali’s post-Independence era. Though trained as a studio photographer, Sidibé was lured into the city’s streets and dance clubs, where his clients wanted to be seen participating in Bamako’s thriving nightlife. There, Malian youths forged a uniquely diasporic aesthetic, finding inspiration in American Black Power icons and musicians, including James Brown and Angela Davis. As his subjects began to imitate the styles and gestures found in magazines and album covers, Sidibé, in turn, closely emulated those sources in his compositions. “He was internalizing the history of photography without knowing it,” filmmaker and art historian Manthia Diawara assertsthis was instrumental towards the creation of a 1960s “Bamakois” visual culture.
Sidibé’s images capture the vibrancy of this moment in visual, sonic, and tactile registers. You can almost hear the sound track emanating from his nightclub snapshots, in which flirtatious young couples dance and twist in unison. In several images, albums by Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Smith are held up like trophies for the camera. The records are even lugged to the beach; one photograph captures boys in swimsuits displaying a set of 7" singles.
The real gem in the exhibition is a series of rare color Polaroids and vintage prints (Sidibé’s photographs typically circulate in the form of enlarged reprints from an archive of negatives). Some of these are mounted in wooden frames that have been colorfully hand-painted, complementing the richly patterned textiles worn by Sidibé’s sitters. In one yellowing print from 1970, a teenage girl models a minidress sewn from a patchwork of wax fabrics. While its composition is consistent with traditional studio portraiture in West Africa, the subject’s provocative outfit and subtle confidence express the sense of freedom felt by many who came of age in a newly independent Mali.
JE SUIS MÉDUSE. I am Medusa. These words hover, graffiti-like, in a speech bubble on the choppy blood-red ground seething through the chaotic central painting of Martin Kippenberger’s causa mortis series “The Raft of the Medusa,” 1996. It is here—in this layered, macabre scene—that Kippenberger depicts his own figure modeled after each dead, dying, or deranged crew member of the wrecked ship Medusa immortalized in Théodore Géricault’s 1819 epic painting. Inspired by the French masterpiece, Kippenberger feverishly produced a series of forty-nine paintings, drawings, lithographs, and even a rug printed with the image of the raft itself, all during the year before his death. Displayed together for the first time in the US, they show the kaleidoscopic nature of the artist’s tragicomic brilliance.
A robust grouping, the paintings are as psychologically multivalent as the series itself. Compartmentalized by geometric blocks of color, these self-portraits externalize what is perhaps an effort at order amid entropy. Yet Kippenberger’s unbridled treatment of paint—thinly layered, violent scratches that carve out a gaping mouth or armpit or, in other places, thick, toothpaste-like scrolls that engorge figuration—implies a heated reckoning with fate; and comic moments, such as cartoon-like ocean waves, jest at death itself. On a final lithograph, Kippenberger scrawled THE END as though sardonically turning the page of a fable.
Taken by his wife, the accompanying photographs of the late artist are haunting, bringing to light his embodying process. In each of them, Kippenberger is pictured assuming various positions, imitating Géricault’s deserted men and their uniquely splayed bodies. Though the word myth often buoys Kippenberger’s name, here it is unveiled: The Medusa’s delirious reincarnation plays perfect artifice for Kippenberger’s looming mortality that was plagued by corporeal extremes. Je suis Méduse, or better, I am Kippenberger—excess, ruin, The End.
For her first New York solo exhibition in nearly a decade, Sarah Lucas delivers a sangfroid, Freudian slip of a show, anticipating and upending the lurid expectations of her audience with a hard-edged humor much darker than her one-liner premise. The exhibition’s title, “Nud Nob,” refers to the artist’s 2009–2010 series of “Nuds,” anthropomorphic sculptures fashioned from panty hose. She has now cast similar forms in bronze, as if to trade fetish for finish and the weight of art-historical reference points. All sloppy sausage limbs and Brancusi-bird erections, the figures still carry on their contorted coitus, but the show’s central thrust comes from a semiotic showdown between two sets of sculptures, all 2013. The first is a pair of gleaming bronze squashes, spanning an impressive seventeen feet and fifteen feet, respectively, and bearing names—Kevin and Florian—more reminiscent of maybe-bedmates than of pantry staples. The more modestly sized (eleven feet and nine feet) Eros and Priapus are cast-concrete phalluses, impeccably rendered and mounted on compacted car parts, like hijacked John Chamberlains. In lieu of testicles—the exhibition has balls only in the idiomatic sense—Priapus boasts a handle similar to a dagger, or perhaps a turkey baster (a comparison encouraged by the backdrop of Chicken Knickers, 2014, a photograph of a slender pelvis, its crotch blocked by plucked poultry).
For all its brash, whip-’em-out swagger, “Nud Nob,” actually champions innuendo, with the power of vegetal suggestion more compelling than anatomic articulation. Lucas may call upon the almighty Phallus, but she does so with an irony that skirts the lines between veneration and castration. In the back room, the second of the concrete sculptures, Eros, the grand inquisitive, is attended by the muses of Eating a Banana, 2014, six floor-to-ceiling photographs of the artist fellating the half-peeled fruit. Potential titillation is held in check by Lucas’s gaze, dead-eyed and defiant, as if to say: “What, haven’t I given you what you wanted?”
The nine paintings that comprise Birmingham, Alabama–based Clayton Colvin’s “Put Down Your Stars” operate within that inchoate space between stoic, Apollonian formalism and exuberant figural expression. Shapes—particularly squares, rhombi, strokes, and arabesques—vibrate and twist on the canvas in response to Colvin’s manipulations of color, depth, and repetition. At times, painting seems to give way to drawing, and at other times, drawing seems to give way to painting. Erasures and additions reveal and conceal other layers, complicating ideas of before and after, original and addition, right-side up and upside down. The paintings thrive in paradox: They can seem crowded and full of movement, a sense of unsettled energy populating their spaces; after sustained viewing, however, a calm and measured contemplativeness saturates the canvases.
Beneath Light and Shadow, 2013, a painting on watercolor paper, foregrounds two bright and floating coral-colored acrylic forms, seemingly sentient masses of curlicues lit in their empty spaces by vivid markings of crayon; they resemble cellular membranes enlivened by the activity inside them. One of the forms is centered, and the other, as though entering or exiting, is almost entirely off the edge of the canvas. Graphite, charcoal, and inks create an interrupted and rather busy study of perspective.
Canine Sensibility, 2013—which, like all works in the show, are graphite and acrylic on linen—is scored by purple, pink, and white rhombi extending diagonally from the top left of the canvas to the bottom right, like a slanted peninsula, across its sea-blue background. Brain Wash, 2013, is similarly shaped but drifts toward the left from the top center and is striped by thick lanes of oranges, reds, grays, and whites, its background a faded blossom of overlapping colors. There is cohesion within the chaos, slight rhymes of gesture or intent. The paintings seem to move when you don’t look at them and stand still when you do—each striving to represent both the noise in which contemporary life finds itself ensnared and the quiet meditation that can free it.
One of the four works in Ellie Ga’s potent exhibition relays the story of Thoth, an Egyptian deity credited with the invention of dice, math, and also language. Letterpressed on a small piece of paper is the king of Egypt’s response: WHAT YOU HAVE DISCOVERED IS . . . THE DRUG OF REMINDING. WITH YOUR INVENTION THEY WILL BE TAUGHT, BUT THEY WILL NOT BE WISE. The statement, though barely legible in its presentation, serves as a guiding theme for Ga’s show, which takes up histories that swirl around the island of Pharos and its ancient, now destroyed, lighthouse. The structure becomes a portal through which to look at the way language at once describes objects and confuses them, like light shifting around and through water.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was built in the third century BC; until the 1300s, it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and also the place where the Torah was translated. The exhibition opens with adjacent slide shows, one of images and one of text, that provide a history of the lighthouse through accounts such as medieval primary sources and fantastical myths, alongside photographs, diagrams, and ancient mosaics. Even through these instructional mediums, understanding is less objective than collaged, in flashes on the wall without impression. This highlighting of subjectivity reaches a pinnacle with the three-channel video Four Thousand Blocks, 2013–14: On the center screen, Ga narrates a dive she took in the sea that surrounds where the lighthouse once stood; the flanking screens illustrate artistic processes in a darkroom and the experience of creating letterpress. At one point, Ga retells Thoth’s story, but instead of the reference to the “recipe for memory” and the “drug of reminding,” here she calls it the gift of forgetting. The work underscores that the written word while stronger than our own memory serves to weaken it. A hazy black-and-white photograph, Projection Harbor, 2013, depicts the dice evoked in the story of Thoth—an image that then references back to the photographs developed in the video. As Ga’s references shift through different media, they imitate how we develop language into legend.
