Ania Szremski

  • Henry Darger, At Jennie Richee. Part one of 216. Little girl between Blengins / . . . Protect a little skittery child from Glandelinians, ca. 1950–60, double-sided watercolor, graphite and carbon tracing on collaged paper, 24 × 107".

    Henry Darger

    How would the notoriously reclusive, misanthropic Henry Darger (1892–1973) have reckoned with his posthumous success? Today Darger is virtually a household name, thanks to the musicians, librettists, dancers, filmmakers, and authors who have kept his spirit alive in popular culture, creating an entire brand through a froth of Darger-inspired output. (The adjective Dargeresque has become common enough to need no explanation.) He is so familiar that the succinct recent exhibition of the artist’s work at Andrew Edlin Gallery, “The Double-Sided Dominions of Henry Darger,” could be described using

  • Dan Herschlein, The Hourglass Figure, 2020, wood, plaster, pigmented joint compound, epoxy putty, milk paint, wax, graphite, colored pencil, 61 1/2 × 46 1/2 × 6 1/4".

    Dan Herschlein

    The shuddersome tableaux created by Brooklyn-based artist Dan Herschlein aren’t intended to frighten, he says. On the contrary, he hopes his eldritch images will offer some solace to the suffering. But “Dweller,” his solo exhibition at JTT, was so preternaturally dominated by creepiness that finding comfort therein seemed unfathomable.

    Though never directly pictured, some sort of violence was implied across the six painted reliefs on view. In Breathing in the Corner (all works 2020), a man’s barely human face—reduced to a trio of grimy, puckered orifices—collapses like a vacuum-sucked plastic

  • View of “Caitlin Berrigan,” 2019. Background: Imaginary Explosions, Episode 2, 2019. Foreground: Big Dumb Rocks, 2019.

    Caitlin Berrigan

    What does a rock want? In “Imaginary Explosions,” Caitlin Berrigan’s first solo exhibition in New York, the artist alluded to “mineral desires,” which made me wonder if stones are sentient things, always yearning beneath our feet. Her show offered up a chilly tale about a band of environmental saviors trying to commune with a geological consciousness in order to “become mineral”—to borrow a Deleuzian turn of phrase—a narrative that was strangely beautiful and poignant.

    Two videos formed the crux of Berrigan’s presentation. Both were filled with esoteric scientific and theoretical terms that zoom

  • Tishan Hsu, Liquid Circuit, 1987, acrylic, vinyl cement compound, alkyd, oil, and aluminum on wood, 7' 6“ × 11' 11” × 9".

    “Tishan Hsu: Liquid Circuit”

    Curated by Sohrab Mohebbi 

    By the mid-1980s, Tishan Hsu was already creating weird works informed by the impact of an increasingly technologized reality on our minds and bodies. The paintings and objects were strange and slow—totally disconnected formally from what Hsu’s fellow East Village artists were creating to popular acclaim at the time—but they presaged the concerns of an entire future generation of artists. Now that the art world has caught up to him, Hsu is finally receiving his first US museum survey. The exhibition, co-organized with SculptureCenter, New York, features close to fifty

  • View of “Wael Shawky,” 2019. Background: The Gulf Project Camp: Carved wood (after ‘Nighttime in a City’ by Mir Sayyid Ali, c.1540), 2019. Foreground, from left: The Gulf Project Camp: Glass Sculpture # 1, 2019; The Gulf Project Camp: Sculpture # 5, 2019.

    Wael Shawky

    The sensuous impact of Wael Shawky’s exhibition “The Gulf Project Camp” at Lisson Gallery was stunning, immediate. Soaring walls glistened, slicked with a pearly pink that offset the poisonously fulgent cyan of a crumbly, crenellated gypsum structure zigzagging to nowhere in the middle of the room. Then we noticed the scent—a deeply historical aroma that emanated from five grand reliefs exquisitely crafted out of hefty timber planks that were between four hundred and two thousand years old. The gallery told me the ancient cellulose was obtained from a company in Mestre, Italy, known for its vast

  • Cover of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (Allen & Co. Ltd., 1977). From “As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now.”

