Ara H. Merjian

  • picks March 24, 2011

    Mario Schifano

    “The work,” Walter Benjamin once said, “is the death mask of its conception.” Pinned between large walls of transparent glass, which are installed in a staggered, labyrinth-like hall, this exhibition of Mario Schifano’s working sketches, notes, Polaroids, and ephemera from the 1980s and ’90s grants the conceptive process of his late work continuous breathing room, even as it wedges it between airtight panes. In forging a homegrown strain of Italian Pop in the ’60s, Schifano drew on the work of Johns and Rauschenberg and the language of advertising in equal measure. His most notable paintings

  • picks January 27, 2011

    “8 1/2”

    As neither a museum nor a private collection, the nonprofit Fondazione Nicola Trussardi has played a somewhat elusive role in the contemporary Italian art scene since 2003, deploying works in the public spaces of Milan. The foundation’s latest collective assembly—in Florence’s Stazione Leopolda, an abandoned train station—is a double anomaly that gathers together various works from previous solo shows. The exhibition fittingly opens with the installation that originally marked the foundation’s public debut: Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s Short Cut, 2003, which features an off-kilter Fiat

  • picks January 12, 2011

    Mark Bradford

    Embedded in a field of nacreous blue and silver, each of the twenty-six letters in Mark Bradford’s Untitled (A-Z), 2010, appears embossed or set into relief on its individual plate. Affixed to their white frames with clear plastic screws, the individual works are hung on the gallery wall in horizontal clusters, placed at uneven levels. A, B, C, and D form their own quorum, while the more exclusive E and F sit huddled nearby. The seemingly arbitrary parsing of the alphabet underscores what is arbitrary about its signs to begin with. In this sense, Bradford participates in a modernist project that

  • picks January 04, 2011

    Lee Krasner

    Painted partly in her New York studio and partly in the barn at the Springs, this selection of Lee Krasner’s work veers from diffident, quasi-pictorial experiments (tellingly signed, in one instance, “L.K.”) to some assertive displays of real virtuosity. A number of 1950s gouaches bear the influence of Gorky and Pollock yet reveal a sensibility that Krasner would often take to her own, successful ends. Those ends are exemplified in Moontide, 1961, a large, horizontal canvas of maroon, black, yellow-green, and white. If the composition still bears a certain indebtedness to post-Cubist pictorial

  • Surreal Objects

    From the foundational penchant for objective chance to Breton’s inquiries into the “situation of the object,” the thing stood as Surrealism’s nexus of materiality and metaphysics, the empirical and the erotic.

    From the foundational penchant for objective chance to Breton’s inquiries into the “situation of the object,” the thing stood as Surrealism’s nexus of materiality and metaphysics, the empirical and the erotic. Comprising roughly 180 pieces, “Surreal Objects: Three-Dimensional Works from Dalí to Man Ray” features Man Ray’s literally rebarbative Gift, 1920/1961, and Dalí’s more anodyne lobster-handled Aphrodisiac Telephone, 1936. Alongside fur-lined crowd-pleasers, notable works often given short shrift—such as Ángel Ferrant’s sculpture and Dorothea Tanning’s soft

  • Martin Soto Climent

    Martin Soto Climent’s objects are nominally ready-made: buckets and broom handles, a plastic tissue holder and women’s stockings, a wine bottle and gloves. Yet their presentation here has entailed some refashioning, by turns straightforward and lyrical. Folding, wrapping, and draping these things, Soto Climent draws out a poetics intrinsic to particular fabrics and textures—a poetics relentlessly, but subtly, corporeal. Composed simply of two nestled ballet shoes and some downy plumes, Dorothea (all works 2010), discreetly evokes female genitalia. Moon Bouquet features a cluster of large