There is nothing coy about the title of Petra Collins’s debut solo show, “Discharge.” For evidence, see the sculptural array of stiffened, blood-stained underwear on two pedestals, a gesture that implicitly extends into Collins’s photography displaying an unabashedly feminine vision for both its subjects and the rendering of their existence as essentially visual and tactile. Her images focus on the teenage gaze, which could refer to either her subjects’ vantage point or her own. Rather than through a nostalgic look back to adolescence—note the artist is twenty-one years old—the works derive their strength from directly capturing experiences of the private and social bodies of young girls. Girls who may lawfully be adults, but as in Mommy, 2013, which depicts an incoming call from said figure, are still bound by childish connections. Also, the photos show slight pixilation as inkjet prints, making for a pointedly un-precious contrast to the diaristic intimacy of the images.
Additionally, neon works arranged throughout the gallery electrify excerpts from text messages between Collins’s friends and from Rihanna lyrics. The neons project sass, but the photos dare to risk sincerity, as in Sofy Tear, 2013, in which a girl clasps her textbook over her chest with a tear running down her cheek. Her expression implies a certain melancholy satisfaction though, perhaps because this moment is about allowing an honest feeling, comfortingly embraced in another girl’s camera lens.
At times borrowing the playful erotics of Richard Kern’s work or the essayistic style of Lauren Greenfield, Collins’s aesthetic is an overall quieter counterpoint. Her tone is soft twilight clinging to an outline of a girl shyly undressing, as in Michelle Window, 2009, or coolly distanced curiosity as in Selfie #1, 2014, where two girls take an iPhone photo together in a garishly lit institutional bathroom. A representation of mediated presentation, it typifies technology’s feedback loop through which both the drama and the banality of girls’ lives are played out.
If Laurie Simmons’s early works from the late 1970s function as a microcosm of repressed societal woes, many depicting miniature figurines of apprehensively posed housewives, she has today a poignant commonality in Japanese cosplay. A subculture of “costume play” known as Kigurumi, the hobby brings together men and women who prefer to socialize while dressed as their favorite Anime characters. They are depicted here in thirteen photographs as physical apparitions of Simmons’s previous dollhouse muses.
Simmons here equates “Dollers” with our own personal experiences with social media—in which the participant voluntarily forfeits aspects of reality in favor of a more attractive and fascinating persona. This relationship is best illustrated in three photographs titled Selfies, 2014, presented in the gallery’s entrance space, each of which images a Doller in an eerily familiar pose—chin at a slight tilt and an extended length of an arm trailing the camera’s descending perspectives. In a fourth photograph on the wall, Orange Hair/Snow/Close Up, 2014, a pair of enormous green eyes is mesmerizing and uncanny—synthetic of course, in archetypal Simmons design.
Within a second room, besieged by fetish latex, we at last see actual skin. In How We See/Look I/Daria, 2014, a well-known fashion model poses for a portrait with eyes closed and faux pupils painted upon her eyelids. Her makeup performs inverse to the Doller’s plastic facade and is evocative of unrealistic expectations of beauty, especially in the realm of commercial fashion. Elsewhere in the gallery, Simmons arrives full circle with Brunette/Red Dress/Standing Corner, 2014: After nearly four decades of mining dollhouses for motif, this iteration of a doll appears no less a proxy than its depiction—adrift in a gray between identity and persona, seemingly more comfortable as a surrogate than an actual human being.
Many of the artists in this expansive exhibition place an emphasis on the physicality—or lack thereof—of photography rather than on its capacity to represent the outside world. As a whole, “What Is a Photograph?” might be taken as a diagnostic inquiry, with the title reading as a rhetorical question. Curated by Carol Squiers, the exhibition includes twenty-one artists, ranging from Gerhard Richter and James Welling to Liz Deschenes and Eileen Quinlan, and has tasked itself with surveying the medium since the 1970s.
The work of both Matthew Brandt and Letha Wilson exhume a long-standing tradition of American landscape photography with fresh invigoration. In Brandt’s large-scale Grays Lake, ID 7, 2013, Technicolor abstractions stem from an actual processing bath in the depicted lake waters, while Wilson’s monolith Grand Tetons Concrete Column, 2012, employs industrial concrete to sculpturally engage her iconic views of the American West. Draped through the gallery’s foyer is Mariah Robertson’s 154, 2010. This single photograph measures one hundred feet in length and has been meticulously hand-processed by the artist in a highly toxic photochemical environment. The remarkable result validates its production, as every inch of this dangling photograph reveals a labyrinth of glowing hues and pictorial intricacies.
Parallel to romanticizing the darkroom are the several artists who wholeheartedly embrace the more conventional, digitalized avenues associated with the medium. Travess Smalley’s Capture Physical Presence #15, 2011, exploits the imaging systems of a flatbed scanner to manipulate his collages into what he describes as mind-numbing “feedback loops.” Kate Steciw’s approach in Apply, 2012, takes advantage of a Google-based research method, purchased stock imagery, and sculptural tack-ons that recall the slick advertisements of commercial photography. Elsewhere in the gallery, a wall text accompanying Jon Rafman’s eerie and unadorned busts reads, “The age demanded an image / Of its accelerated grimace, Something for the modern stage / Not, at any rate, an attic grace.”
A thousand years later, the eponymous child evoked by this group show has apparently not learned any manners. Participating artists Glen Baldridge, Ian Cooper, and David Kennedy Cutler present an exhibition that personifies our unwavering pursuit of eternal youth—that crown jewel of vivacity we feverishly crave (as evidenced by today’s abundant health-food supplements, probiotic treatments, and quick over-the-counter cures). Astutely, the twenty-eight works on view—sculptures, prints, and installations—have all anticipated the dystrophic consequences of pursuing the unobtainable.
As if this child had been anticipating our arrival for ages, Baldridge’s crooked and bowed Blinds, 2014, hung on Planthouse’s doors, are suspiciously ruffled, as if by some adolescent peeping Tom. Once inside, the viewer is assaulted by anarchic visual references to vomit, amputated limbs, erections, fistfights, and bloody knuckles. Left to his or her (although probably his) own devices, it seems this child has placed the gallery in a state of chic disarray. Take David Kennedy Cutler’s sculpture series “Commodity,” 2014, which is presented on the floor in the first gallery as discarded limbs with faded tattoos—extremities carefully sculpted from tree branches, Permalac, and a progressive inkjet-on-aluminum process.
In a second room, Ian Cooper’s oversized and Oldenburgesque sculptures are executed with a refreshing irreverence. Expertly produced works titled Missing (nude Tinkerbell) and Missing (briefs) (both 2014) come together as a stylized milk carton, and while they appear simply tossed into the gallery like rubbish, their sheer monumentality and references to the body achieve an uncanny resonance. Framed on a nearby wall, Baldridge’s meticulous trio of panties, I cannot lie, 2012, recalls the colors of Neapolitan ice cream, and is made with cast cotton and handmade paper, which illustrate—through numerous sags and wrinkles—undesired signs of aging. Despite the bubblegum palette, these works prompt an all-but-gentle reminder: Vanity is among the most fleeting of phenomena, anchored to the obstinate and impartial burden of time.
