Ara H. Merjian

  • 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

  • film March 18, 2010

    Three’s Company

    WHEN INGMAR BERGMAN said of Andrei Tarkovsky that he had invented a cinematic idiom “true to the nature of film,” what did he mean? Of course, the “true” nature of cinematic language itself remains—quite rightly—the subject of sharp, perennial debate in film theory. At the very least, Tarkovsky’s body of work can be said—in just seven examples—to have informed those polemics with compelling purpose. The Anthology Film Archives’ “Tarkovsky X 3” program presents three films at the core of the director’s (already compact) oeuvre—a primer of sorts to his best-known feature-length films.

    In both its

  • picks March 18, 2010

    “The Storyteller”

    The somewhat infelicitous title of this exhibition—one half expects a wizened old raconteur to greet visitors—belies a nuanced attention to the iterations and variations of narrative in contemporary art. Curated by Claire Gilman and Margaret Sundell (as part of Independent Curators International), “The Storyteller” earns part of its considerable merit by recasting preconceptions that underlie this most ancient of practices, from the basic anecdote to our grander notions of history as shaped by aesthetics. If the latter endeavor has, since postmodernism, seemed a kind of hubristic folly, “The

  • picks March 03, 2010

    Carl Fudge

    Carl Fudge’s latest series of works takes as its touchstone the prints of Edward Wadsworth, a prominent member of the British Vorticists, who used the hard-edged geometries of machinery, technology, and war as inspiration for an aggressive, avant-garde style meant to catapult England into the twentieth century. Wadsworth’s art incorporated docked steamships painted in what was termed dazzle camouflage—sharp, geometric contrasts meant to baffle enemy range finding during World War I.

    Alternating between large-scale screenprint collages and smaller woodcuts, Fudge has stripped Wadworth’s prints to

  • picks February 08, 2010

    “I shake you by the hand, comrade Bacon: British Art Abroad”

    Taking its title from a visitor’s register at Francis Bacon’s landmark 1988 exhibition in Moscow (at the height of Glasnost), this small exhibition examines the rapports between British modernism and UK identity abroad. Through the poignant prism of a handful of case studies, the show explores the efforts of the British Council, over the past seventy-five years, to export the country’s culture––not always to entirely triumphant, or even measurable, ends. As the sun finally began to set on the seemingly eternal British Empire, artworks served, in some instances, as a new form of diplomacy, with

  • picks January 27, 2010

    Skyler Brickley

    Nearly every work in this small exhibition contains several, vertical rows of rough quadrilaterals––the syncopated fruits of Skyler Brickley’s roller. The tension between the rote, serial application of paint by roller and each canvas’s subtle variation adumbrates an interesting postscript to some of the fundamental questions related to modernist painting with regard to autonomy and originality. To what extent, that is, may these canvases be said to derive from his “hand”?

    Those issues are further underscored by the canvases’s surfaces, both slick and pocked (derived from the raised bumps of

  • interviews December 30, 2009

    Nina Katchadourian and Ahmet Ögüt

    As part of Neery Melkonian and Defne Ayas’s cross-cultural curatorial project, Blind Dates, artists Ahmet Ögüt, of Turkish-Kurdish background, and Nina Katchadourian, of Armenian and Finnish descent, recently launched the project of transposing respective (and shared) letters in each other’s names. Aside from its legal and contractual performance, AH-HA constitutes an act of intimacy both literal and ideological between two artists who barely know each other but whose collaboration necessarily binds them to an ongoing rapport.

    ALTHOUGH WE’VE ONLY been set up on a “blind date,” we have decided to

  • picks December 10, 2009

    Alighiero e Boetti

    When critic and curator Germano Celant chose “nomadism” as a conceptual linchpin that united the sensibilities of disparate Arte Povera figures, he must have had Alighiero e Boetti’s maps in mind. For in addition to rendering the world at large for many decades, the maps—handmade by Afghan craftswomen—hail from a world far beyond the galleries of Milan or Turin. In creating the first retrospective dedicated exclusively to Boetti’s maps, Gladstone Gallery reunites a great number of the works for which the artist is best known.

    That reputation is based not on Boetti’s own manual execution, but

  • picks December 08, 2009

    Taro Shinoda

    Taro Shinoda’s video installation Lunar Reflection Transmission Technique, 2007–2009, rests on a seemingly hokey premise: the ubiquitous, universal presence of the moon, and its role (both visible and metaphoric) in uniting disparate geographies. The striking, even mesmerizing simplicity of the piece dispels even the most cynical criticism of its pretext, however. Over its forty-five-minute course, the video intercalates long takes of the moon’s surface with shots of unidentified and undistinguished cityscapes. The attendant sound track––a recording of a measured, tinny drip of water––unites

  • film November 02, 2009

    Futurist Past

    “ONE MUST FREE THE CINEMA as an expressive medium in order to make it the ideal instrument of a new art,” wrote F. T. Marinetti in 1916. “We are convinced that only in this way can one reach that polyexpressiveness toward which all the most modern artistic researches are moving. . . . Today the Futurist cinema creates precisely the polyexpressive symphony.”

    Thus Marinetti—accompanied by his ever-present cohort of innovators and incendiaries—launched the Futurist incursion into yet another medium. Seeking to liberate film from those narrative set pieces still beholden to the theater, the Futurists

  • picks October 08, 2009

    Mark Bradford and Kara Walker

    From Kara Walker’s diminutive silhouette sculptures and new videos to Mark Bradford’s meticulous graphite transfers and mixed-media riffs on the vernacular of urban advertising, this exhibition does not rest on the proverbial laurels of its MacArthur “Genius” grantees.