  • film November 17, 2010

    Poetry in Motion

    IN THE AGE of CGI digital wizardry, the homespun effects of Jean Cocteau’s “Orpheus” trilogy appear quaint and sometimes clunky. But even (or especially) in their simplicity, numerous scenes remain seared on our collective cinematic imagination—whether Jean Marais locked in a narcissistic embrace with his own mirrored reflection, or Lee Miller as a talking, armless statue come to life. Of course, the thirty years that separate The Blood of a Poet (1930) from The Testament of Orpheus (1960) underscore a chasm between contexts: from the burgeoning realm of sound film to the technical advances of

  • Melvin Edwards

    In early September, an op-ed feature in the New York Times described 9/11 as the moment that “saw the innocence of a nation crumble to the ground.” Melvin Edwards’s sculptures seem to rejoin the flawed irony of that account in mute form, to issue it a retort at once silent and searing. That the sculpture Iraq, 2003, marks but one chapter in the inexorable procession of Edwards’s “Lynch Fragments”—a series of small welded works begun in 1963, now comprising more than two hundred pieces (nine of which were on display here)—gives the lie to a myth of innocence crumbling suddenly. The intermittent

  • picks October 28, 2010

    Gerhard Richter

    “I would have guessed that these were made by twenty different people.” This snippet of conversation, overheard as I perused this tightly curated exhibition, took the words right out of my mouth. The range and variety of Gerhard Richter’s drawings and watercolors––in terms of medium, style, scale, and technique––seem like the fruits not of a solitary effort but rather of some group show. The present collection of over fifty works on paper suggests the elasticity of this format in his oeuvre––one almost exclusively associated with photography-based and abstract painting.

    Several of the works, such

  • picks October 24, 2010

    Jocelyn Hobbie

    Jocelyn Hobbie’s oil on canvas paintings seem, on close scrutiny, to bear the matte flatness of tempera on panel, so thinly and evenly does she spread her paint. The imagery and style of her latest works echo entirely that practice, redolent of old-master works. It is, however, more modern evocations of the technique that Hobbie’s work most strikingly evokes, whether the Neue Sachlichkeit of Otto Dix and Christian Schad, or Balthus’s eerie attempts at his self-proclaimed “Surrealism after Courbet.”

    An old woman’s crimped, purple hair and spindly fingers in Hobbie’s Mother and Daughter (all works

  • picks September 15, 2010

    “Another World: Dalí, Magritte, Miro and the Surrealists”

    Drawing on the outstanding holdings of Edinburgh’s modern museums, and divided into seven tightly curated subsections, this exhibition presents nothing short of a comprehensive inventory of Surrealism, from its origins in Dada, Duchamp, and de Chirico to its afterlives in various European and American postwar trends.

    The Surrealist writer Pierre Naville famously contended that there could be no such thing as “Surrealist painting.” And indeed, there is one entire gallery in this show that is devoid of painting, dedicated instead to a range of other media used by Surrealist artists: photography

  • picks August 30, 2010

    Charles Burchfield

    One might expect the painting of Charles Burchfield—since forming the subject of MoMA’s first monographic exhibition, in 1930—to loom large in the annals of American art. But like the retiring Burchfield himself, who painted for decades in a quiet garden studio near Buffalo, his work has remained mostly on the margins of larger historical trends. Curated by fellow artist Robert Gober, this sprawling survey of Burchfield’s patient research goes a long way in restoring the dimensions of a career that refused the pigeonholes of various aesthetic schools and commonplaces. (Notably, one is hard

  • picks July 09, 2010

    “Retratos Pintados”

    In the eternal return of contemporary aesthetics, the search for a new medium often leads to the recuperation of one that is felicitously outmoded. So it happens with “Retratos Pintados” (Painted Portraits): an assembly of small, hand-painted photographs from Brazil, which, precisely in their quaint obsolescence, appear strikingly new. Set against a uniform background (usually of sky blue or pea green), family members appear both individually and in groups, their faces and clothes enlivened with color. The (unidentified) artist often adds a sfumato shading to cheeks and noses, endowing the

  • picks June 14, 2010

    Christopher Wool

    The eight large, untitled linen canvases in this exhibition more than hold their own in the ample––and potentially overwhelming––space of Gagosian’s Roman digs. The two paintings in the atrium are marked by a play of tight, textured geometries streaked with blood-red ink. These give way to a more subdued palette of black, white, and rust in the remaining works. Several of these bear spindly lines and arabesques, verging on the calligraphic. But they stay just shy of congealing into any recognizable script or sign.