In utilizing texture maps—a form of visual data generated by the rendering of objects into 3-D digital models—Clement Valla’s new series, “Surface Survey,” 2014, highlights the eroding boundary between the real and the virtual realms. But beyond simply demonstrating how a “new aesthetic” emerges from digital forms of representation, Valla subjects this technology—and the rhetoric around it—to scrutiny. In reproducing (as either prints or sculptures) the maps from which 3-D digital models can be constructed, Valla exposes the underlying algorithms upon which these models are based. Notably, the maps utilize the same planes as encyclopedias, atlases, and light tables—in other words, media that historically have articulated objects into instruments of knowledge and power. If 3-D digital modeling is a futuristic panacea, it’s one with a troubled past.
The objects manifested here by that technology are not insignificant: Many are ancient works belonging to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while others are everyday things whose texture maps have been uploaded to online databases (the virtual equivalent of a trash heap). Though the series consequently invokes the discipline of archaeology, it upsets the scientistic expectation that new tools produce new insights. In Surface Survey 24.97.15 (Marble head and torso of Athena), 2014, the fragmentation effected by texture mapping exacerbates, rather than ameliorates, the physical damage the relic has sustained. Even the sculptural objects in the show, such as Surface Survey 74.51.2868 (Limestone recumbent lion), 2014, are compelling not because of their fidelity to the originals, but because of their inevitable difference.
Though the works effectively resist the hype around 3-D modeling, they also comment upon the objects they depict: By subjecting them to an algorithm’s gaze, Valla’s works transform the originals from the unitary, transcendent objects of our contemplation into provisional artifacts whose reception is necessarily conditioned by discourses and technologies alike.
As if the world needs more trash, Corin Hewitt makes and stages trash: cast and actual packets of blush, airbrushed old toast, hardened squirts of paint, a severed gourd. For Finish Matte 1 and 2 (all works 2014), these and other objects are arrayed across rag rugs on two rough MDF tables in the back room of the gallery. Like tchotchkes at a sidewalk sale, these small, cute sculptures purvey a certain endearing uselessness. Their apparent innocence, however, may be misleading—as the subtly sinister installation in the main gallery obsesses over similar quirks. There, two meticulously crafted, faux papered-over storefronts have been diligently littered with bricks, posts, grime, toxic-green Post-it notes, resin pancakes, and beige-tone foundation. Labeled as “police stations” with watermarked stock graphics, each structure is an imperfect but careful duplicate of the other, down to odd holes in the dirt, the angle of broken eyeglasses, and tattered edges of butcher paper.
Mounted to the left of each doorway, two monitors display feeds supposedly from security cameras trained on the invisible studs, drywall and grates inside the walls. The self-reflexive surveillance of classic video loops—Nauman and Graham come to mind—is here repurposed as an absurd endo-power: an art installation that (pretends to) brutally survey its own uneventful crevasses. The doubly trashed police stations undercut the precious displays of colorful discards in the back gallery by presenting the dark side of attention: Hewitt arranges a powerful theatricality that, ping-ponging between two insidiously good-looking trash piles, scrutinizes its own tendency to aestheticize or apotheosize abandoned, incidental scenes. As if the world needs more paranoia, no appealingly derelict detail goes unnoticed—there is no trash here, only “items of interest”—to the degree that, as you stagger drunk or drugged through a gentrifying city, lean against a doorway, black out—you might come to in Corin Hewitt’s “The Third Station” at Laurel Gitlen.
Replicas of ancient rocks that resemble traditional Jerusalemite housing bricks are spread on the floor as one enters Jumana Manna’s first institutional solo show in New York. Inside, a twenty-one-minute film titled Blessed Blessed Oblivion, 2010, explores the lifestyle of young male residents of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Manna, a Palestinian female artist who grew up in Jerusalem, plays a cunning protagonist, capturing “macho culture” as it permeates daily life through her own performance of gender (albeit behind the camera). Manna takes a tour of the characters’ hangouts, filming the men in suggestive, erotic angles as the men lift weights in the gym or lean under cars at auto-body shops. In one scene, she playfully commits to being shamelessly seductive when she dares one man to answer a call from a man he owes money to.
To emphasize the underlying layers of historical complexity in the neighborhood, Manna has also created an installation of relics made of found materials that constructs a pseudo-archaeological site. The works have been given sarcastic titles that respond to a current Israeli-initiated excavation that bisects Silwan. Captain Charles Warren or Claude R. Conder’s Neck, 2014, for example, is a six-foot-tall sculpture made of egg cartons, plaster, burlap, and wax. It resembles a Greek column and refers to members of the “Palestine Exploration Fund.” From 1847 to 1877, this group surveyed what is today Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, drawing up the basis for the grid system used in modern maps of Israel and Palestine. By instrumentalizing disposable materials such as egg cartons and scrap metal to create the relics, the artist proposes the vulnerability of history and of the place itself. Combined with the video and additional objects in the installation—bling watches and cell phones, among other items—Manna wittingly connects the residents’ contemporary reality with an ongoing historical perspective.
Ten artworks that seek to decode languageby Tony Lewis, Kon Trubkovich, and Wallace Bermannow appear in the synagogue of the Eldridge Street Museum, one of the first American temples built by European Jews, in 1887 on the Lower East Side. The sparkling interior, with its gilded chandeliers, intricate stained-glass windows, and skyward mural of gold stars against a blue sky, has been offset by at once more primitive and technological mark-making: collage, rubbing, glass powdered on paper, and drawing. Curated by Joel Mesler of Untitled, the pieces in exhibition consist of a palette of mostly gray and black with some blue, green, and red, which allude to the historic building’s rich interiors and exteriors. While the show aims to present the spiritual aspects in each artist’s work as it converges with language and symbol, the conversation between their cool precision and the grandiose surroundings makes for the most valuable elucidation of language.
The show features Berman’s small, 1960s and ’70s–era Verifax collages, in which images of transistor radios meld together with Kabbalah and other ancient imagery in the palm of a disembodied hand. These hang at the entrance of the synagogue, flanked on each side of the pews by new work by Trubkovich and Lewis. Some pieces, ironically, had yet to be titled, and despite the show’s billing, some others haven’t been presented on walls at all: Rather, they dangle off the hall’s balconies from wires, as if floating. Each will have to be taken down for the Sabbath on Friday night and most of Saturday—their own presence here is both literally and metaphorically fleeting. Lewis’s two graphite rubbings on wallpaper subtly mimic the language of the stained glass behind them. His works usually include letters that, too, float as if by wires, but here these have been mostly stripped away, save for the Hebrew characters aleph and hay, connected by drawn lines placing them in a short circuit. They are just one character shy of one of the seventy-two Hebrew names for God—more closely defined as soul mate—and the missing character, replaced by a symbol, seems to ever more closely define the inexplicable.
Raymond Pettibon’s oeuvre of drawings presents its ambivalent attitude to avant-garde resistance by illustrating acts of sexual or violent depravity via mainstream American iconography, produced at an industrial scale and rate of production. The artist’s surfer paintings, with their lurid, ebullient wave renderings and transcendental textual citations, mark a surprising anomaly, spanning nearly thirty decades of work. Here, Pettibon’s critique is either demonstrably more subtle, positioning wave-riding post-1960s counterculture as complicit figures within a consuming force—or increasingly uncertain, by way of a charmed attraction to the iconography he illustrates.
Barrages of needlelike strokes form the billowing azure groundswell in No Title (The mantling of), 2011. A microscopic golden-haired figure sails effortlessly ahead of the wave’s pummeling break. Pettibon’s sharp, repetitive application of media makes the swell a vociferous subject and renders the individual within it smugly—but insignificantly—participatory. Across other works, Pettibon’s scrawled texts narrate a metaphysically tinged libido. In No Title (The weight of), 1994, a text spans above a man taking off down a near-vertical wall of opaque ocean tide, reading: THE PERFECTION OF BODILY WELL-BEING IS THAT THE COLLECTIVE BODILY ACTIVITIES SEEM ONE. A surfer cruises the face of a wave in No Title (We have seen), 1987, as text above him states: GIDGET COULD AFFECT HIM AT TIMES LIKE A PIECE OF WOOD TIED TO HIS ANKLES.
