Ara H. Merjian

  • Melanie Smith, Spiral City, 2002, still from a black-and-white video, 57 minutes.
    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,”

  • Left: Angela Ricci Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian, Prigionieri della guerra (Prisoners of War), 1995, still from a color film, 67 minutes. Right: Angela Ricci Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian, Terra Nullius (Land of No One), 2002, still from a color film.
    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

  • Louay Kayyali, Then What, 1965, oil on canvas, 70 1/2 x 74 4/5".
    picks January 15, 2009


    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

  • Paul Chan, 5th Light, 2007, digital video projection, 14 minutes.
    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

  • Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 2001, color photograph. From the series “Twilight,” 2001.
    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,

  • Rachel Whiteread, Place (Village), 2006–2008, dollhouses, crates, boxes, wood, electric fixtures, electric fittings, electricity. Installation view, 2008.
    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

  • Giacomo Balla, Linee forze di paesaggio, (Line Forces of a Landscape), 1918, oil on paper, 16 1/2 x 21 1/4”.
    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

  • Luisa Rabbia, Travels with Isabella, Travel Scrapbooks 1883/2008, detail from a color video, 26 min 30 sec.
    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,

  • Nathan Oliveira,  Figure Three, 1982, bronze, 20 x 22 x 30".
    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

  • Ishtar Gate and facade of the Throne Room, Babylon sixth century, reconstructed 2008, clay tiles, baked and glazed in various colors. Installation view.
    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

  • Women with Fire Masks, Downshire Hill, London, 1941, black-and-white photograph, 10 1/4 x 9 7/8".
    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

  • KEYHOLE 12-3 (IMPROVED CRYSTAL) Near Scorpio (USA 129), 2007, color photograph, 59 x 47 1/2".
    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.