    The silk-screened reproduction of painted, gestural brushstrokes raises some

  • picks June 10, 2010

    Kutlug Ataman

    As the most comprehensive assembly of Kutlug Ataman’s video work to date, this exhibition at the new Zaha Hadid–designed MAXXI reveals the range of subjects, themes, and affects that mark his oeuvre. Much of that oeuvre addresses the vicissitudes of Turkish identity, particularly in contact with––and often in contrast to––European culture. Two examples installed in the same room––The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and English as a Second Language (both 2009)––touch on the incomprehensibility of English, and its role as the world’s predominant means of communication. The first work scrolls

  • picks June 06, 2010

    David Goldblatt

    For more than half a century, David Goldblatt has patiently stalked his country from behind a lens; this past year, his output has witnessed renewed and deserved attention. Rather than offering a comprehensive survey, “South African Photographs: David Goldblatt” focuses on a few interrelated themes of the photographer’s remarkably consistent oeuvre—from his early depictions of the brutal racial politics of South Africa’s mining industry to his frank renderings of Afrikaner life in the 1960s to his evocation of the nation’s history through its landscapes and architecture. Goldblatt counts himself

  • picks May 12, 2010

    “Who’s Afraid of Ornament?”

    For the past hundred years or so, ever since Adolf Loos’s likening of its excess to crime, ornament has fared rather poorly. Even the more muted motifs of Art Deco became subordinated to the asceticism of International Style; later, the manly monstrations of favored AbEx yielded to the cool maneuvers of Minimalism. Today, with Jeff Koons and celebrity bling excepted, ornament remains a kind of bugbear.

    For this tight exhibition, though, curator Natasha Kurchanova has brought together a cross section of ten artists unafraid to embrace it. That Tsehai Johnson’s porcelain reliefs in Field #11, 2010,

  • film May 03, 2010

    AIDS and Its Metaphors

    IN THE AGE OF AIDS—its losses, its stigma, and the militant defiance that tried to stem these in turn—silence is a charged phenomenon. As the famous activist slogan has it, SILENCE = DEATH; an equation rendered a matter of fact by the government inaction that exacerbated an already rampant pandemic throughout the 1980s. In Ira Sachs’s eight-minute film, Last Address, however, silence evinces a different valence.

    Here, in the string of poker-faced facades—the last residences of seventeen New York artists who died of AIDS between 1983 and 2007—the film invites reflection on the lingering absence

  • picks April 22, 2010

    Tom McGrath

    The palette of greens, blues, and yellows that subtends Tom McGrath’s new paintings keeps their moodiness cool. Slate and forest-hued nocturnes, threaded with tree trunks and other unidentifiable silhouettes, skirt the dour or bathetic in favor of a more ambivalent sentiment, akin to melancholy. That the artist has, in the past, repeatedly underscored the “obstructed” nature of his painted “scenic routes” sheds some (half-)light on the nature of his painterly approach: a staging of vision partially veiled or blocked. Whether in twilight or partly lit up by the glare of headlights, these scenes,

  • picks April 08, 2010

    “Landscapes of Quarantine”

    The famous facade of the Storefront for Art and Architecture, designed in 1993 by Vito Acconci and Steven Holl, literally opens onto Kenmare Street and therefore defies the very premise of a space that is “kept out of sight,” as one panel in this exhibition describes the logic of quarantine. The pierced and cantilevered frontage of the nonprofit seems, then, an odd site for a reflection on the various spatial iterations of confinement. And yet, in a variety of media and thematic approaches, this small show evokes––by turns solemnly and humorously––the prevalence of a practice that is by definition