The illustrated figures are paired with a relentless search for transcendental and sexual highs that espouses a near-religious vernacular—a cynical scenario that levels post-hippie counterculture as conventional participants in consumer society. Perhaps the self-satisfied air is elegantly summed up in No Title (What more could), 1997. Text floating above a surfer riding a sea-foam barrel reads: WHAT MORE COULD I HAVE WISHED? The swirling, awe-inspiring delineations of the ocean’s force make for truly sublime visuals, hinting towards an identificatory gleam of admiration in the artist’s eyes as well.
Keil Borrman’s second solo show in New York, “The Choice We Face,” is—to quote the press release—“a collaboration with some of New York’s leading audio designers.” For this exhibition, Borrman completed over twenty new paintings, many of which were designed to function as acoustic shields for the crown jewel: A hyperfabulous analog sound system composed of equipment lent by high-end audio-fetish manufacturers such as DeVore Fidelity, Rogers High Fidelity, VPI Industries, and Grado Labs.
On opening night, little attention seemed to be paid to Borrman’s luscious abstract paintings in dourly preppy pastels. Exemplary works such as There Goes the Mortgage, 2009–2014, or Assessing a New Demographic, 2011–2014, became the backdrop when viewers were being seductively throttled by records from Malian band Tinariwen, David Bowie, and Albert Ayler. A pair of chic little stools upholstered in linen canvas, titled The Sweet Spot (Collaboration with Paul Jacobson), 2014, were built at the perfect squatting height near the turntable, amplifier, and speakers, so that one could immerse oneself utterly in deluxe aural sexiness, the experience of which recessed the artist’s painterly contributions in the show even further.
Or did it? A smart and subtle maker of gestures and things, Borrman is not always keen to announce his intentions front and center as a-r-t. His preferred place of action is in the periphery, for it seems that much of his production, à la relational aesthetics, functions as a support—to borrow a painterly term—for artists adjacent to him, such as Bowie, Ayler, or DeVore. On Borrman’s terms, the act of painting seems most profound when it whispers, enmeshed within the quieter caprices of daily life: started after work, before walking the dog, and, inevitably, while listening to good music. Pay attention to living like one would a beloved record—casually, but focused—and the picture gets bigger, lovelier, and happier when you least expect it.
Have you seen the Urs Fischer in the old Chase? That is what my friend asked as we walked up Delancey toward the bridge. No, I had not. We crossed over and entered the former bank through spray-painted doors. For the next twenty minutes, we proceeded (under the amiable gaze of two suited guards) to traipse through the branch like happy kids. The space still bears corporate insignia, institutional carpet, ghastly lighting, and the basic architectural skeleton of its past self.
Into this capitalist graveyard—temporarily operated by Gagosian Gallery—Urs Fischer has deposited mermaid pig bro w/ hat, an exuberant display of twenty-one sculptures, “externalized” from his massive 2013 installation, YES, at the Geffen Contemporary. Produced on-site with the cheerful labor of fifteen hundred unpaid participants (the press release assures us that, of the works, “Fischer has, for the most part, selected some that he initiated then left open to his collaborators”), these collectively created clay pieces reappear on the Lower East Side, now cast in bronze and, if they are lucky, silver and gold-plated. The sculptures are hilarious. A squat little boy sticks out his tongue behind the relics of a night-deposit vault. A matador takes a pig from behind in the break room. In place of a teller stands an oversized bust of a Revolutionary War hero. The limelight belongs to the delimbed and skull-crushed mermaid-as-fountain in the lobby, crudely dribbling water from her neckline. A few sorry coins languish in the pool beneath her tail, the edges of which are beginning to oxidize.
The exhibition has an uptown counterpart; Fischer’s last supper is currently inaugurating Gagosian’s newest Park Avenue gallery. Divorced from its downtown context, the work itself does not seem worth the follow-up trip. At best, the sculptures are admirable because of their heft and amusing due to their obvious low and highbrow mix. That said, they also are rife with chauvinism and shallow, insular cultural “critique.” One might assume that the artist, to his credit, is laughing all the way to the bank.
Dinh Q. Lê’s latest exhibition is both formally elegant and critically incisive, probing how technology shapes perception of collective memory and global politics. In his four-channel video, WTC in Four Moments, 2014, still images of 9/11 are digitally stretched to the point of abstraction and reanimated against a sound track of ambient noise. Color bars in ochre and steel run vertically along each screen, resulting in images that are opaque yet eerily indexical to the event.
The “woven” compositions for which Lê is known, composed of gridded strips of distinct and anachronous images, offer an impression of global history as relational and antilinear. Yet, the structural logic of his earlier photo-tapestries is disrupted throughout these recent, more fluid works. The Continuous Creation, 2014, a ten-foot-long triptych, features a montage of contorted bodies—borrowed from Renaissance frescoes and contemporary photojournalism—that echo the undulating patterns into which they are assembled. The sinuous fault line that splits the right-hand and center panels crosses the open zipper of a screaming man’s khaki coat, an unlikely punctum that draws attention to “rupture” as a compositional device. In Witness I and Witness II, both 2014, warp and weft are left incomplete, exposing the scorched ends of each vertical strip. Throughout, there is a marked sense of violence with which the artist handles photographic paper.
As such, Lê offers us The Last of the Alchemists, 2013: a memorial to the analog printed image. Enclosed within this silver “coffin” rests a sample of light-sensitive paper, never to be exposed. The sculpture assumes the role of reliquary, firmly grounding Lê’s practice in the “digital age” and relegating film photography to the pages of history, along with similarly time-sensitive frescoes that are expertly—and digitally—incorporated throughout.
Repetition can act to affirm, to shore up meaning and provide closure: The lecturer reiterates her point to underscore its significance. Yet repetition can also effect the opposite, seriality emptying into beige-bland banality. To repeat in this second sense is to succumb to pathology, a compulsion whereby meaning cedes to a nightmarish sameness.
Sherrie Levine has staked her nearly four-decade-long career on a deconstruction of the avant-garde myths of origin and originality, to which repetition is the debased double. Her latest show takes aim at Aleksandr Rodchenko’s triptych of monochromes, Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color, presented in Moscow in 1921 on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution. “It’s all over,” the echt Constructionist would later affirm: Reduced to its zero degree, painting (the ultimate bourgeois art form) seemed gleefully obsolete. Levine’s Red, Yellow, Blue Mirrors: 1–3, 2014, rehearses Rodchenko’s gesture, reproducing his triptych as rectangles of colored glass set in plywood frames. Four sets of three hang on three adjoining walls, transforming his augured ending into a multiple. The red and blue glass is transparent, imaging the viewer, her surroundings, and the frame’s edge within; the yellow is matte and registers only shadow. Modernism’s most overdetermined strategy (the monochrome) finds its theoretical double in the mirror, whose colors are permuted—the red more or less ruddy, the yellow variously sepia, the blue tending toward lurid cyan—depending on the angle of one’s approach.
There are easy ways to read Levine’s revision: the author’s death and the subject’s birth or via somewhat tired rhetorics of appropriation. There’s a cynical way, too: as Levine™, of which three cast-bronze sculptures seem illustrative. More productive, perhaps, is to consider the tension between reflexivity—the doubling back that grounds the modernist medium—and the mirror’s essential condition of reflectivity. Both concern an experience of repetition. Yet while the first emphasizes the material support, the second cancels it, submitting the art object to a psychological condition: the vanity of the viewer seduced by her own image. Modernism’s critical gambit is perversely rehearsed as narcissism, and contemporary art finds itself trapped in paralyzing self-reflection, doomed to elaborate its presumed impossibility endlessly.
Interiority and reflection are key themes of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s New York debut, which comprises treasured pieces from the artist’s wardrobe alongside prints and biographical ephemera. Clothing is presented as a tool that symbolizes phases of Gonzalez-Foerster’s biography while delineating chameleonlike explorations of self. Assembled along a perimeter-spanning wooden rack, pieces dating back to 1965 are suspended, mostly from wire hangers, while twine cords run from wall to wall, connecting objects as remnants of related memories. Like her variegated practice, which includes film, architecture, and set design, the artist’s wardrobe spans ordinary, chic, and freaky, across a range of consumer markets.
