Ara H. Merjian

  • picks March 14, 2009

    “Tango with Cows: Book Art of the Russian Avant-Garde, 1910–1917”

    “Throw Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, etc., overboard from the Steamship of Modernity.” Thus David Burliuk, Alexander Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Victor Khlebnikov––all of whom are represented in this exhibition––goaded their Russian contemporaries in their 1912 manifesto, “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.” That slap took its inspiration from avant-garde Italy––a country similarly trailing behind the industrial advances of Europe––where the Futurist agitator F. T. Marinetti had called for the venerable artifacts of ancient Rome to be thrown into the Tiber. In this centennial year of

  • picks March 14, 2009

    “Looking into Andy Warhol’s Photographic Practice”

    Highlighting the Fisher’s recent acquisition of a bevy of prints and Polaroids by Andy Warhol from the Warhol Foundation, this small, tight show presents thematic clusters of those works. The Polaroids constitute a (partial) archive of Warhol’s silk-screen practices, since the likenesses that the artist snapped often formed the touchstone for his subsequent portraits. His black-and-white snapshots, by contrast, served no purpose other than to record his daily interactions and curiosities: a fashion show, an errant pig, a raft floating in a pool. Those who pore over these images for studied,

  • picks March 10, 2009

    Shepard Fairey

    That the work of Shepard Fairey suddenly finds itself in a storm of publicity––from GQ to the New York Times––seems not only preordained but a bit tautological. For Fairey’s work began as a germ of ubiquitous, “viral” publicity, in the legendary form of small stickers depicting the mug of Andre the Giant, a former pro-wrestling phenomenon. ANDRE THE GIANT HAS A POSSE, announced these enigmatic decals, plastered in the most unlikely of places by a seemingly anonymous army in the early 1990s. (When someone offered one to me fifteen years ago, I duly placed it on my notebook. There was a strange

  • picks March 06, 2009

    William Pope.L

    “Like a chicken is made of meat, and a house is made of stone, black people are made of funny.” By turns jocular and deadpan, William Pope.L’s address, an entrée to his multimedia installation in the Carpenter Center’s main gallery, stirred up laughter somewhere between amusement and discomfiture. Allusions to Jacques Lacan took turns with Bed Bath & Beyond and studied lyricism gave way to cavalier musing, as the artist aerated the gravitas of his own words even as he spoke them.

    In Pope.L’s category-defying practice, humor––and its relationship to questions of race, language, and authority––is

  • picks February 11, 2009

    Melanie Smith

    The word vanishing hardly leaps to mind with regard to Mexico City. As the largest metropolis in the Western Hemisphere, it has engulfed the surrounding countryside with exponential prodigiousness. But perhaps that unchecked sprawl threatens, precisely, to undermine our image of the city, swelled so excessively as to prevent any perspective on its contours. Melanie Smith’s varied body of work gives back Mexico City some of its dimensions, both human and architectural, even as it conveys the alienation and anonymity intrinsic to the city’s enormousness. Her series of acrylic “Vanishing Landscapes,”

  • film February 02, 2009

    Bodies of Evidence

    ALTHOUGH THE FILMS of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi are frequently labeled as “documentary,” their work indisputably transcends—even undermines—the righteous propriety of that rubric. As studied, often-lyric montages of extant documentary footage, their films constitute, instead, a meta-practice: at once instances of witnessing and attendant meditations on the pleasures, terrors, and failures of witnessing. In the first major US retrospective dedicated to the Milan-based duo, MoMA presents the entire range of their oeuvre—from an early work on Cesare Lombroso’s macabre museum, to

  • picks January 15, 2009

    “Italia/Arabia”

    Beginning in the 1940s, Italy saw a notable influx of Arab artists—particularly from Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Some of the most prominent painters in post–World War II Beirut, Aleppo, and Cairo launched their careers, and dynamized their countries’ respective artistic scenes, after apprenticeships to modern Italian painters. The extent to which the Italian teachers, in turn, absorbed lessons from these students is uncertain. But in “Italia/Arabia,” the juxtaposition of Renato Guttuso’s Tetti di Alcamo (Roofs of Alcamo), 1976, featuring a row of humble village buildings serried together, painted

  • picks December 13, 2008

    Paul Chan

    The humble assembly of video works in “Paul Chan: Three Easy Pieces” illuminates the range of the artist’s burgeoning oeuvre, one that has been accompanied by his unflagging interventions within the realm of political activism. Chan insists that he keeps his art and his politics largely separate—a mantra frequently reiterated by critics. But while the precise tack of his own ideologies remains productively indeterminate in his work, its presence is palpable even in refracted form, in each of the three very different pieces on view.

    Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization—after

  • picks December 03, 2008

    “Invisible Rays: The Surrealist Legacy”

    Leaves crunch underfoot and beams of light flicker across the ample, unlit gallery. In “Invisible Rays: The Surrealist Legacy,” curator Michael Rush has not only installed Surrealist works but also reprised the playful installations from several of the movement’s historic exhibitions. Like Marcel Duchamp’s “Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme,” 1938, this exhibition provides visitors with flashlights to see the works—a performative metaphor for Surrealism’s own intent to peer into the obscured aspects of the everyday. Despite—or due to—the challenges of looking at art in relative darkness,

  • picks November 20, 2008

    Rachel Whiteread

    The only noise haunting Rachel Whiteread’s Place (Village), 2006–2008, is the rasp of the gallery’s air ducts. The unrelenting silence of the installation’s single room—containing nothing but numerous dollhouses, stacked side by side—contributes to its eerie feel. For if these small abodes evoke a sense of childish wonder, their collective emptiness stirs up something of the postapocalyptic: Their only inhabitants are the tiny bulbs that light them from within. They range in architectural style from midcentury modern to timber-frame Tudor. Some bear trompe l’oeil designs on their facades, but