    “As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now”

    In his book The Philosophy of “As If” (1911), the Kantian philosopher Hans Vaihinger argued that our collective understanding of reality is built on “scientific fictions” that help us “overcome difficulties of thought,” and thus “the ‘unreal’ is just as important as the world of the so-called real or actual.” In 1929, the term science fiction entered popular media, thanks to the inventor and pioneering advocate of the genre Hugo Gernsback. Esoteric philosophy was the last thing on Gernsback’s mind when he started circulating the phrase—but the speculative literary works he published seem inspired

  • View of “Arakawa,” 2019. From left: A Couple, 1966–67; Untitled (Webster Dictionary A & B), 1965; The Communicating Vases, 1964–65. Photo: Rob McKeever.


    It’s hard to get a read on the artist-architect Shusaku Arakawa (known mononymously as Arakawa). The notorious self-mythologizer is best remembered for the architectural fantasies he designed and constructed alongside his lifelong partner, Madeline Gins, ostensibly to help people live forever. But he died in 2010 at the age of seventy-three. “This mortality thing is bad news,” Gins said afterward, only to pass four years later. Arakawa’s admirers have been evasive about his transhumanist predilection, explaining it away as poetic metaphor. Did he really believe in eternal life? Or was he playing

  • Shih Chieh Huang, T-24-L (detail), 2016–17, mixed media, 12 × 10 × 12'.

    Shih Chieh Huang

    A heightened awareness of climate change and the inevitable ruination it will bring forth is producing a specific kind of emotional distress that requires a new lexicon of anguish. Mental-health workers now treat conditions such as “eco-anxiety,” “environmental melancholy,” and “ecological grief.” But there was little trace of such misery in Shih Chieh Huang’s exhibition “Incubate” at Ronald Feldman Gallery. This was surprising, since Huang utilizes materials (plastics of varied sorts) and forms (evocative of shimmering deep-sea creatures) one immediately associates with disaster: the waste of

  • Amar Kanwar, Such a Morning, 2017, digital video projection, color, sound, 85 minutes.

    Amar Kanwar

    To retreat into sleep during times of political cataclysm is to concede to failure, but in thus surrendering, the sleeper is ultimately able to rebroker reality in her dreams, the Egyptian author Haytham el-Wardany proposes in The Book of Sleep (2017). What Jean-Luc Nancy describes as the illogical, ungraspable state of slumber has become a conceptual touchstone for some interlocutors of Egypt’s wrenching revolutionary experience (see Anna Della Subin’s book-length essay Not Dead but Sleeping [2016] or the exhibition “When the whites of the eyes are red,” curated by Shehab Awad at the CCS Bard

  • Wes Larios, Acknowledgements (detail), 2018, vinyl text. Installation view. Photo: Mark Waldhauser.

    “A new job to unwork at”

    When Maria Gómez Chávez struck out on her own, her only option for getting by was to marry a man—and over the years, she kept getting married again and again to support her family. Wes Larios, her grandson, understands that he has the privilege of being an artist today because of her economic pragmatism. As part of the group exhibition “A new job to unwork at,” Larios’s text-and-photo installation Acknowledgements,2018, paid homage to his grandmother’s largely unseen labor and myriad sacrifices: Her name and the names of her consecutive husbands and their children, along with their birth

  • Ione Saldanha, Cidades (Cities), 1964, gouache on cardboard, 7 7⁄8 × 9 3⁄4".

    Etel Adnan, Ione Saldanha, and Carolee Schneemann

    Beauty is a difficult thing to grapple with in a moment of political cataclysm. Is it an indulgence, a retreat, a surrender? Is finding pleasure in a gorgeous artwork the equivalent of pulling the covers over your head? It would be easy to say yes, and then to dismiss a show such as Galerie Lelong & Co.’s “Of the Self and of the Other.” The exhibition was clearly organized to capitalize on current tastes in the market, as it brought together three older female artists: Etel Adnan, the late Ione Saldanha (who died in 2001 at the age of eighty), and Carolee Schneemann. The works on view were

  • Tommy Hartung, R.U.R. Act One: The Viewer, 2017, still from the 8-minute color HD video component of a mixed-media installation additionally comprising two closed-circuit cameras.

    Tommy Hartung

    Science fiction flourishes in the “great whirlpool periods of history,” according to Darko Suvin, a pioneering theorist of that critically disdained genre. The Czech intellectual Karel Čapek wrote during one of those traumatic times—just after the unspeakable devastation of World War I, just before the ascension of the Third Reich, and during the rise of communism (a philosophy he virulently opposed). Čapek’s 1920 play R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots is a drama about a cheap workforce of manufactured humanoids who murder their human creators. It’s now best remembered for introducing the word