Several arrangements draw a colorful logic: In one grouping a fuchsia pink reappears in a turtleneck knit (Maison Martin Margiela, 2008), a shirt’s flower print (Balenciaga, 2008), a fedora’s ribbon trim (acquired 2014 in Brazil), and a Hilma af Klint printed headscarf (Acne Studios, 2014). Varying shades of green run through most of these objects as well, in addition to the celadon wall behind them and Scarlett (M2062), 2014, a poster of the artist costumed as Scarlett O’Hara. The common palettes, which now magnetize the objects, may have likely too attracted the artist over time. Copies of a booklet by collaborator Tristan Bera are strewn on a green velvet Victorian ottoman with golden tassels in the center of the gallery. Through a collaged aesthetic, these books expand on the significance of the individual pieces within Gonzalez-Foerster’s biography and subjectivity. The cover bears the title of the exhibition: “equinimod & costumes.” When held before a mirror, the text spells Gonzalez-Foerster’s first name—suggesting masquerade as self-reflection.
The artist’s subversive interdisciplinary behavior ruptures such locales as the exhibition space—here turned into a sartorial reliquary—and demonstrates an irrepressible creative practice that works within and without the field of contemporary art. A brooding, elegiac Wagner sound track emanating from the gallery’s annex room, and the exhibition’s status as a salable collection, suggest that these costumes and characters linger now as disconnected fragments of their wearer. Having accrued the pieces between Japan, France, Brazil and elsewhere, now Gonzalez-Foerster decorates the gallery with them as remainders of her adaptive psyche.
Someone flipped the lights off, then on: It was artist Dawn Kasper, slipping without fanfare into her performance. By now half an hour deep in a boozy opening, the crowd didn’t skip a beat as she walked over to a tangle of tape and record players, mixers, a laptop, and percussion instruments and fashioned a growing mound of static. She calls this installation “Fire,” one of five elemental “stations” (including a lawnmower [“Earth”] and stacked tubs of Wiffle balls [“Aether”]), plus a related video and several compulsively decorative wall works, together comprising her latest exhibition “& sun & or THE SHAPE OF TIME.” Kasper's intense, earnest punk poetics animates these objects in repeat performances throughout the show.
The artist moved to a wooden table (“Air”), first making tiny adjustments to her blue swim cap—then, with wilder motions, adjusting and readjusting the table itself—its one flapping leaf dragging awkwardly. She stripped down to nothing and pulled on a Tyvek suit, complete with hood then the cap on top. She strode back to “Fire” to bowl a pair of claves at the wall repeatedly. Over in “Water,” an actor began rooting through a yellow dresser, producing photos, papers, and clothing—generally old and possessed of a generic mustiness, a prop nostalgia—with wild surprise or sorrow. The crowd, meanwhile, had been watching Kasper tweaking knobs. Attention slowly phased and dissipated across the room or followed Kasper, now rewinding a video of herself mowing her parents’ lawn rigged to the mower, now stalking through the room blowing tunelessly on a wooden flute.
On the wall is STOP . . ., 2014, a grid of fifty discomfiting gerunds self-consciously scrawled in charcoal on mounted paper—from “besmirching” to “ass-gouging.” The artist’s presence charges the scene with an anxious energy that is perhaps the show’s most palpable object—anxious, too, because reflective: her desire to perform, to be an artist, to show us some art rushes to meet our desire to see some, whatever baffling gestures it takes.
A well-established figure in the history of experimental cinema, Len Lye’s stature in art history, especially as a crucial link between the early avant-garde of animation and mid-century modernism, has not been properly championed in the United States. This new exhibition makes significant strides towards rectifying that, as well as introducing a body of drawings, paintings, and memorably mysterious photograms never before exhibited, along with documentation of his kinetic sculptures. The foundation of Lye’s practice, which began in the 1920s and continued all the way until his death in 1980, was to visually convey the feeling of motion, primarily constructed with lines, as in his series of eleven small pencil drawings, “Sketch for Motion Composition,” 1938. Bold, unfussy marks congregate and crosshatch, elongating into dervish-like forms with each successive drawing, in tune with his fantastical sketches for monumental sculptures nearby encased that had to wait for technology to catch up to their ingenuity.
A looping selection of the artist’s short films takes over the downstairs gallery. Anticipating Stan Brakhage by decades, films such as A Colour Box, 1935, and Trade Tattoo, 1937, pioneered direct filmmaking with their complex printing, color grading, and direct-drawing techniques. In the latter, utilizing black-and-white outtakes from the British General Post Office’s Film Unit’s documentaries, Lye transforms through sprightly editing, racing patterns, and a Cuban orchestra score what was once excess footage of labor into a superb modernist work. The film is an exuberant declaration of the accumulative beauty and civic virtue of industry circulating across land and sea, flashing such declarations as “The rhythm of trade is maintained by the mails” before cutting to a train speeding by in the night, abstract shapes bopping and dashing across the composition, and colors exploding like fireworks. With straightforward intentions and a clear premise, Len Lye created work far ahead of its time and deserving of ours now.
In “Iodine Poisoning,” Andrei Koschmieder presents a body of beguiling works that suggest a young artist ready to realize museum-scale ambitions. Stacked against one wall of the gallery are his corrugated metal boxes, tricky sculptures (or paintings) that may resemble steel heating units or perhaps just evoke “industry.” Their striking realism and rusty patina invites closer viewing with a readymade’s fetishistic appeal. But keen observers will quickly note their material lightness: Constructed from paper, these fake steels are sturdy, but their rusty exteriors are hand-painted facades. In place of the cockroaches that inhabit aging city infrastructure, Koschmieder populates his metal boxes with shrimp, a kind of oceanic vermin. The artist’s shrimp are also constructed from paper—ink-jet prints treated with a clear resin finish, which Koschmeider has deployed in previous works. On another wall, he postures his fake steels side by side like paintings. There they appear so stiffly crowded against one another that a subtle, sardonic humor emerges. The works seem to be whispering something about contemporary abstraction.
The exhibition’s centerpiece is another large wall installation that similarly rewards with a redeeming, jocund lightness emerging from of an initially perceived heaviness. Call it a nitrous-oxide high. The wall, completely wallpapered by the artist, presents a cluster of heavy, black ink clouds. The clouds give way to a series of monoprints created with the ink-coated body of a real squid. The method evokes Gyotaku printmaking—an eighteenth-century technique used by Japanese fishermen to document the size of more impressive catches. Koschmieder's biggest catch might be his ensnared audience—drawn in to the heaviness of abstraction, which the artist swiftly disperses—like a squirt of ink in a corrosive, unsympathetic sea.
Polished pictures of a floating world, Sarah Charlesworth’s series “Objects of Desire,” 1983–88, once aptly injected beauty where it didn’t belong—deconstruction, postmodernism, Conceptualism—and inspired her peers and later generations to do the same. The images have aged very well. Today, these key works by the late artist come together as potent omens for our decontexualized image glut and herald her own long-standing interests—gender, politics, myth, and magic. Cut out from various books and magazines, the fragments are isolated on viscous, searing Cibachrome backgrounds and range from David Bowie as Golden Boy on black to a Black Woman on white, and are paired in lacquered frames of the same color that often touch and overlap, as in Figures (all 1983–84), where Marlene Dietrich’s silky gown against black is compared and contrasted with a satin bondage body suit on red—conscious meets subconscious.
At once collage and color studies, the series feels painterly and sculptural at the same time that it deeply roots Charlesworth as a photographer, a role that she always treated as a problem rather than simply adapting the medium as her métier and subject. Most of all, the work serves as a somber reminder of just how ahead of her time she typically was. Charlesworth divorced these images from their contexts not only to abstract them from how they would be normally seen, but also to tap into their alluring symbolic meaning. They leave a lasting mark in one’s mind, as did she.
