Ara H. Merjian


    IN COLD SPRING, New York, just a few stops before Dia:Beacon on Metro-North’s Hudson Line and across the river from Storm King Art Center, sits a new museum: Magazzino Italian Art. Its founders—Nancy Olnick, a New York City native, and Giorgio Spanu, from Sardinia by way of Paris—plainly envisioned the space as an additional destination along an already distinguished art corridor. Well before it opened its doors, Magazzino was expected to fill a pedagogical gap: the lack of a wide audience familiar with postwar and contemporary Italian art. Despite the relative prominence of Arte Povera

  • “Giorgio Griffa: A Retrospective 1968-2014”

    Featuring three dozen works, this exhibition forms a retrospective in nuce of an artist only belatedly receiving his institutional due. Born in Turin in 1936, Giorgio Griffa came of age when painting’s increasingly embattled status often gave rise to extrapictorial experiments. If Griffa clung doggedly to painting, he refused to stretch it into framed propriety. Instead, he developed the technique he uses to this day: Applying acrylic directly to unprimed canvas, he folds and unfolds works unceremoniously, letting creases add to the effect of his pastel strokes, which

  • “Italian Futurism”

    FROM THE FRONT PAGE of Paris’s Le Figaro in February 1909, the “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” heralded not only a new cultural movement but, in the same hectoring breath, its own proleptic obsolescence. “When we are forty, others who are younger and stronger will throw us into the wastebasket, like useless manuscripts . . . !” So declared the Futurist poet and impresario F. T. Marinetti, hurling his now-famous paeans to youth, speed, and the sovereignty of the machine. He vowed to demolish celebrated monuments, artworks, and academies—those past glories to which Italy’s cultural

  • picks March 21, 2014

    Jordan Kantor

    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 wings—particularly 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”).

  • picks January 22, 2014

    Miller Updegraff

    In a kind of homecoming for the artist George Grosz—who lived and taught in New York City for two decades until his death in 1955—Miller Updegraff’s latest solo show lends new life to the exiled German’s most salient motifs: bourgeois pigs and prostitutes, military officials and disaffected city denizens. Adapting tropes from Grosz’s drawings of the 1920s, Updegraff’s paintings form at once a palimpsest and a compendium of his work: withering X-rays of Weimar Germany’s social and political angst, rendered in caricatural line. Interestingly, in several instances Updegraff does not use pigment to

  • picks October 29, 2013

    “On the Relativity of Distance (and Some of its Consequences)”

    From Milton Gendel’s reviews in Art News of Alberto Burri’s work to Cy Twombly’s perennial presence on the Italian peninsula, the postwar art scenes in Italy and the United States have long enjoyed a good degree of cross-fertilization. “On the Relativity of Distance (and Some of its Consequences)” takes up this intersection, the first part featuring work by artists practicing in both countries between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s and the second segment featuring work by contemporary artists at the National Academy School who have worked under the sway of this earlier generation. Rather than

  • film October 29, 2013

    Vampire Diaries

    “NOSFERATU. Does this word not sound like the deathbird calling your name at midnight?” The rhetorical question of this introductory title card in F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu would seem a heavy-handed addendum to Bram Stoker’s classic. And yet, few films of the silent era can lay claim to a more nuanced treatment of gothic gloom than Murnau’s. Film Forum offers up this hymn to the night just in time for Halloween, along with a 1979 homage by Werner Herzog. With outsized ears, rat-like teeth, and two sets of hideously long nails, Herzog’s eponymous count—played by the controversial Klaus

  • picks August 13, 2013

    Brian Duggan

    Built specifically for the ISCP gallery space, Brian Duggan’s latest installation, “We Like It Up Here, It’s Windy, Really Nice,” recreates the roof of an Indonesian train carriage. The whimsy of the installation’s title takes on an ironic clang in light of what it actually represents: concrete balls hung over railway lines by the country’s government to discourage individuals from riding atop train roofs. In Duggan’s work, metal-colored balls attached to heavy chains dangle ominously above a gangway of bowed plywood. Animated by fans, the balls’ kineticism—along with the noise of an attendant

  • picks July 24, 2013

    Cameron Gray

    Huddled in a corner sporting green hair and an amusing poker face, Cameron Gray figured as a part of his own exhibition’s opening night. Mustard and ketchup bottles lay strewn next to a stack of free T-shirts featuring one of the artist’s designs. On the walls, a few sexy pinups have had their faces replaced with psychedelic patterns, while a sultry photograph features Marlon Brando with his eyes topped by two fake donuts. The admittedly garish aesthetics here coupled with the artist’s impish narcissism (see the exhibition’s title, “Cameron Gray: Birth of a Legend”) seem tempered by a genuine

  • picks July 11, 2013

    “October 18, 1977”

    Assembled by guest curator Birgit Rathsmann, “October 18, 1977” brings together nineteen artists to reflect upon a single day and its rapport with the anxiety of its era. On this night, three members of the militant West German Communist Baader-Meinhof group died in prison, ostensibly through collective suicide—a ruling that has proven polemical since its official decree. Having assassinated several high-profile bankers and industrialists, the group loomed large in the turbulent German Autumn of 1977, in which the dreams of the New Left bled into something more nightmarish. The Baader-Meinhof

