Abraham Adams

  • picks June 25, 2018

    Anne Libby

    Conceptual rococo is a common hedge, designed to lend itself to any discourse that would have it. I like something else entirely, a kind of concretism whose late place in genre history reminds me of a postapocalyptic settlement, both decadent and thriving: work by artists such as New York–based Anne Libby, where we can, for once, safely ignore the press release. I did, and so retained my feeling of disquieted attraction to her pools and pillars of—what, I don’t know; their coppery and vaguely aeronautical composites of machine parts looked from far away as if they would disclose themselves up

  • passages August 22, 2017

    Derek Walcott (1930–2017)

    DEREK WALCOTT WROTE, “ANSWERING DEATH, EACH WHISPERED, ‘ME?’” He died in March where he was born, in Saint Lucia.

    A Nobel laureate, Walcott taught poetry at Boston University. Along with poets including Édouard Glissant, who died in 2011, Walcott bore the legacy of the previous Caribbean generation’s poetic icon, Aimé Césaire: Glissant, through a philosophy grounded in pastoral abstraction; Walcott, through a Shakespearian epicism that measured the region’s history with a “hymn’s metronome” (to use one of his own phrases).

    Both writers were animated by the spirit of opacity—a term Glissant

  • picks April 18, 2017

    Jean Blackburn

    The titular installation at the center of Jean Blackburn’s current exhibition, “Warp,” comprises connected domestic scenes evoking something like a bedroom, laundry room, and kitchen. Where another artist might have separated the elements into autonomous, salable sculptures, this work appears intended just for this sort of encounter with an audience, rather than for Instagram-then-freeport afterlives—as if to match the disappearance of the unremunerated gendered labors native to its subject matter. The title’s homonyms, for weaving and distortion, limn the psychic space that overgrows a household

  • passages October 21, 2016

    Max Ritvo (1990–2016)

    MAX,

    We die. You did, who seemed to have believed this fact. That we are of the nature of dying means that what happened to you in August in Los Angeles is that you went ahead of us. If too far ahead.

    I froze on a Brooklyn sidewalk the moment I realized I would no longer be chanting your name as I had for months with everyone in our temple: “Max Ritvo . . . Monastic Senjin . . . May they heal all their ills.”

    Did you hear, before you died, that Senjin’s last words were “I’m ready”? I have wondered if you were ready, who wrote:

    When my heart stops, it will be the end of certain things,

    but not the

  • picks July 20, 2016

    “Silent Revolt: Norwegian Process Art and Conceptual Art in the 1970s and 80s”

    It’s strange to see Conceptualism treated like the Parthenon, but here we find a fragment of that globalizing movement subject to repatriation of a kind: a survey of internationally trained mostly Norwegian artists of the 1970s and ’80s, brought home together by the state under the sign of heritage.

    Aggressively curated, wall to wall, the gluttonous and satisfying show is dominated by a twelve-foot sphere of felt (Inghild Karlsen’s Pustende ballong [Breathing Balloon], 1988); the startling abjection of a shin-high case of neatly gridded decomposing loaves of bread (Bård Breivik’s Moldy Bread,

  • picks March 10, 2016

    Carlos Betancourt

    “Looks like fun,” said my companion at Carlos Betancourt’s capacious retrospective “Re-Collections,” looking up at a projection of the artist writhing naked in a room-size pile of glitter for the video En la arena sabrosa (In the Pleasant Sand), 2004. The other half of this installation—dated to 2015—is a grid of several hundred concrete bucket-sand-castle-style cylinders, also smudged in purple sparkles, giving the impression of a weirdly abstract, geometric favor from the artist’s one-man party. “Fun” may be a fitting word for the exhibition’s attitude, whose knowing exuberance in treating

