Ara H. Merjian

  • 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.

  • picks August 28, 2012

    La Tendenza: Italian Architectures, 1965–1985”

    With 250 drawings, photographs, painting, maquettes, and photographs from one of the postwar period’s more influential architectural movements, “La Tendenza” foregrounds the prominence of visual imagery in architectural innovation in the 1960s through the 1980s, when the Tendenza group—including Alessandro Anselmi, Carlo Aymonino, Paolo Portoghesi, Ernesto N. Rogers, and Aldo Rossi—tackled the daunting landscape that was postwar Italy. The burden of devising an urbanism that could transcend Fascist legacy—learning from its innovations without falling into a dehistoricized functionalism—proved

  • picks June 20, 2012


    Featuring works by five artists in a range of media, this compact exhibition offers some striking interventions into perceptions of space and the poetics of materials. As her raw material of choice, the artist Alicia Martín uses seemingly refined objects: books, which she combines into new, striking configurations. The spherical sculpture here, Meteorito V (Little Meteor), 2007, comprises hundreds of different tomes, pressed into a globular mass. Some volumes are opened outward, as if inviting a read; others offer up only their spines, such that various titles in different languages are tucked

  • picks June 06, 2012

    “The Piers: Art and Sex Along the New York Waterfront”

    Re-creating the sensation of the piers along Manhattan’s West Side Highway––sites, during the 1970s and ’80s, of burgeoning artistic activity and a thriving gay subculture––provided curator Jonathan Weinberg with a daunting task. Assisted by Darren Jones, and informed by a decade of archival research and interviews with artists, “The Piers” assembles a compelling constellation of images, evoking not only a vital dimension of New York’s East Village art scene, but the social and sexual contexts with which it was bound up.

    As the exhibition makes clear, it often proves impossible to tease the erotic

  • film April 26, 2012

    Renaissance Man

    WRITING ON THE ITALIAN THEATER IN 1968, Pier Paolo Pasolini invoked one name in particular as the benchmark of contemporary, avant-garde sensibility: that of Carmelo Bene. As playwright, actor, poet, costume designer, author, and, for a few years, film director, Bene envied nothing of Pasolini’s own extraordinary versatility. And like Pasolini’s similarly unclassifiable oeuvre, Bene’s work has long enjoyed a particular esteem in France (he was an intimate of Pierre Klossowski, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze, even coauthoring a few essays with Deleuze). He remains far less known in the United

  • picks April 18, 2012

    Ron Gorchov

    Bowed like shields or saddles, Ron Gorchov’s canvases arrest the eye as much for the anomaly of their format as the forms they host. In every instance, the curved canvases house at their center a pair of long, rounded shapes, set off against a white, cream, or pinkish field. Some elongated and others stout, these couples conjure up everything from footprints, to beans, to microorganisms suspended in some fluid, though their flatness resists any hint of corpulence. The streaked, watery blue surface of Noli Me Tangere, 2011, recalls the staining techniques of Morris Louis, or perhaps even the late

  • picks March 06, 2012

    Benjamin Cottam

    Benjamin Cottam’s new paintings walk a fine, elegant line between optical pleasure and cerebral provocation. Composed on small, thin rectangular slices of aluminum, the gossamer whimsy of his “Blue Skies” series, 2011–12, evinces a freewheeling serenity. Set against a slate-blue background, white wisps and clots conjure up, at first sight, John Constable’s cloud studies, which were famously painted in direct observation of nature’s fleeting contingencies. The parabolas of white paint smeared across these surfaces, however, are derived from a reality that is anything but organic. Based on

  • picks February 23, 2012

    Garrett Pruter

    Grounded in found photographs gleaned from various sources, Garrett Pruter’s recent body of work lends new visual life to images threatened with obsolescence. For June Gloom (all works 2011), Pruter has inflated a print to sprawling dimensions and then scraped away at the raw, wetted photographic emulsion with a dull blade, leaving a somewhat spectral scene scored with evenly paced yellow notches. In Washed Out, abstract patterns from a scrimlike layer have been cut out and placed over a blown-up image. See also Ship Wrecked, where pieces of the photographic print itself have been excised,

  • picks February 21, 2012

    Anna Bella Geiger

    This tight little show—mounted in the tight little modernist gem of a building by Oscar Niemeyer—offers an illuminating cross-section of one of Brazil’s more incisive postwar artists. Born in Rio, Anna Bella Geiger studied in New York in the 1950s, returning there briefly to teach at Columbia in 1969 before settling definitively in Brazil. Though she staked out an early career as an abstractionist, Geiger has gone on to engage with media ranging from assemblage to engraving to video. This exhibition consists mainly of canvas paintings and works on paper, by turns large and small, figurative and

  • Manfred Mohr

    Though he is one of the pioneers of digital art, Manfred Mohr has remained on the margins of its histories. This compact exhibition—a retrospective in nuce—goes some way in bringing him to the fore. Roughly forty years have passed since “Une esthétique programmée” (A Programmed Aesthetic),” 1971, Mohr’s landmark exhibition of computer-generated art. Held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the show featured a magnetic tape drive and computer plotter machine—programmed by Mohr—that executed algorithmically determined drawings in real time. Long before the computer

