Ara H. Merjian

  • Carmelo Bene, Capricci, 1969, still from a color film in 35 mm, 89 minutes. Right: Carmelo Bene, Nostra signora dei turchi (Our Lady of the Turks, 1966), still from a color film in 16 mm, 142 minutes.
    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

  • View of “Ron Gorchov,” 2012.
    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

  • Benjamin Cottam, Blue Sky 1, 2012, oil on aluminum, 4 x 6”.
    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

  • Garrett Pruter, Flesh (Mixed Signals), 2011, cut-up vintage Playboy and Penthouse magazines on paper, 30 x 40”.
    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,

  • Anna Bella Geiger, Com Pinga Vermelha (Pier and Ocean),1990, oil and acrylic on canvas, 63 x 51 3/16".
    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, P-197pz, 1977–87, ink on paper, 29 x 29".

    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, Untitled (113590 rev 2), 2011, oil on linen, 21 x 28".

    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

  • View of “Andreas Gursky,” 2011.
    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

  • Josephine Halvorson, Green Machine, 2011, oil on linen, 30 x 40”.
    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, In a Village Near Paris (Street in Paris, Pink Sky), 1909, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 32".

    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

  • Tom Six, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), 2011, still from a black-and-white film, 88 minutes. Martin and Ashlynn Yennie (Laurence R. Harvey and Ashlynn Yennie).
    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

  • Zak Kitnick, A Representative, 2011, steel shelves, 18 1/2 x 147  x 18 1/2".
    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.