  • picks November 11, 2008

    “The Spajani Collection”

    With striking economy—four small rooms—this exhibition outlines some of the major tendencies in Italian art from the past century, and simultaneously chips away at any too-rigid schema thereof. Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, many of the show’s works (the majority of them paintings) date from around midcentury. Strikingly laconic is Piero Dorazio’s oil painting Verso il raffreddamento (Toward a Cooling-Down), 1960, in which slate-green diagonals slice across the surface in a geometry of intersecting lines, creating a tense matrix that unravels only at the canvas’s edges. The

  • picks September 23, 2008

    Luisa Rabbia

    In her travels throughout Asia in 1883, Isabella Stewart Gardner collected many of the objects that form part of her now-legendary Boston collection. But she also gathered pictures—taken by local photographers—of the places she visited: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Macao. Along with the narrative supplied in Gardner’s diary, these photographs—digitized, montaged, and rearranged—provide the basis for Luisa Rabbia’s arresting video Travels with Isabella, Travel Scrapbooks 1883/2008. This is no simple slide show, however. Through various alterations, animations, and timed interventions,

  • picks August 28, 2008

    Nathan Oliveira

    Nathan Oliveira’s six-inch-tall Standing Figure, 1960, recalls the delicate, hieratic Minoan figurines excavated at the Palace of Knossos. Though Oliveira strips this body of any iconographic specificity, his figurine, with its wrought patina, evinces something of a talismanic artifact. In place of a head, the figure’s torso unfurls into a flattened undulation, like an extravagant shock of hair, perhaps shorthand for the body’s lyric extension out of its own boundaries. Two larger versions of this work, cast over the past two years, take his sculptural practice full circle, in this first

  • picks August 19, 2008

    “Babylon: Myth and Truth”

    KEINE HURE! (NO WHORE!) Thus reads the text on many posters—featuring the grainy image of a sultry pinup—currently lining the walls of Berlin subway and bus stops. The picture is a still from Douglas Gordon’s Black and White (Babylon), 1996, a video that recasts 1960s-era footage of a buxom stripper as the proverbial whore of Babylon. The Pergamon Museum’s “Babylon: Myth and Truth” sets out to burst various proverbial bubbles—not simply that of the eponymous and anonymous “whore” but also those of the Tower of Babel, the apocalyptic destruction of “the city of sin,” and the exaggerated exploits

  • picks August 04, 2008

    “The Art of Lee Miller”

    Originally mounted at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum by curator Mark Haworth-Booth, this monographic exhibition traces the arc of Lee Miller’s career, from her beginnings in front of the camera—as the model and muse for artists such as Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe, and Man Ray—to her masterful choreography of objects and individuals from behind it. From a strictly aesthetic point of view, that arc peaked decidedly around 1930, when she cast off the looming influence of her mentor-cum-lover, Man Ray, and turned her own eye out onto the world. A proliferation of prints from 1930 and 1931

  • picks June 22, 2008

    Trevor Paglen

    The cosmos has always held a privileged place in aesthetics. Whether as a boundless store of transcendent metaphors or the site of astrophysical abstractions, space has served as a singularly inhuman screen for the projection of human desires and fears. Trevor Paglen’s most recent project, “The Other Night Sky,” reveals some fine cracks in a seemingly pristine mirror. The diagonal lines that cut across the surfaces of these C-prints are not the trailing tails of otherworldly comets, but rather the recorded trajectories—faint but unwavering—of one of 189 satellites operated by the US military.

  • picks June 16, 2008

    Jacques Villeglé

    At once fields of images and urban artifacts, layered comminglings of figurative forms and histories of those forms’ nuanced desecration, Jacques Villeglé’s décollages cannot be pinned down, as it were. Consisting exclusively of torn posters mounted on canvas, the décollages invert the operations of collage, stripping away slices of imagery rather than pasting them together. Since the 1950s, Villeglé has gleaned his raw materials from the walls and billboards of Parisian streets, where various strata of advertisements and political posters provide the palimpsest for a new image, reframed and

  • picks April 18, 2008

    Bernard Rudofsky

    This exhibition opens with a series of striking topographic studies by the Austrian-born polymath Bernard Rudofsky in watercolor, pencil, and gouache. The spontaneity of color and quivering line in these views of a riverbank in France, from 1926, and San Francesco, Fiesole, from 1927, lends them an endearing uncertainty, more reminiscent of German Expressionist landscapes than run-of-the-mill architectural surveys. This kind of felicitous disregard for genres and disciplines emblematizes Rudofsky’s career, which spanned eight decades, several continents, and various media. Occupying one L-shaped

  • picks April 02, 2008

    “Cut: Revealing the Section”

    Of all the various architectural representations, it is perhaps the section view that presents the most edifying (as it were) image of a structure, revealing the space both inside and around it, the vertical ascension of its walls as well as their horizontal disposition and contiguity. Taking the section view—loosely conceived—as its point of departure and bringing together a range of related images, objects, and installations in various media, this exhibition remains true to the essence of the section cut: at once arbitrary and inclusive, a mere slice and a comprehensive view. Organized by

  • picks December 10, 2007

    Diego Rivera

    As the largest and most comprehensive exhibition in Mexico City’s multivenue “national homage” to artist Diego Rivera, marking the half century since his death in 1957, this exhibition lives up to the “epic” proportions promised in its title. There is perhaps no more fitting place to stage a Rivera retrospective than Mexico’s Palacio de Bellas Artes—a jewel of fin-de-siècle and Art Deco splendor, whose interior already bears prodigious, permanently installed panels by the "Three Greats” of Mexican mural-making: David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, and Rivera. The show includes nearly