One can spy the first objects in this exhibition from the street: a beanbag chair and a marble table decked with an elaborate floral arrangement, like the collision of a condominium lobby and a basement rec room. Only, the marble is laminate, and the struts holding it aloft are not polished brass, but cheap trophy components, while the beanbag, for its part, has been carefully, even lovingly tiled—a mosaic technique that Rocklen has plied in the past on a gamut of domestic cast-offs, from old mattresses to ratty rugs.
In the main space of the gallery, this disposition to preserve domestic life has taken on mausoleum proportions. The artist has cast the contents of his closet: neatly folded shirts and slacks in porcelain, which are hung around the perimeter of the gallery, as well as several pairs of copper-plated shoes placed casually beside a door in the center of the room. The door has been heavily graffitied on the far side and each tag inlaid with gold or silver leaf so that the double-speak of the signature (“I was here,” and “I am here no longer”) shimmers out of this threshold to nowhere. Finally, there is Brian, 2004, a life-size terracotta figure in overalls, suspended inside a scaffold made from more trophy parts. Winged victory, ever more modestly scaled in a culture where every kid gets a trophy, crowns the achievement. A wry response to Charles Ray, perhaps, who immortalized Rocklen in the buff for his recent Matthew Marks exhibition, Brian is the gisant to this place where the stuff that makes up a life—our small expressions of individual taste, our little victories—can find a home. A place, in other words, between basement and foyer, personal hideaway and uninhabited space, otherwise called a tomb.
In his monumental book, Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy, the social theorist Niklas Luhmann explored the cultural fusion of intimacy and matrimony, analyzing economic and political influences on love’s changing role in society. Jorinde Voigt’s airy, diagrammatic drawings are a reflection on Luhmann’s writing: Playful and associative, they are a poststructuralist response to his structuralist text, interpretatively assigning a set of visualized systems to codify Voigt’s own experience studying Luhmann’s book. In doing so, Voigt's works seem to reference an ebullient jumble of science metaphors: Using iotas of text—specific phrases and graphemes that resonate with her on an intuitive level—she builds pictorial information chains, which she in turn compounds into matrices. The result is a series of vast, graceful images that embody nuanced conversations between the components.
Voigt is known for her lyrical sensibility as well as her calibrated approach to creating artwork. She is a classically trained musician from a family of scientists. If in past series, her imagery has specifically conjured graph-like linear systems—based on such exact references as musical scores, sound waves, linguistic structures, and mathematical algorithms—then these new drawings, inspired by Luhmann’s nonlinear writing, evoke a more biological take, as they track the evolution from one literary moment to the next. Voigt collages metallic leaf in varying tones alongside swaths of marigold, coral, and azure to create unusual floating forms with an illustrative impishness; the resulting pictures resemble space-age landscapes occupied by mercurial creatures. Her works are innately didactic: She carefully structures the bulbous shapes, framing each with a draftsman’s delicate, curved lines and handwritten text annotations. Ultimately, her drawings function as cognitive maps, as meaning multiplies from passages of text and grows into webs of association. As Voigt regards Luhmann’s discourse on societal structures enabling love, her drawings delineate her own way of reconciling information through whimsical interpretation, shaping an elegant visual reality from the tangles of language.
An eponymous poem by Rebecca Horn is the unseen backbone to “The Vertebrae Oracle,” the artist’s first solo show in New York since 2011. Honoring what would have been her friend Méret Oppenheim’s one-hundredth birthday, the poem describes an androgynous oracle—“circling / pulsing / bird-proud”—protected by stars but exposed to elements. Activated by motion detectors, Horn’s kinetic sculptures—along with paintings—carefully reprise both her poem’s narrative as well as quintessential imagery and themes of her work. The series embodies a fresh, quiet focus, and the paintings, scrawled with text, together create a landscape of shimmering marks that convey the artist’s fascination with the airy, structural lyricism of a spinal chord freed of connective tissue.
Light and motion are explored in Marcel Duchamp’s Montgolfiere, 2014, a wall-mounted grouping of mirrored discs that cheekily orbit under a spotlight around one of Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs. The sculpture casts a shape-shifting shadow while reflecting ellipses of light around the room, recalling Horn’s earlier mirror installations. Periodically, the light illuminates a vitrine resembling a terrarium, Metamorphoses between Rock and Butterfly, 2014, which houses a reproduction of the titular insect, perched atop a volcanic formation; tiny rotating gears mimic the joints of flapping, iridescent blue wings with the calibrated exactness of a Swiss watch.
A Bourgeoisian idea of the protective cage also carries through Horn’s sculptures: A centerpiece, Revelation of a Tree, 2014, sprouts a nest of winding branches from a low platform. Nine large brass needles affixed to the branches slowly close to meet at a perfect point, like a sea anemone guarding its mouth. Containing natural and motorized elements, three nearby sculptures performatively mimic the tides and movements of nature, perhaps suggesting that all life is a series of gears whirring in unison. By opening cages and separating connective tissue, Horn compels an awareness of machinelike order, crystallizing the power of her folkloric Vertebrae Oracle—and, indeed, of Horn herself.
You can leave your antihistamines at the door. “Allergies,” the title of Sanya Kantarovsky’s first solo exhibition in New York, might best be taken like the old pharmakon: an irritant in the largely bloodless body of contemporary painting that acts, marvelously, as a philter. The eighteen works here are huge in ambition and gratification. Kantarovsky’s work was formerly mood driven, vignettes centered around a dandy in states of creative duress. In these recent paintings, the artist has plunged headfirst into the headiest relations: power struggles between genders and classes, and art-historical confrontations between French modernism and Agitplakat. Strange Eyes, 2014, a figure group rendered in oils, watercolor, and pastels, measures the distance he has come: Where once there was one, now there are many characters, barnacled around a young man. The repertory thus assembled is so stylistically disjointed—including a moony wraith, a red-faced Capitano, and a death’s-head that looks to have ambled out of James Ensor’s crowds, plus a parrot for good measure—it gives Kantarovsky’s palette a run for its bold money. Veering from lilac to acid green, in scrapes and stains and buttery strokes that build rigorous compositions even as they loosen the spatial logic, his surfaces swell with formal intelligence.
The repertoire in question is no less motley than the players. This suite of paintings travels from Matisse’s seraglios to Gauguin’s yellow meadows to Saint Petersburg’s streets, peopling them with Slavic illustrations and saltimbanques alike, along with a set of props from woven peasant slippers to MacBooks. Art-historical gallimaufry may be as old as modernism itself. But if Kantarovsky has taken a page from Manet’s playbook, his scenarios mesh the old scenes with the “ob-scene,” a history of de-Stalinization and spate of social anxieties that have laid beyond the frame. It’s a real shot in the arm.
Kristan Kennedy’s New York solo debut is a tour de force of painterly process. Kennedy works on unstretched, unraveling expanses of raw Belgian linen—soaking, machine washing, scrubbing, and occasionally brushing sumi, dye, and pigment into the tawny, textured material for months at a time. Within their final state, color and form swirl and fade, melting before our eyes into an atmospheric vision punctuated by flimsy skims of gesso and bits of road-crushed aluminum that cling to the surfaces like scabby jewels. The work’s intense dialectic of beauty and repulsion mirrors the artist’s philosophical struggles—we sense that both artist and artwork have gone through the wringer—together—to achieve the hard-won grace so palpable in the work.
In past exhibitions, Kennedy has draped the paintings over walls and furniture, allowing them to spill across the floor—speaking to the work’s domesticity. But here, the artist pushes the work into new territory, exploring the armature as a means for activating its indigenous kineticism, allowing them to bend and shift, grazing one another. The works are untethered, changeably formless objects in a resting state that brings to mind the question of their next iteration.
In the exhibition’s most engaging grouping, three paintings (E.P.R.S.N., 2014; B.O.M., 2014; and W.R.D.R.M.R.N.G., 2013) hang over the thin, protruding arms of a fine brass “rack” installed directly into the gallery walls. The adjustable rods allow Kennedy to reposition the paintings at will throughout the run of the show. At times they hug the walls, at other times they protrude into the space, creating little nooks large enough for a person to hide inside. Enveloped by the paintings, their emotional intensity becomes strangely reassuring, as though part of a larger story or theatrical narrative. Kennedy often titles her works with enigmatic anagrams, drawing our awareness to the more private and literary aspects of their distressed and sensual evolution.