    With the triptych 10 Years Massacre (and Its Retelling) (all works 2009), Walker has forayed into painting. A stray tree branch and a single disembodied leg float in a stark landscape. But the hieratic, crisp contrasts of the artist’s characteristic cutouts appear somewhat loosened by the attendant application of paint. Nearby, a

  • picks October 05, 2009

    “Expanding the Walls 2009”

    Pairing photographs by twelve young (very young!) photographers with celebrated images from the James VanDerZee archive, this show breaks down barriers both institutional and generational. At the same time, it preserves the recording of African-American culture by its own agents and subjects––something of which VanDerZee stood as a talented practitioner.

    Each artist has shot a suite of four photographs, using a print by VanDerZee as his or her point of departure. Some of the resulting resonances are more strictly formal; others expressly take up a topical thread. Next to VanDerZee’s undated West

  • film September 29, 2009

    Labor Relations

    IN ONE OF THE MANY CLOSE-UPS in Ermanno Olmi’s Il posto (1961), audiences come face-to-face with the film’s young, wide-eyed protagonist, Domenico, who is seated at the desk of his new big-city position (the “posto” in question), staring at a mimeograph machine as his colleague’s arm works the machine’s rotating plates. The boy’s glazed look registers the rote ceremony with a kind of detached horror. We watch as this aspiring office worker—recently arrived in Milan from a small town—is inducted into the unfeeling rituals of corporate efficiency. More an affectless anticlimax than a momentous

  • picks September 01, 2009

    “Toward Abstraction: Photographs and Photograms”

    If the quiddity of photography is the realism it affords, then what is the medium’s relationship to abstraction? Most of the works in this tight, striking exhibition take up well after an answer was provided by modernist photography’s conquest of a nonmimetic domain, driven by the likes of Edward Steichen and Alfred Steiglitz.

    The work of Arthur Siegel—who studied with László Moholy-Nagy, one of the masters of early-twentieth-century photographic abstraction—forms the exhibition’s touchstone, weighted as it is toward midcentury. In Siegel’s RCA Building, ca. 1940–49, the company’s acronym forms

  • picks August 06, 2009

    Juan Muñoz

    From the 1980s onward, Juan Muñoz developed a striking body of work in pieces that fuse sculpture and Conceptualism into mini mise-en-scènes, here revisited in a retrospective curated by Lynne Cooke and Sheena Wagstaff. Whether Muñoz created bulbous-based, bronze figures assembled into a strange coterie, or a pair of blindfolded individuals staring into a mirror (Staring at the Sea I, 1997–2001), or a simulacral body positioned alone (Portrait of a Turkish Man Drawing, 1993), the artist placed the human figure into elliptical scenes or else rendered the body itself in cryptic terms. Many Times

  • picks August 06, 2009

    Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

    As intense as it was brief, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s meteoric career finds a representative encapsulation in this tight, two-room survey of his work. Having lived in France, Britain, and Germany before settling in London, the sculptor was associated with the day’s most prominent artists (Jacob Epstein, Wyndham Lewis, and Ossip Zadkine, to name a few), though his work has never enjoyed quite the same repute. Additionally, Gaudier-Brzeska’s sudden death on the front lines of the Great War cut short his dynamic output, and the Fiorini and Carney Foundry cast many of his works posthumously. Several

  • picks July 21, 2009

    Gerhard Richter

    Since 1989, Gerhard Richter has carried out a practice somewhere on the margins of––or perhaps in between––photorealism and abstraction with his painted-over photographs. In examples numbering in the hundreds, Richter has created these small works in both singular, independent pieces and interrelated series.

    In this exhibition, Richter deploys paint as an incidental blotch, a framing device, or a random smear or striation whose aleatory formal elements draw out latent aspects of the underlying photograph. In several works, the abstract, painted elements compete with the photograph for sovereignty

  • picks June 26, 2009

    Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo

    Views of the Moulin de la Galette and the Lapin Agile; the dome of Sacré-Cœur, and the gritty byways of Paris’s most celebrated butte: It doesn’t get much more Montmartre than this. And yet for all Maurice Utrillo’s exemplification of a bygone Parisian bohemianism––the churlish alcoholism, the legendary trading of paintings for carafes of wine––he is also a red herring in the French avant-gardes. For the so-called School of Paris, of which Utrillo stands as an illustrative affiliate, was ironically composed of many foreigners: Modigliani and Chagall, Kisling and Foujita.

    Just as atypical was

  • picks April 30, 2009

    Marcel Breuer

    Cold. Clinical. Ugly. Such were the epithets regularly launched at the tubular steel designs pioneered by Marcel Breuer in the early 1920s. But Breuer himself coolly ascribed such hostility to a “habit”––one that would, he argued, “soon be supplanted by another habit.” His terse surmise proved true. While his furniture designs were not an immediately profitable success, the respect they earned among his peers was eventually matched by commercial triumph. The steel armchair in which I sit typing these words is the direct descendant of Breuer’s invention––one patented in several countries and

  • film April 07, 2009

    Playing It by Ear

    AS PART OF A SCREENING TOUR of his solo and collaborative work from the late 1990s through 2005, Darrin Martin recently presented a sample of his single-channel videos at the MassArt Film Society. Martin’s joint ventures with Torsten Zenas Burns, such as Recall (1998) and Volcanica (various dates), intermix archival footage—’70s pedagogical videos for aspiring psychologists, horror films, and hippie happenings—with staged performances involving the artists themselves. At the core of Martin’s solo work, by contrast, is a sustained evocation—visual, aural, and phenomenological—of his struggles