  • Jordan Kantor

    The purring and ticking of a 16-mm projector in the first room of Jordan Kantor’s latest exhibition signaled a certain quaintness. That the film takes Monet’s haystack paintings—or rather, photographic reproductions of them—as its subject only underscored that sentiment (but not, in the event, an unselfconscious sentimentality). As some of the more widely circulated images from the latter half of the last century, the Impressionist master’s Les Meules, 1890–91—studies of the most fleeting atmospheric conditions—now bear all the permanence of the commonplace. That ready-made

  • picks November 25, 2011

    Andreas Gursky

    Centering on the Chao Phraya River that cuts through Bangkok on its way to the Gulf of Thailand, Andreas Gursky’s latest series of large-scale photographs (all 2011) swell with a pelagic, even metaphysical sense of sublimity. That aqueous fantasy is punctured by objects that stealthily––but pointedly––upend its slick fantasy: a dirty pink satin child’s mattress afloat on the water; a stray tire; other bits of flotsam that blend in, from afar, with the images’ shimmering surfaces. The play between detail and alloverness is clearly one that Gursky aims for. So too, do the works’ licked, glossy

  • picks November 15, 2011

    Josephine Halvorson

    The objects and surfaces rendered by Josephine Halvorson’s brush are inanimate. But as suggested in this exhibition’s title, “What Looks Back,” they appear as something more than passive. Nearly all of the oil-on-linen paintings presented here (except Sign Holders, 2010) were completed this year, and while they concentrate on a relatively limited repertoire, they induce something strange. Walls, wooden doors, cardboard sheets, industrial tools, machine parts: These are the painter’s objects of choice, usually rendered close to the picture plane. The mechanomorphic oddity of Steam Donkey Valve

  • Lyonel Feininger

    Having lived and worked in Germany for more than half his life, Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956) was something of an unlikely American. This exhibtion—his first major retrospective in the United States in forty-five years—makes a strong case for the importance of his work to the stateside avant-garde, albeit filtered indirectly back across the Atlantic before the artist’s own, eventual return to his native New York. Born to a German father and an American mother, Feininger moved to Berlin as a young man after a sojourn in Hamburg. He returned to the States only in 1937, by which time

  • film October 21, 2011

    Tongue in Cheek

    NOT SINCE Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò (1975) or John Waters’s Pink Flamingos (1972) has shit made such a stink in the cinema. Initially banned in the UK by the British Board of Film Classification, Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence was released on DVD contingent upon thirty-two cuts; in the US it is showing primarily at midnight screenings. As the sequel to Dutch director Tom Six’s Human Centipede (First Sequence), the film continues the basic, gruesome premise with which the first work caused its own, more modest stir: In each instance, a man captures and literally conjoins the bodies of his

  • picks October 13, 2011

    Zak Kitnick

    Framed, glossy food posters form the basic units of Zak Kitnick’s grids––less a raw material than a polished and reified one, subject to wry recontextualization. Compendium (Distribution) and Compendium (Capital) (all works 2011) set a neat catalogue of sumptuous cheeses next to berry counterparts; a taxonomy of shellfish borders a cohort of plump pears. Elements of a Baroque marketplace still life haunt the wall, stripped of any sensual or moralizing redolence––stripped of any redolence, period. Of course, in their encyclopedic sorting these posters bear more than a whiff of bourgeois taste.

  • picks July 06, 2011

    Katrin Heichel

    As if this gallery needed to flesh out further its standing as a nexus for talented young international painters, the US debut of the Leipzig-based painter Katrin Heichel obliges with a tight show of seven works. In its title, palette, and surface alike, NPSP (There Is No Beauty Without Danger), 2010, recalls Francis Picabia’s mechanomorphs from 1915-22, in which isolated, flattened objects of industry serve as as deadpan doubles for the artist’s mordant wit. Here, a cement mixer hovers between schematic presence and prodigious corpulence, enlivened with touches of light and a striking play of

  • picks June 25, 2011

    “Mixed Messages”

    On the eve of Gay Pride––and the marketing emporium it has become––the quips and anthems assembled by curator John Chaich in this exhibition co-organized with Visual AIDS conjure up a different moment in the history of queer sloganeering. Veering from the angry to the elegiac, the messages here are as mixed as their vehicles. All of the works, however, attest to an effort to give voice to the AIDS crisis, from its emergence in the early 1980s to the present day. That more than half of the objects date from the end of the last decade, in fact, confirms the enduring, if increasingly undetectable,

  • film June 01, 2011

    Charles in Charge

    “LEAVE ME, I WANT TO BE ALONE.” Thus growls a sullen Hitler to one of his attendants in an original trailer for Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940). Slithering down from an unlikely perch high up on a curtain, Der Führer proceeds to stalk an outsize globe, eyeing it greedily and portentously, in lone contemplation of his imminent world dominion. The globe turns out to be a balloon, affording Chaplin some highly amusing pantomime. He bounces and spins it in a comical allegory of arrogant control, until the object pops in his face. The prelude to Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin underscores the

  • “The Vorticists”

    LINED UP NEATLY in the first gallery, the sepia-soaked portraits of Vorticism’s leading lights––Wyndham Lewis in a suit, Edward Wadsworth in a bow tie––hardly betray their subjects’ defiance of post-Edwardian propriety. Only Ezra Pound in a broad-collared cloak––bearing some Napoléon III stubble, a shock of unkempt hair, and the glazed expression of a poet—looks the part of bad boy. Of course, Vorticism’s erratic boys’ club was not only male, and “The Vorticists: Rebel Artists in London and New York, 1914–1918”––curated by Mark Antliff and Vivien Greene, and traveling here from the Nasher