The premise of “Wet Light,” Bill Jenkins’s second solo show with Laurel Gitlen, establishes a lofty, almost fantastic goal: the transfiguration of light into a malleable, containable substance. Taking on the primary element of Brian O’Doherty’s white cube, Jenkins sets a glittering prelude, with twisted metallic sheets in the gallery windows, and he offers his viewers a disclaimer for his poetic intentions: “Technically it’s not going to work very well.”
Apprehension aside, his initial goal materializes in a series of vents, which Jenkins calls “ductwork,” unceremoniously duct-taped under inky masses of black plastic sheeting, which lead to a utilitarian-looking basin on the far-right wall. A soft, eerie glow draws the viewer to this would-be pool, where three sculptural apparatuses release the light siphoned from the installation in the gallery windows. The middle piece is especially noteworthy, a cylindrical metal tube that deposits its electromagnetic cache in a dazzling array of patterns on the floor of the basin.
On the other end of a narrow cinder-block hallway is a second cistern, a small room enclosed floor to ceiling in opaque plastic sheeting, which glows from a skylight and transposes the same eggshell brightness of the first basin on the entirety of the space. While the contrast of this overtly luminous Cistern 2, 2014, is aesthetically pleasing, it lacks the grandeur and transformative ambition of its caliginous cousin. In the end, it is the fluidity of “Wet Light” that bests Jenkins’ infrastructure, with his alchemic aspirations delivering some compelling moments of visual and conceptual poetry.
Southern comfort comes at a cost. Or at least, so suggests Trenton Doyle Hancock’s Vegan Arm, 2006, a skeletal limb offering up a pail of what looks like Pepto Bismal at the entrance to “When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South.” The group show of thirty-five artists subscribes to the Southern Gothic notion of a land of patched roofs and porch swings, where imagination is as fertile as the soil, and artistic production can be directly tied to visions. The danger with fetishizing the South as a spiritual intoxicant, however, is that those who drink too deeply risk indigestion.
Hancock’s sculpture is part of the artist’s elaborate self-scripted mythology around “Mounds,” human-plant hybrids threatened by the evil race of “Vegans,” but his is only one of the visionary universes glimpsed within the exhibition, which surveys such “outsider” artists as Minnie Evans, Bessie Harvey, Marie “Big Mama” Roseman, and J. B. Murray. The last, for instance, an illiterate farmer from rural Georgia, produced thousands of calligraphic scrawls—“the language of the Holy Spirit, direct from God”—after an eagle appeared to him. Other manifestations are contaminated by a murky undercurrent of voodoo, detectable in works by John Outterbridge, David Hammons, James “Son” Thomas, Rudy Shepherd, and even Ralph Lemon, who photographs eerie, animal-masked figures in low-income interiors. The exhibition is at its richest when it embraces the erotic permissiveness associated with the Deep South. Witness the sloppy pansexuality permeating drawings by Henry Speller and his wife Georgia; the grinning hijinks of the pastel, Pokémon-like creatures populating Frank Albert Jones’s “Devil Houses”; or Patricia Satterwhite’s sketches of potential QVC commodities, with their lurid, TV-ready taglines.
That said, the show buckles when it tries to force inspiration, as with the calculated spontaneity of Xaviera Simmons’s The Favorable Outcome of Every Navigation, 2014, and Courtesy the Artist’s 24-Hour Ballad, 2013–14, which invited friends and collaborators to offer their own interpretation of the folk standard “Black is the Color (of My True Love’s Hair),” to mixed results. The thing about a Southern drawl is that one can always tell when it’s affected.
José Esteban Muñoz’s scholarship catalyzed academics and artists alike around the utopian possibilities of queer world-making. His 1996 essay “Ephemera as Evidence” argued for “traces, glimmers, residues, and specks” as affirmation of minoritarian lives. The essay provides the titular inspiration for this Visual AIDS exhibition, cocurated by two of Muñoz’s former students, Joshua Lubin-Levy and Ricardo Montez. The timely show pays tribute to Muñoz, who passed away unexpectedly in December, through its curatorial emphasis on the performative and pedagogical models at the heart of Muñoz’s thinking.
Queer acts of performance and their material traces figure prominently. Jack Waters and Peter Cramer’s À la recherche du temps trouvé, 2014, is an ecstatic set-piece installation replete with costumes and trinkets that will house performances during the exhibition. Also on display are materials from the archive of the infamous party scene the Clit Club (1990–2002), including an original uniform, a safer-sex handbook for lesbians, and cassettes of DJ sets from the festivities. These indexes—both archival and activated—evince queer worlds and support Muñoz’s conception of their radical potential.
Students from Ricardo Montez’s New School course Queer Art and the Legacy of AIDS have also assisted in curating a significant portion of the intergenerational exhibition. A standout of this pedagogical approach is the up-and-coming Kia Labeija, who curated a display by Jessica Whitbread and also has her own photographs included in the exhibition. Two of Labeija’s stunning self-portraits intimately grieve the loss of her mother to AIDS-related complications: In Mourning Sickness, 2014, Labeija lies huddled in a bathroom staring sorrowfully, while in Kia and Mommy, 2014, Labeija leans in her bedroom with a similarly anguished gaze, clutching a photograph of her mother. Though a palpable sense of loss hangs over the exhibition—evoking Muñoz as well as those who have passed in the wake of the AIDS crisis—the art and ephemera displayed here stands as enduring witness to these vanishings.
As New York lurches out of a punishing winter into a temperamental if not completely aborted spring, Jason Loebs focuses his second solo exhibition at this gallery on the evanescent properties and manifestations of heat. In a briskly poetic essay on the topic—distributed at the gallery—Loebs meditates on the symbolic harmonies between thermal energy and Bataille’s notions of Marxian surplus value, networked economies, and hot microprocessors mining exotic cryptocurrencies, thermographic imagery, and recycling programs for “waste” heat.
In the back room, Loebs turns mats of carbon-heating film—electricity-powered sheets of plastic installed on spa floors and under domestic floor tiles—into freestanding, cylindrical sculptures. With a light touch, he transforms technology that lends perambulatory comfort to something that demands to be walked around rather than over, at once charting new motions for both visitors and the air, which invisibly rises as it is heated. In the main gallery, a new suite of abstractions substitute black thermal paste for oil paint—a material used to conduct heat out of engaged CPUs into copper heat sinks. Rather than cooling busy circuitry, these works absorb ambient thermal energy and transfer them to inert, indifferent white canvas supports—a pessimistic model, perhaps, for today’s accelerating, socially driven, and exchange-oriented culture of art collecting.
In this theater of thermodynamic motions, it’s easy to find oneself strangely stilled in front of the show’s most powerful work. Near the gallery entrance, a museological arrangement of various precious and semiprecious ores used to manufacture computer equipment suggest astral origins but belie a patrimony of online overseas merchants. The artist’s only modification of these rocks is a light application of security ink, something used by nation states (and counterfeiters) to authenticate or “sign” monetary notes and legal documents. While historically an artist's signature asserts authenticity and indelible origin, Loebs's signatory gesture rather implies one state in a chain of material trafficking.
There’s an unsalutary air about Nancy Grossman’s wall-bound assemblages: a sense of impaction or suppurated swell like a beetle squished then left to harden. For all their blunt materiality, her bas-reliefs, produced between 1964 and ’67, invite metaphor. Elaborated on canvas reinforced with plywood, each consists of leather artifacts—gloves, jackets, boots, harnesses, and so forth—which Grossman has deconstructed and collaged with bits of mangled wood, metal, rubber, and rope. Color is subdued, restricted to reddish browns and black acrylic, which coats the scavenged debris and canvas ground: here, a desultory splotch; there, a faux-AbEx drip. The results, hung alongside a selection of drawings and three freestanding forms, straddle painting and sculpture.