  • picks September 11, 2015

    Trisha Baga

    There is a scene toward the end of Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975) in which a lantern on a solitary table rolls and falls into the grass, and though we hear a constant sound of leaves, the fall is silent. In Trisha Baga’s latest solo outing, the subtle drama of that unexpected sensual loss receives a strangely maximalist reincarnation. One scene of the 3-D video installation MS Orlando (all works 2015) depicts a group dance lesson in a mall, led by a head-miked, corporately poloed instructor, who becomes devoiced midscene, as if she’d switched to speaking with the silence of galactic voids. This

  • picks September 09, 2015

    Claudia Andujar

    I still feel as if there is a knifepoint underneath my eyelid: Such is the somatic staying power of Claudia Andujar’s 1967 photographs of “psychic surgeon” Zé Arigó, who performed his “miracles” with cutlery on that most delicate of facial features. It’s this power to compel the body of the viewer that has been Andujar’s trademark throughout the past half century of her work, the origins of which are under retrospective here. The show leads up until the early 70s, when she became renowned for dancerly depictions of the Yanomami tribes of northern Brazil. Their absence in this show, titled “no

  • picks May 22, 2015

    “So You Want to See”

    “Some clients ask us to piss on them, but I'd be happy to shit on them on behalf of all women.” So opens this group exhibition—including works by Sanja Iveković, Rajkamal Kahlon, Victoria Lomasko, OKO, Cecilia Vicuña, and Carla Zaccagnini—with the words of one woman in Lomasko’s Girls, 2012, a collection of impromptu sketches of Russian sex workers whom the artist interviewed. It’s not the only sentence in the exhibition that rings with the easily recognizable sound of necessity. “They are willing to bury us alive,” reports Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in Lomasko’s Pretrial Tagansky Hearing Pussy Riot

  • picks April 17, 2015

    Elizabeth Orr

    The sun sets on a passive-solar conference room, on ergonomic pleather rolling chairs around a glossy table with a conference phone. Everyone’s excited in this video (Elizabeth Orr’s Applied Marketing Topic: Loss Leader [all works 2015]) to talk about a pricing strategy for which the piece and exhibition, Orr’s first solo, take their names. (A loss lead, like a nascent art practice, is something offered at a profit loss in hope of future gain.) Swiveling toward the camera, a corporately assertive acolyte played by the artist Mariana Valencia vaguely declares: “My understanding of loss lead is

  • picks April 03, 2015

    Trenton Doyle Hancock

    Trenton Doyle Hancock works in a baroque grotesque, from portraits whose emetic intricacy recalls George Grosz to centerless, Boschian tableaux. This retrospective starts with drawings from the artist’s childhood and maps his career’s uncanny continuity up to the present season. Already in the heavy graphite wobble of a ten-year-old, Hancock had chosen Torpedoboy as his avatar, a caped and hero-diapered character who would appear throughout the decades and here adorns a site-specific installation of his 2002 series “Studio Floor.”

    This drawing series is the exhibition’s garish centerpiece, with

  • picks March 20, 2015

    Hayley Silverman

    Noah’s ark, that proto–postapocalyptic time capsule, has manifested as a yellow wheelbarrow of varicolored resin sand dollars at the entrance to New York–based Hayley Silverman’s “Unmanned Lander”: Each transclucent cast inside contains a pair of coins or other mated monies (berries, pollen) for the times to come (Crude Currency, 2015). Meanwhile, the sculpture’s weathered frame appears to say this has been tried and has failed before. Throughout the show, utopia is in the shadow of the retrofuture: Witness Is terraforming reincarnation?, 2015 (with Emily Shinada), an octagon of inward-facing

  • picks March 12, 2015

    Erica Baum and Barb Choit

    Have you experienced inanimate surveillance—a shoe, a handbag sitting on a table, staring at you with a vaguely smug, unanswerable formalism? I have. Erica Baum and Barb Choit have, and with this exhibition they venture to reciprocate the gaze, in photographs whose deadpan reaches the under-sung, confident beauty that is true blandness.