  • picks July 08, 2013

    Ben Grasso

    Nearly all of Ben Grasso’s paintings on view in his latest solo exhibition reveal a kinetic, transitive world of architecture on the move—a status underscored by titles like Renovation I, Renovation II, Adaptation, and Rebuilding a Lost Civilization, (all 2012). The building in this last image floats in a vaguely axonometric space, at once coming undone and revealing how it might be put together. Here, several of thirteen paintings recall computer modeling or assembly diagrams. These are not, however, mere technical exercises. The irony of an unlikely midair suspension is tempered with the

  • “In Search of Time”

    With ribbed sides flaring like the gills of some steely fish, Zaha Hadid’s new building for the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University does anything but rest on its Grand River Avenue plot. This importunate assembly of angles pitches, soars, lurches, shifts—refusing the fixity of any formal envelope or elevation, even as it sits within a taut, stainless-steel skin. Following from the kineticism of Hadid’s structure, the museum’s inaugural exhibition, “In Search of Time,” organized by curator and founding director Michael Rush, likewise shrugged off the surrounding

  • picks December 28, 2012

    Edmund Clark

    In Edmund Clark’s mixed-media evocation of imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay, a photograph of a sour green isolation unit sits flanked by a few different images. On the left wall, Camp IV–Mobile Force-Feeding Chair (all works 2009) speaks for itself. Or rather, its inert objecthood is made to speak for the nameless bodies it has restrained. Hung to the right is an interior shot of a well-lit bedroom, its carpeted corner occupied by a child’s plastic slide. A similar juxtaposition obtains nearby, in the image of an exercise cage placed across the gallery from Home IV – Ex-Detainee’s Dining Table.

  • picks December 27, 2012

    David Humphrey

    David Humphrey’s new set of acrylic canvases trade in broad, raw brushstrokes and neatly delineated figures. Nonrepresentational forms alternate with elliptically narrative imagery—an overturned truck, churlish youths, a voyeuristic peeper. The type of coexistence between these phenomena, however, shifts from scene to scene. A foreshortened recession of lounging legs in Kicking Back (all works 2012) ends in an unruly brown smear, while Pink Couch neatly and cheekily corrals its abstraction in a further frame, hung on the wall. Scout’s Break sacrifices spatial coherence altogether, linking

  • picks December 18, 2012


    Featuring work by twenty-nine different artists—many of them represented through multiple contributions—“Fore” continues in the vein of the Studio Museum’s previous group shows (the alliterative “Freestyle,” 2001, “Frequency,” 2005–2006, and “Flow,” 2008). The exhibitions have helped introduce emerging talent in a number of different media, from painting to site specific installation. To be sure, many of the artists in “Fore” have already staked out notable places in the contemporary scene. Noah Davis contributes with Found Photo, 2012, a characteristically arresting portrait of a foregrounded

  • Bernd and Hilla Becher

    The photographic enterprise of Bernd and Hilla Becher is by now as seemingly archetypal as the structures it documents. Recording, over several decades, a range of building “typologies” around the globe—from water towers to grain elevators—their images offer up a kind of anonymous, parallel history of the industrial edifice. The same inexorably milky sky frames each structure, and atmospheric indicators are so minimal as to compel concentration upon the objects themselves. This is not to say that the eye isn’t tempted by minutiae—the erratic arc of tire tracks, cement planters

  • Domenico Gnoli

    Domenico Gnoli’s untimely death in 1970—just months after the widely anticipated show of his paintings at Sidney Janis Gallery in New York—cut short what had promised to be a prodigious career. This exhibition, a presentation of twenty-four selections from the artist’s limited, strikingly consistent corpus, marked a return, of sorts, to a city he first visited in 1956. Departing from the creeds of both abstraction (then in its twilight) and Conceptual practices (on the rise), Gnoli’s work stood out during its time as something of an anomaly and an anachronism, both on American shores

  • picks September 20, 2012

    James Busby

    James Busby’s working materials—from gesso on MDF and spray paint on polycast acrylic to ink on yupo paper and his recent panels made with oil, acrylic, and graphite—are as varied as his method is consistent: Over the past decade, he has been steadfast in his investigation of plasticity, pictorial space, and the playful tussle between them. The pokerfaced, demure white of his earlier output has ceded in this exhibition to a vibrant play of color, which is by turns striped, striated, and laid in rectilinear blocks. Despite this shift, geometry still takes pride of place in Busby’s paintings, and

  • film September 18, 2012

    Fever Dreams

    DERIVING FROM the late 1920s yellow (“giallo”) covers of the Mondadori publishers’ crime series, the giallo literary and cinematic phenomenon comprises what in English is rendered roughly as “crime drama,” and in French, the roman policier. It is to London and Paris, in fact, that the genre may be traced in the main: You see origins in Poe’s Detective Dupin prowling about the Rue Morgue, or Sherlock Holmes’s abode on Baker street. The Parisian pulp crime serial Fantomâs echoes to the far reaches of avant-garde experimentation, from Magritte’s 1927 painting The Menaced Assassin to the masked

  • film September 05, 2012

    Between Men

    TRACING THE TURBULENT vicissitudes of a young New York couple over the arc of a decade, Keep the Lights On keeps the camera trained—almost unwaveringly—on the pair’s faces and physiognomies, arguments and intimacies, by turns steeped in pleasure or charged with anguish. Eric, a Danish, thirtysomething documentary filmmaker who has yet to fulfill his early promise, turns a casual trick with Paul, a closeted lawyer who—after a steamy one-nighter—tells Eric not to get his hopes up, as he has a girlfriend. Against those odds their relationship evolves, but only apace with Paul’s drug-fueled devolution.