Ara H. Merjian

  • Ermanno Olmi, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, 1978, color film in 35 mm, 186 minutes. Production still.
    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

  • Arthur Siegel, RCA Building, ca. 1940–49, gelatin silver print, 13 1/4 x 10 3/8".
    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

  • Juan Muñoz, The Prompter, 1988, iron, papier-mâché, bronze, wood, linoleum. Installation view.
    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

  • Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Femme Assise (Seated Woman), 1914, marble, 19 x 14 x 11".
    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

  • Gerhard Richter, Kerze III, 1989, paint, color photograph, 23 x 24".
    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

  • Suzanne Valadon,
 Nu à la draperie blanche (Nude with White Drapery), 1914,
 oil on canvas, 38 x 29".
    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

  • View of “Marcel Breuer,” 2009.
    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

  • Left: Darrin Martin, Monograph in Stereo, 2004–2005, still from a color video, 17 minutes 20 seconds. Right: Darrin Martin, Other Turbans, 2007, still from a color video, 12 minutes 40 seconds.
    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

  • Natalia Goncharova, cover of Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards, 1912).
    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

  • View of “Looking into Andy Warhol’s Photographic Practice,” 2009.
    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,

  • Shepard Fairey, Guns and Roses, 2007, stencil and collage on paper, 44 x 30".
    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

  • View of “William Pope.L,” 2009.
    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