    Refreshingly, the premise of the show (part of a series by the gallery) is to display material that inspires the artists’ current output proper. (Both Vancouver-based Choit and New York’s Baum are better known for work adapting the sensibilities of Concrete poetry

  • passages March 03, 2015

    Tomaž Šalamun (1941–2014)

    TOMAŽ ŠALAMUN IS DEAD. On the other hand, as he put it:

    The worst imaginable kind of fascism would be

    if the soul belonged only to the living

    and not to the dust and stones!

    On the subject of soul, he also wrote:

    The drunk sells his coat.

    The thief sells his mother.

    Only the poet sells his soul to separate it

    from the body that he loves.

    And around the subject of stones:

    Red flowers grow in the sky, there’s a shadow in the garden.

    The light penetrates, there’s no light to be seen.

    How then can the shadow be seen, there’s a shadow in the garden,

    all around big white stones lie scattered, we can sit

  • picks February 20, 2015

    Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook

    Dogs and the dead populate the videos, sculptures, and print works in Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s first US retrospective, a show that summons questions about what companion species are beyond human companionship, what cadavers are other than former humans.

    “A person who dies had the ability to die,” the Thailand-based artist gently proposes in the film The Class I, 2005, addressing a room of deceased “students” on trays, bodies borrowed from a hospital in Turin. The line echoes Maurice Blanchot’s insight that death is horrifying to us because it promises to take away the mortality that makes us

  • picks February 09, 2015

    Mary Walling Blackburn

    During the reading of Mary Walling Blackburn’s pro-choice children’s book released in fall 2014 at e-flux (Sister Apple, Sister Pig), a child in the audience shouted, “This is b-o-r-n-g [sic]: boring!” It’s true: The book was not really written for children. It is a provocation for adults, concept performing form in what the artist has referred to as a kind of drag. So it is as well for the titular work in Walling Blackburn’s current show, “♂ Anti-Fertility Garden,” described in its précis as a planted installation of vegetables that cause sterility in men. But this is not a garden in the yard;

  • picks January 28, 2015

    Moriah Evans

    Moriah Evans’s much-anticipated debut at Issue Project Room begins before you enter, and you are let in one by one. This feels oddly both intimate and distancing, as if the dance is being privately disclosed to you but taking place for its own sake. You sit and are instructed not to transgress the orange line in the marble floor just past your feet, past which it is already visible that a very demanding piece of choreography is being executed. Executed: You will be aware throughout of the distinction between dance and dancers. It feels heroic, their achievement of this baroque, athletic repetition

  • picks January 16, 2015

    Peter Wächtler

    Something is wrong with the centurions. They’re struggling beneath the royal box seating’s canopy. So why are the attendants still fanning the throne with peacock feathers? And have none of them seen the giant wheel the rest of the coliseum’s audience is fleeing—belonging, it seems, to a divine chariot crashing the mortals’ race? There are no explanations here for this or any of the other narratives implied in Peter Wächtler’s watercolors on display at Reena Spaulings. Neither for the row of plaster busts depicting unnamed people at the rear wall of the gallery (all works untitled, 2014). The

  • picks December 16, 2014

    “Three Cups Fragrance”

    “Three Cups Fragrance” takes its name from tea consumed in three successive brews of the same leaves. The précis offers tasting notes about this tea without a hint of further commentary. Routine, privately comforting, to recycle drink while savoring its transformations is not the action of one struggling to impress a visitor. But to watch the quiet concept of this show divide along a group of formally distinctive works is mesmerizing in its humorous light touch.

    Oto Gillen’s portrait of a helicopter (Untitled, 2014), overdressed in double matting and a frame of sculpted corrugated cardboard, is

  • passages October 29, 2014

    Bohumila Grögerová (1921–2014)

    1967 WAS A YEAR that poetry as a visual art briefly saw recognition in book publishing on a scale that reflected its long influence on writers and artists, with one major anthology of Concrete poetry released in North America and another in Europe. Bohumila Grögerová, the poet responsible for the latter, Czech publication (and with it, European access to the decade in graphic writing), died this August in Prague, leaving behind a body of poems, memoirs, children’s stories, radio plays, and nearly two hundred books collaboratively translated with her companion, Josef Hiršal. Though she continued