Consider Mummy, 1965, a buckled accretion of tubing, sheet metal, and machine parts atop canvas. Scabrous, peeling, and aggressively odd, Grossman’s miscreation seems a direct counter to the steel geometries of David Smith, to whom one of the show’s assemblages is dedicated. If Smith’s process of welding mimed that of industrial facture, Grossman’s channels the economy’s underside: the discards of the machine age, made archaic by the economy’s incipient transition from industry to information. Though rusted and disused, her materials are strangely vital. Their animism is heightened by the work’s title, which names a mass of embalmed flesh imagined to possess the uncanny ability to come to life.
Grossman’s art is often read as a landscape of psychic pain: an exorcism of childhood traumas, of the sort that rhymes more with AbEx anguish than 1960s cool. As the slang for mother, “mummy” does little to dispel such readings. Discomfiting, tortured, raw: Such adjectives cast Grossman as a feminist action hero, enacting the violence of Vietnam (1965 marked the deployment of American combat troops overseas) in material form. Piling up junk with suffocating density, her assemblages perform dystopia not through destruction, but through manic, heaving construction. There’s apocalypse here and fascination in the aftermath.
Gone are Kara Walker’s signature decal-flat silhouettes; no longer, in her latest show, do viewers confront two-dimensional, Rabelaisian scenes replete with characters ambiguously propositioning, fondling, dancing, and otherwise interacting with each other. Commissioned by Creative Time, Walker’s latest installation is scaled up, monumentalized, and experienced in the round. Its centerpiece, a thirty-five-foot-tall, seventy-five-foot long black woman, is constructed from sugar and posed like a sphinx. Her mien appears both seraphic and perturbed as she holds court, her status as a “mammy” accentuated by a smattering of cherubic figures made from brown sugar and porting baskets of sucrose, who seem to alternately conjure blackamoor figurines and the folkloric character of the tar baby.
Often, postindustrial spaces register as invisible tabula-rasa backdrops for contemporary art, or at most sites whose rough edges enhance the material and formal concerns of the work. (Take the minimalist offerings of Dia:Beacon, a former Nabisco cardboard-printing outfit.) But here Walker explicitly ties her cavernous and dilapidated site—the condemned Domino Sugar Factory—to the specifics of a historical economy predicated on exploitation: the Caribbean sugar-plantation model and the transatlantic slave trade that sustained it. In light of the stereotypes of black women that stem from such rankling chapters of history, the overt, almost august sexuality of Walker’s sphinx is particularly fraught. Visitors leaving the installation come face-to-face with her exposed vulva—while a sign, placed vexingly nearby, encourages viewers to post photos of the sphinx online. Walker once spoke of her work’s preoccupation with “attempts to steal power away from others.” By goading visitors to interact with her sphinx (whether by taking pictures or sneaking daubs of sugar falling from her toes, as someone did the day I visited), Walker has in effect enacted one of her bawdy trademark tableaux. Only now, many of her actors are flesh and blood, and they’re equipped with the tools of social media.
“Witness,” as its title proclaims, is a bold admixture of radical voices attesting to the spirit and conscience of the 1960s. The decade has often been revisited as a period when artistic earnestness and social efficacy prevailed in spite of an increasingly commercialized market. Rarely has the result been as intriguing as in this exhibit, which brings Pop art, Abstract Expressionism, neo-Dada, and the Black Arts Movement into conversation.
Outliers of canonical movements command center stage, from Robert Indiana’s brash The Confederacy: Alabama, 1965, to Norman Lewis’s Double Cross, 1971. Sam Gilliam’s Red April, 1970, is a shimmering curtain of pastels punctuated by splashes of blues, yellows, and a prodigious use of red. Part of a series about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the riots that followed, Gilliam’s large painting lures the viewer into its fluid veil of color only to press discomfort with the violent application of vermillion. Philip Guston’s return to figuration in works such as City Limits, 1969, whose comically charged Klansmen have been dually interpreted as symbols of protest and apolitical reflections of the artist’s inner self, makes sense in this context. The slick oil residue of a body lingers on David Hammons’s The Door (Admissions Office), 1969 a symbolic threshold of Jim Crowism.
The stars of this show are rarely seen works that include Melvin Edwards’s Chaino, 1964, Pauline Boty’s Countdown to Violence, 1964, Jack Whitten’s Birmingham, 1964, Jae Jarrell’s Urban Wall Suit, 1969, and Joe Overstreet’s Justice, Faith, Hope and Peace, 1969. Reminiscent of scholarly reassessments of ’60s art in the ’90s, the exhibition, curated by Teresa Carbone and Kellie Jones, manages to incorporate works that are often marginalized because they do not fit neatly into established art-historical movements. Here, however, elegant visual connections, such as those between Elizabeth Catlett’s 1969 lithograph Negro es Bello II, and Indiana’s Black Yield Brother 3, 1963, allow familiar formal idioms—seriality and the use of popular signage among others —to reemerge in light of a shared engagement with the central issues of their time.
“With Hidden Noise,” a sound installation curated by artist Stephen Vitiello and organized by Independent Curators International, benefits greatly from its location just outside Manhattan, nestled in a quiet public garden in the Bronx. The exhibition consists of just a few speakers in an otherwise empty space, looping a selection of work by some of today’s leading sonic artists, such as Michael J. Schumacher and Pauline Oliveros. Yet the installation also encompasses the surrounding architecture, the shifting levels of natural light, and the competing white noise. The wall text asks visitors to listen “with ears they may not know they had”: to focus not only on the nuances of each piece but the act of that sense itself. This is an exhibition about listening, wherein Vitiello traces a lineage for contemporary sound art in the charged silences of Fluxus performances, as in John Cage’s seminal 4'33", which forced audience members to acknowledge the sounds of the concert space or of their own restless bodies.
In the spirit of Fluxus, close listening and curiosity are rewarded throughout a diverse selection of works; we search for the origins of sounds, be they borrowed or invented, digital or analog, scored or spontaneous. Several pieces foreground contrast: Jennie C. Jones’s Piccolo Largo, 2008/2011, sets the titular instrument’s high, extended siren against a fast-paced tuba score. Steve Roden’s ambrotos, 2011, creates an ambient soundscape through patient repetition. In the curator’s own contribution, Yellow (from Four Color Sound), 2008, sharp, metallic currents blend with organic instrumental tones. Throughout each piece, noises jump between channels, circulating from one speaker to the next and revealing the inherently spatial quality of sound.
Supports/Surfaces, the radical painting movement that began in the South of France in the late-1960s, comprised a group of artists that opened works to the spaces around them by decoupling or merging painted surface and physical support. Composition entailed folding, cutting, rolling, staining, or stamping, and materials were drawn from a range of traditional and unorthodox sources. This show, the first of its kind in the United States, finally allows a view onto the group’s efforts to break painting down to its basic structures, procedures, and materials, amid the political and intellectual upheavals following May ’68.
Individually, the exhibited works can seem meager, but together they convey the force of the artists’ bid to maintain painting’s intellectual relevance in the face of challenges from Minimalism and Conceptual art. Claude Viallat’s 1972/108, 1972, superimposes identity and difference with serial hand-painted shapes in ink on fabric that approximate a grid. In Pliage, 1973, Patrick Saytour combines folding and staining to generate a seemingly infinite series of visual permutations. In another work also titled Pliage, André-Pierre Arnal folds his canvas to impress a grid that is unrelated to its surface composition of yellow and green shapes, which have been spray-painted on, leaving us to wonder whether the relationship is a byproduct of the process or its intended result. Striking a humorous and performative note, Louis Cane offers a self-portrait composed of his name and the words ARTISTE-PEINTRE stamped repeatedly in different colors and orientations across the surface.
The Supports/Surfaces artists displayed their works both inside and outside traditional galleries—a gesture that reinforced their objective to open their paintings materially and spatially to the increasingly precarious struggles for political progress unfolding around them. While this connection belongs to history, their challenge to individualism is recognizable in the deconstructive call-and-response between works that might otherwise recede into decoration.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Here today, gone tomorrow. If last year’s overnight whitewashing of graffiti haven 5Pointz in Queens revealed anything, its 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.
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.
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.