Ara H. Merjian

  • 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

  • Gerhard Richter, 7.1991, ink on paper, 6 1/2 x 9 7/16”.
    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

  • Jocelyn Hobbie, Entre Nous, 2010, oil on canvas, 72 x 72”.
    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

  • Max Ernst, unpublished collage for Une Semaine de bonté (A Week of Kindness), 1934, collage of engravings on card, 8 x 5 1/2”.
    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

  • Charles Burchfield, An April Mood, 1946–55, watercolor and charcoal on joined paper, 40 × 54”.
    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

  • View of “Retratos Pintados,” 2010.
    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

  • Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2010, silk-screen ink on linen, 10 1/2 x 8’.
    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

  • Kutlug Ataman, Dome, 2009, still from a color video, 14 minutes 40 seconds.
    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

  • David Goldblatt, The farmer’s son with his nursemaid, on the farm in Heimweeberg, near Nietverdiend in the Marico Bushveld. Transvaal (North-West Province), 1964, black-and-white photograph, 9 x 13”.
    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

  • ArdAn Özmenoglu, Things on My Mind, 2009, screen prints on transparent plastic sheets, dimensions variable. Installation view.
    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,

  • Ira Sachs, Last Address, still from a color film, 8 minutes. Residence of Keith Haring.
    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

  • Tom McGrath, Yard at Night, 2010, oil on canvas over panel, 44 x 34”.
    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,